Despite opposition from Spain’s central government, over two million Catalans have taken part in a symbolic vote on the political future of the north-eastern Catalonia region. According to the results, more than 80% backed an independent Catalonia.
Regional authorities said 2.3 million Catalans had voted, with 80% opting to break away. But 5.4 million were eligible to vote, meaning many did not bother to participate amid worries about the vote's lack of legal guarantees and its nonbinding status.
Voters were asked for their response to two questions. The first was: “Do you want Catalonia to be a state?”. If answered affirmatively, the ballot paper posed a second question: “Do you want that state to be independent?”.
The poll was held in the face of fierce opposition from the Spanish government, and despite a constitutional court ruling to suspend the exercise.
Justice Minister Rafael Catala dismissed the vote as “fruitless and useless”.
“The government considers this to be a day of political propaganda organised by pro-independence forces and devoid of any kind of democratic validity,” he said in a statement.
State prosecutors were continuing to investigate whether Catalan authorities breached court injunctions by opening polling stations in schools and other public buildings to “assess the existence of criminal liability”, he added.
Catalan leaders admit the vote has no direct legal consequences, but hope the high turnout will bolster their political case with both Madrid and other European governments.
Mas said his government would now push to hold an official referendum and would seek international support to help convince the Spanish government to let it go ahead.
Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung described support for independence from Spain as “lukewarm” and said the result leaves ample room for interpretation. As the legally contested vote is not binding, it is possible that some people did not take part because there was nothing to decide, the newspaper commented. It added that the majority of those opposing Catalonia’s sovereignty and independence on principle did not go to the ballot.
The NZZ said some voters may have also been merely expressing their protest against the government in Madrid and in Barcelona and not been giving their real opinion on the actual question.
The Tages-Anzeiger newspaper however felt Madrid had committed a “fatal mistake”, as over the years it had failed to send the right signals to Barcelona.
“It could for example have praised Catalonia’s contribution to the wealth of the nation or offered a new pact of coexistence – something constructive or sensitive,” Tages-Anzeiger wrote.
“Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s conservative premier minister, however, was the highly unsuitable cast,” it added. “Rajoy is somebody who sits out the crisis, a politician without a vision, without inspiration. He hides behind the right and the bossiness, although much more was at stake.”
“If Spain does not want to lose its most innovative, industrial and cosmopolitan region, it should take its drift away more seriously and should offer dialogue and sympathy,” Tages-Anzeiger added.
“It should give answers to the most urgent questions regarding the financial compensation and on the protection of cultural sovereignty, perhaps with constitutional reform in direction of a real federalism – very fast. But Rajoy cannot and does not want to do this.”
swissinfo.ch with agencies