Catalan Leader Wins Backing of Regional Parliament for Independence Referendum


Catalan regional lawmakers on Thursday approved regional President Carles Puigdemont's plan to call a referendum next year on independence from Spain, which has been without a fully functioning government since December. 

Puigdemont called the vote of confidence in his government and its plans after his pro-independence coalition that rules Catalonia broke down in June when its most radical component -- the far-left CUP party -- refused to back the government budget for 2016.

The CUP had since said it would help bring the coalition back together again and vote for Puigdemont, but only in exchange for a Scotland-style referendum next year.

In an address to the Catalan regional parliament on Wednesday ahead of the vote, Puigdemont said he would hold an independence referendum in September 2017 whether or not the central government in Madrid agrees to one.

The promise of the referendum allowed him to regain an absolute majority in 135-seat Catalan parliament as he won the confidence vote with 72 votes in favor and ten against.

He was backed by the CUP’s ten lawmakers as well as all 72 lawmakers from his "Junts Per Si", or "Together for Yes", coalition.

Opposition lawmakers on Thursday argued that the referendum would be illegal and would not be recognized.

"You are on a stationary bicycle, you peddle but you are going nowhere," said Ines Arrimadas, the leader of the anti-independence Ciudadanos party which voted against Puigdemont in the confidence vote

Catalan separatists have for years tried -- in vain -- to win approval from Spain's central government to hold an independence referendum like Britain's Scottish referendum in 2014 which resulted in a "no" vote.

Puigdemont's predecessor Artur Mas had already tried to hold such a vote.

But when it was banned by Spain's Constitutional Court, he held a symbolic independence vote in November 2014.

Over 80 percent cast their ballot in favor of independence then -- although just 2.3 million people out of a total of 6.3 million eligible voters took part.

Unlike British former counterpart David Cameron with Scotland, which did get a vote in 2014, acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has always categorically refused a referendum.

But as Spain remains mired in nine months of political stalemate after two inconclusive elections, it is not certain that Rajoy will still be in power next year.

Catalans have nurtured a separate identity for centuries, but an independence movement surged recently as many became disillusioned with limitations on the autonomy they gained since the late 1970s after the Francisco Franco dictatorship, which had suppressed Catalan nationalism.

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