Judge Llarena strikes down separation of powers

Would they have the courage to do the same to a candidate in the Spanish parliament?

Friday’s interlocutory statement by Supreme Court justice Pablo Llarena turning down Jordi Sànchez’s request to attend the Catalan parliament’s plenary session —where he would be elected president of Catalonia— is a flagrant violation of the separation of powers in Spain. Up until this point, we had witnessed infringement of basic rights, unjustified abusive detention without bail and a pre-trial enquiry which constitutes, effectively, an all-out judicial persecution of the Catalan independence movement. Yesterday, though, the rule of law in Spain sank to a new low: a judge has taken the liberty to deny a Parliament the right to convene and hold a vote on the presidential candidate proposed by the Speaker of the House.

To quote Constitutional Law Professor Javier Pérez Royo: the powers of a Parliament are inviolable in a parliamentary democracy. The law sets out a single condition for someone to be elected president of Catalonia: they need to be an elected member of parliament whose voting rights are unrestricted. Obviously, Jordi Sànchez meets the legal requirements to be elected, even though he may be disqualified if he is found guilty by a court of law in a not-too-distant future. Claiming otherwise is akin to denying the principles of democratic legitimacy, parliamentary autonomy and, as we said above, separation of powers. Furthermore, it is a violation of the candidate’s right to stand and the active suffrage right of the Catalan voters who cast a ballot on December 21.

With his ruling, justice Llarena rises above the constitutional order and takes the liberty to advise the Catalan parliament’s Speaker to pick a fresh candidate from the Junts per Catalunya MPs because, in his opinion, Sànchez might actually be elected, unlike Juan Carlos Yoldi (1).

What sort of democracy is this, where a parliament is not allowed to decide who it may elect as president? Would they have the courage to do the same to a candidate in the Spanish parliament, or is this just about crushing the democratic will of the Catalan people? Still, Llarena has gone even further and, along similar arguments which he laid out in previous writings, the Spanish judge is now suggesting that the mere existence of a pro-independence majority in the Catalan parliament that has not renounced its goal —even if a profound strategic change is being discussed— is enough reason to keep Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Cuixart, Oriol Junqueras and Joaquim Forn behind bars.

In a way, Pablo Llarena aims to blame the two million Catalans who long for a Republic for the fate of their leaders. Therefore, he seeks to punish the general public at large.

Given this new judicial outrage, you would think that Spain’s democrats might offer some sort of response, but everything indicates that nobody except Podemos will lift a finger to denounce it. Hopefully, it will be the European Court of Human Rights that —sooner or later— will put the Spanish democracy to shame. Meanwhile, its degradation is further augmented by the most reactionary, vociferous elements within Spanish nationalism, who aim to outdo each other.

Translator’s note:

(1) In the mid-1980s ETA prisoner Juan Carlos Yoldi was elected to the Basque parliament. A Spanish court of law ruled that he should be allowed to stand for president and address the chamber during the debate, which he did. However, Yoldi had no chance of securing a parliamentary majority and being voted in.

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