Spanish government questions whether Catalan elections can be postponed

Catalan government claims possibility was always on the table

The postponement of the elections on February 14 has been gaining strength in recent hours - the only party openly opposed to this is the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) - and the Government has already admitted that the new date for the elections could be in May. However, legal doubts as to whether a possible suspension of the elections can be challenged are also beginning to fly around the political landscape. Without going any further, the Spanish executive now questions the competence of the Generalitat to do so.

This Thursday the Minister of Justice, Juan Carlos Campo, issued a warning to the Generalitat that a suspension of the elections is not provided for in the current electoral law. He has not specified, however, whether the Spanish government plans to contest a possible postponement of the elections, but has stated: "The law always has mechanisms for contesting".

Postponement of February 14 elections gains momentum

In an interview with Radio 4 and La 2, Campo has asked for "caution" from the Generalitat and the parties before making a final decision due to the "lack of legal precedents" for a situation like this. Almost a year ago, in the midst of the first wave of the pandemic, the elections that were to be held on April 5 in the Basque Country and Galicia were postponed and the Spanish government did not raise any objections. This time, however, Campo has called for a response that is "proportionate to the situation". According to the minister, this is to determine whether the same "circumstances" of "consensus" exist as those that occurred in the Basque Country and Galicia to postpone the April 5 elections, in the midst of the first wave of the pandemic. "We are talking about democracy and fundamental rights. It's a delicate issue, let's be vigilant," said Campo, who called for "responsibility" on the part of political leaders.

Campo's words contrast with those uttered on Tuesday by Health Minister and PSC candidate for the elections, Salvador Illa, who avoided commenting on the advisability of holding the elections in the current situation and said that it is up to the parties to decide. But the Minister of Justice is not alone in changing his tune.

José Luis Ábalos, transport minister and Socialist Organisation Secretary, has demanded "rigour" and "clarity" from the government regarding the call for elections. He did not want to question whether it would be legal or illegal, but in statements to La Sexta he said that "an election must be called with the certainty that it will be held". "There can be no hesitation because it will affect the cleanliness of the elections and the guarantee that all parties have the same opportunities," he added. Moreover, he believes that the example of Galicia and the Basque Country - with elections held after total lockdown - shows that it is possible to vote in the midst of a pandemic because "nobody is sure whether we will be worse or better off" in three months' time. The Spanish government defends more prevention measures - such as intensifying the vote by mail - but that in no case will the elections be postponed, reports Mariona Ferrer.

The Government of the Generalitat is legally armed

As explained this Thursday by the ARA in the paper edition, the Generalitat has legally prepared the scenario of an eventual electoral postponement. Government sources remind that the decree calling the elections already foresaw the possibility of having to postpone the elections due to epidemiological issues. Although it was not included in the articles, it was specified that "if for reasons derived from the protection of the right to health in the face of a health emergency [...] the development of the electoral process could not be carried out with the necessary public health guarantees, this call could be left without effect and the vote could be postponed to a later date that does offer them".

They also hold on to a report by the Legal Advisory Commission that includes the possibility of temporarily suspending the elections if the measures taken to ensure that they are free and fair are not sufficient due to the situation of the pandemic.

"In the event that the measures adopted to guarantee the full exercise of the right to vote by the electorate in conditions of freedom and equality are insufficient [...] the Generalitat de Catalunya can proceed to postpone or, if appropriate, suspend the elections in the terms indicated in the report", says the report.

According to Government sources, if it were decided to postpone the elections and someone were to challenge it, the competent body to assess this issue would be the High Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC). The Government interprets that the Electoral Board would only have to be informed of the decision, as was done in the Basque Country. Another way, legal sources add, would be that the Spanish government would challenge the decree before the Constitutional Court.

Cs charges Campo with "partisan interference

Campo's words did not please the Citizens' leader, Carlos Carrizosa, who considered them a "scandalous partisan interference in political debate. "I think it's amazing that a man of the law is not even-handed enough to admit that a state based on the rule of law must guarantee the right to vote in a pandemic situation, that we cannot admit that there are people who cannot go to vote because of public health conditions or that out of fear there is a very high level of abstention," he added, reports Anna Mascaró.

For his part, the president of the PP in Catalonia, Alejandro Fernández, has ignored Campo's words, but has assured that his party has not yet taken a position in view of this Friday's meeting because they do not have "all the information on the table". From Girona, Fernandez explained that today they know the scenarios envisaged by Salud, but he also asked to know "the consequences" that each scenario could have "on the right to vote of the Catalans. As an example, Alejandro Fernández asked how many Catalans could be infected -and therefore could not go to vote- between the deadline for postal voting and the elections.

Differences between Torrent and Costa

For his part, the President of the Parliament, Roger Torrent, did not want to rule out the possibility that the February 14 elections would be held, but considered that there is "scientific evidence" that says "it is not advisable, and the Catalan Ombudsman advises against it". In fact, Torrent has admitted that it is possible that the provisional situation due to Quim Torra's disqualification will be extended because the risk is "high" and that the Government will have to continue managing the pandemic as it has done until now. The president of the Parliament has also reproached the Minister of Health, Salvador Illa, for not having pronounced himself on whether the elections should be suspended, and has described this as "irresponsible": "If we were moving for partisan interests, for ERC they would have to be now, but we are prioritising life", he said in an interview with Catalunya Ràdio.

On the other hand, since yesterday, JxCat has been showing more and more openly that it does not see any inconvenience in maintaining the 14-F. This Wednesday the candidate of the party, Laura Borràs, said it, arguing her position with the fact that "countries like Portugal have a more severe confinement than in Catalonia and will hold elections". This Thursday the vice-president of the Parliament and deputy of JxCat, Josep Costa, added that "there is no sanitary reason to deprive anyone of an essential right like the vote". "Between health or democracy, health and democracy", he added in a tweet. According to Costa, "only the need to guarantee that everyone can vote justifies postponing elections that have already been called" and he added that then "everything must be done to guarantee this".

Pardons will not have been resolved before new elections if they are held in May

Even if the elections are postponed to May, Campo does not foresee that the pro-independence leaders will be able to run for any candidacy either, because the Spanish government will not have discussed the petitions for pardon yet. The Minister of Justice sees it as "difficult" to resolve these pardon measures before the Catalan elections, even if they are postponed. "I don't think they can be postponed so much", said Campo. The minister added that the Supreme Court has yet to make a ruling and denied that the high court is delaying the decision.

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