18 November 2019
Volunteers in Barcelona count ballots after a symbolic on independence. Photo: Reuters
Volunteers in Barcelona count ballots after a symbolic on independence. Photo: Reuters

Defying Spain, Catalans vote on independence

About two million Catalans turned out to vote in a symbolic ballot on independence from Spain, AFP reported.

Catalonia’s vice-president, Joana Ortega, told reporters 1,977,531 people had voted across the region between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Sunday, two hours before polls closed.

Catalan authorities said 5.4 million people were eligible to vote.

Proud of its distinct language and culture, Catalonia, with 7.5 million people, accounts for nearly a fifth of Spain’s economy.

The region’s desire for independence has grown in recent years as recession and political corruption scandals have shaken the country.

Spain’s conservative government challenged the vote in the courts, forcing Catalan leaders to water it down from a non-binding referendum to a symbolic vote organised by volunteers.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has vowed to defend the unity of Spain, said the vote “will not have any effect.”

But voters were undeterred.

“Even though it may not be official, the important thing is that they listen to us,” said Martin Arbaizar, 16, who voted in Barcelona. “The more people vote, the more noise we make, the better.”

Several political groups and lobbies opposed to independence said they had filed lawsuits against the Catalan authorities for organising the vote.

State prosecutors said they were gathering evidence to see whether Catalan authorities breached court injunctions by opening polling stations and mailing campaign material.

By successfully getting the court to suspend the vote and then not enforcing its ruling, Rajoy has shown “he is not in charge,” said political analyst Josep Ramoneda.

“This is going to cost him, because some on the right and in business circles will see him as a spent force,” he told AFP.

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