diumenge, 20 de juliol de 2014

The Catalan bill on Consultation Votes passes its last-step-but-one with 80% of parliamentary support

Barcelona (ACN).- The future Law on Consultation Votes, which should enable the organisation of a self-determination vote in Catalonia on the 9th of November, has been approved by the parliamentary committee in charge of drafting it and sending it to the plenary for the final approval. It has passed with the support from all the parties – including the Socialists (PSC) – except the Spanish nationalist People's Party (PP) and Ciutadans (C's), which only hold 20% of the Catalan Parliament's seats. This means that 80% of the Catalan chamber has backed the text, which should be now approved by the plenary in late September or early October, in order to use the new law to call November's self-determination vote. 
Since the Spanish authorities are not authorising a binding referendum on independence, Catalonia is developing its own legal framework to make a consultation vote on the issue possible. This law was already foreseen in the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, which is Catalonia's main law and was approved by the Spanish Parliament and the Catalan people through a binding referendum in 2006. 
The parties supporting the self-determination vote will probably take the bill to the Catalan Council for Constitutional Guarantees – the body in charge of assessing if new regulations are in line with the Constitution – in order to be certain they approve a text in line with the current legal framework. However, it is expected that the Spanish Government will take the new law to the Constitutional Court once it is approved in order to cancel it or at least to temporarily block it. 
The PP, which runs the Spanish Government and holds an absolute majority in the Spanish Parliament, has appointed the majority of members of the Constitutional Court, which lost most of its credibility and legitimacy in the ruling against the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, approved through a citizen referendum in 2006. Back then, the Court took 4 years to reach a decision and it issued an extremely controversial sentence in 2010, after the law had been into force for years and after years of political manoeuvres by the PP to influence the Court and to modify its composition.

On Wednesday, the bill on Consultation Votes has been approved by the parliamentary committee in charge of drafting it, the last-step-but-one, before its definitive approval. The PP and C's have strongly criticised the initiative, which they consider is "a trap" and "a fraud" to democracy as it will be used to call the self-determination vote that they frontally oppose. The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which is part of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), has given its support to the bill, although they consider the future law cannot be used to organise a self-determination vote, since the topic falls beyond the exclusive powers of the Catalan Government, they argue.

The rest of the parties, which represent around two thirds of the Parliament, have welcomed the legal tool and have reaffirmed their commitment with November's self-determination vote. The centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU, which runs the Catalan Government, stated the bill "is not a law only for the 9-N [self-determination vote], but it is also a law to be used also for the 9-N". The left-wing Catalan independence party ERC stressed that the new bill "is fully constitutional" and represents "expanding democracy". The Catalan green socialist and post-communist coalition ICV-EUiA considered the new law "a valid and useful tool" to allow citizens to express their views, since it will enable citizen consultations. Finally, the radical left-wing and independence party CUP insisted that the bill is "a legal, legitimate, specific and regulated base for political consultations to the population".

The bill's details

The new bill enables consultation votes in the entire Catalan territory, in individual municipalities or in a specific geographic areas, including counties. Depending on the area, they will be called by the President of the Catalan Government or by local governments, such as municipalities or county councils. Furthermore, the Catalan Parliament (2/5 of the chamber or a minimum of 3 groups, with the support of a simple majority of the Parliament) and citizens (though the formula of popular legislative initiative with a minimum of 50,000 signatures) can also ask to hold such a vote.

The bill also foresees some conditions regarding the vote's timing. It cannot be called less than 6 months before a scheduled election. In addition, when the vote is for the entire Catalonia, it has to be organised between 30 and 60 days after the Catalan President signs the vote's decree. In addition, the President has a maximum of 90 days to sign the decree once the organisation of the consultation vote is requested by the Catalan Parliament.

16 year olds will be able to vote

The vote will use the census of the Catalan Statistics Institute (Idescat), which is built through the residence census of municipalities. It is therefore different than the census managed by the Spanish Home Affairs Ministry, used in regular elections. In the Idescat census, those aged 16 years or more, being Spanish citizens and living in Catalonia are included and therefore will be allowed to vote. In addition, some foreign nationals are also included, under certain conditions. For EU citizens (who are not Spanish citizens), they will be allowed to vote if they have been registered as Catalan residents for a minimum of 1 year. For non-EU citizens, they will be allowed if they received the residence permit at least 3 years before the vote. Furthermore, Catalan citizens living abroad will be allowed to vote though a volunteer register. However, Catalans living in other parts of Spain will not be allowed to vote because their census would depend on the will of Spanish authorities to transfer the information.

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