Separatists unite after Catalan president accused
Artur Mas faces charges over disobeying ruling on 2014 independence referendum
Artur Mas, the leader of Catalonia’s independence drive, is summoned to court. Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters
Although a court summons issued to Artur Mas, the leader of Catalonia’s independence drive, could see him barred from office or even go to jail, it appears to have bolstered his political capital and stiffened the resolve of the separatist cause.
On Tuesday, the Catalan high court summoned Mr Mas, the region’s nationalist premier, to testify in court in two weeks’ time for disobeying a court ruling blocking an unofficial independence referendum he staged in November 2014. Two other senior officials in his administration were also summoned.
Mr Mas also faces charges of overstepping his powers, obstructing the justice system and misusing public funds when holding the vote, which saw 81 per cent of participants vote in favour of independence from Spain, albeit with a low turnout. If found guilty, he could be fined, barred from office or face a jail term of up to one year.
The court decision came just after Mr Mas and his secessionist coalition, Junts pel Sí (or Together for Yes) won a Catalan regional election on Sunday which they treated as a plebiscite on independence.
Junts pel Sí won the most seats, but it needs the support of the radical Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) in order to secure a majority. The two say that together their seats represent a mandate to push ahead with an independence roadmap that would see Catalonia break away from Spain within 18 months.
In total, Junts pel Sí and CUP won 48 per cent of the popular vote.
Mr Mas and his allies have lambasted the court summons, describing it as a politicised decision driven by the Spanish government. “This was the reaction of a furious government whose pride was hurt and which acts by fighting and is incapable of dialogue,” Mr Mas told a radio interviewer yesterday. “It will do everything it can to get rid of me.”
“Here, we have separation of powers,” prime minister Mariano Rajoy said yesterday. “The government has nothing to do with the decisions of the Catalan high court.” However, after speculation over his future in the wake of Sunday’s election, the legal development seems to have strengthened Mr Mas’s hand.
Although his coalition won on Sunday, the anti-capitalist CUP has said it will only help Junts pel Sí form a majority in the Catalan parliament if Mr Mas steps aside, because of his association with corruption scandals and austerity measures. The stand-off between CUP and Mr Mas had even created speculation that it could derail the independence roadmap.
But with separatists casting the court summons as an example of the Spanish state repressing their region, it has united them in support of the Catalan leader.
Other politicians in the rest of Spain also criticised the court decision. Former Socialist leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba warned that it reinforced the polarised public images of the Catalan leader and the Spanish prime minister. “Mas is the victim and Rajoy the tough guy,” he said.
On Tuesday night, some Catalans staged a cacerolada, or politically motivated banging of saucepans, in central Barcelona, to express their support for the Catalan leader.
The summons has been lent further significance by the fact that it takes place on October 15th, the 75th anniversary of the death of Catalan premier Lluís Companys, a hero to modern-day nationalists, who was killed on the orders of dictator Francisco Franco.
Most importantly, the summons puts renewed pressure on CUP to throw its support behind Mr Mas for another term. Julià de Jòdar, a writer and CUP candidate in the recent election, made an impassioned appeal via Twitter yesterday to his own ranks. He said: “If CUP pushed for the [2014 referendum] and Mas is summoned for carrying it out, we shouldn’t leave him alone [ . . .] Mas represents the embattled nation and we must defend him without restraint.”