Sme: Catalonia is making the rules up as they go, this is not democracy

September 22, 2017

People living in Catalonia may well have very good reason for wanting to secede from Spain. I don’t understand it or really see why it’s necessary in 2017, but who am I to say? What I do know is the way the Catalonian independence movement is going about achieving their goal is an absolute joke, and as dangerous a misinterpretation of what democracy is about as anything currently underway in Hungary or Poland. 

After the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled the schedule October 1 referendum illegal, law enforcement officials have set about enforcing the law. This has included confiscating ballot boxes and paper ballots, and detaining local officials that are attempting to implement what has been interpreted by the country’s independent judiciary to be a crime. In a hallucinatory opinion piece for The Washington Post this week, Catalan’s pro-independence regional governor Carles Puigdemont compared the central government’s reaction to “authoritarian repression”. Then, in the cheapest political trick there is, he questioned why Spanish police were not instead working to prevent terrorist attacks (Why aren’t you Mr Puigdemont? See how easy that is). 

That opinion piece followed Mr Puidgemont’s comments earlier this week, where he appeared to say that amid a shortage of paper ballots — which the police are confiscating — voters might instead simply print their own. He has also earlier said that no minimum turnout is necessary for the vote to be valid. Is there really any doubt what the result of a referendum will be if it is held under those circumstances? On October 1, if three people vote using ballots they printed themselves, and two choose independence, Catalonia will be come its own country. Why? Because of democracy, Mr Puigdemont says.

In a non-binding vote in 2014, 80 percent of Catalonia residents that voted supported independence, but just 37 percent voted with most staying home to express their displeasure. Furthermore, anyone 16 or older was allowed to vote (Spain’s legal voting age is 18) and so were non-citizens. In Catalonia’s last regional election in 2015, pro-independence parties won 47.8 percent of the vote — a minority of the vote that nonetheless brought a slim majority in the regional parliament allowing them to ram this referendum farce through. 

While democracy is very much about voting, such voting must take place in a relatively free and fair environment. Neutral and professional administrators are needed to count the votes in accordance with established rules, as voters and those running for office (or promoting a certain idea) are able to campaign. Then there is that old-fashioned concept of the rule of law — the restriction of the arbitrary use of power by well-defined and established rules.  

Mr Puigdemont and his friends prefer to make the rules up as they go along. That is not only illegal, but undemocratic.