Catalan leaders forged ahead on Friday for a vote on independence, defying a court challenge by the Spanish national government in their bid to redraw the map of the country.
Spain’s Constitutional Court had provisionally blocked their plan for the vote, but parties in the northeastern region opted to launch a legal gamble.
“We have agreed to maintain the election decree so that citizens can exercise their right to vote on Nov. 9,” Catalan regional government spokesman Francesc Homs told reporters in Barcelona.
Catalan pro-independence parties said that they were “united” on the issue to the press, after holding meetings to forge a common front in the tense standoff, which threatens to trigger Spain’s biggest constitutional crisis in decades.
Madrid has vowed to keep Spain whole against the drive for independence for Catalonia.
However, fired up by last month’s independence referendum in Scotland — although voters there rejected independence — hundreds of thousands of Catalans have protested in the streets in recent weeks, demanding their own vote.
In another move of defiance on Friday, Catalonia’s moderate conservative government formally decreed the creation of a commission to supervise the ballot.
Spain’s national government is to ask the Constitutional Court to suspend that decree, just as it has suspended other Catalan legislation over the vote in the past week, Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said.
“No one in Spain can say on their own authority what is legal and what is not. That is a matter for the courts,” she told a news conference.
“This government has an obligation to obey the law and to make sure it is obeyed, because it has an obligation to make sure everyone respects democracy,” she added.
However, Catalan President Artur Mas vowed to push on with the bid for independence.
“We will forge ahead and we will do it together,” he said.
Mas is walking a legal and political tightrope, under pressure from hardline separatists to push on with a potentially illegal vote, which is fiercely opposed by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Spain’s opposition Socialist Party also opposes independence for Catalonia, but has called for a federal constitutional reform to answer Catalan demands.
The Socialists’ leader, Pedro Sanchez, criticized Rajoy on Twitter, saying his inflexible stance was “fuel for separatists.”
Mas had previously promised to respect the law in his drive for a nonbinding vote on whether the region should break away.
He had last week suspended the official information campaign for the poll after the court’s ruling to avoid any action that could be considered illegal.
However, he faces an undertow of fierce separatist yearning in the street and among his political allies.
Members of the left-wing Catalan nationalist party ERC, which props up Mas’s Convergence and Union coalition in the regional parliament, has called for “civil disobedience” against the court order.
Mas’s government has unblocked nearly 9 million euros (US$11.26 million) to fund the referendum, but has not said when it will start organizing the ballots to have them ready for Nov. 9.
Proud of their distinct language and culture, many of Catalonia’s 7.5 million inhabitants have long complained they get a raw deal from the government in Madrid, which decides how their taxes are spent.
Catalonia formally adopted the status of a “nation” in a 2006 charter that increased its autonomy, but the Constitutional Court overruled that nationhood claim.
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