Catalan Vote Set for Sept. 27 in Independence Challenge

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Catalan President Artur Mas called for early elections in his region for Sept. 27, setting up a fresh clash with the central government in Madrid over his drive to break up Spain.

Mas signed the voting order Monday night in a televised event from Barcelona, describing the coming vote as “exceptional” while blaming central government in Madrid for refusing to engage in talks over the future of Catalonia.

“When a majority wants to exercise its right to decide, and is denied this right, we have an exceptional situation,” he said in his televised speech on Catalan network TV3.

With separatist groups running on a joint pro-independence platform, Mas is framing the ballot as a de facto referendum on secession from Spain. He has pledged to declare independence within two years if he can form a majority.

The regional Catalan vote is a challenge to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as he prepares to campaign for a second term in national elections due by year’s end. Rajoy’s People’s Party argues that any move toward independence would violate the Spanish constitution, and says that leaving Spain would result in Catalonia’s losing the euro.

“The single platform by pro-independence parties substantially increases the chances of full confrontation between Catalonia and the central government,” said Antonio Barroso, a London-based political analyst at Teneo Intelligence. “But it’s unclear whether the pro-independence list will be able to reach an absolute majority.”

Support for Catalan independence has waned as Spain’s recovery gathers pace. With the economy forecast to grow at the fastest pace in eight years, opinion polls point to no overall majority for either camp.

Pro-independence leaders from across the political spectrum have set aside their differences to campaign on a single platform along with Catalan personalities such as Bayern Munich soccer coach Pep Guardiola.

Change of Leader

Rajoy’s party has responded by replacing Catalan regional PP leader, Alicia Sanchez-Camacho, with Xavier Garcia-Albiol, the former mayor of Badalona, a municipality in Barcelona. Garcia-Albiol has built a reputation for being a tough-talker and his anti-immigration views have sparked controversy.

Albert Rivera, who heads Barcelona-based pro-business party Ciudadanos, said the election was a trick by Mas to distract Catalans from his poor management of the regional economy. Anti-austerity Podemos says Catalans have the right to decide, but that it wants the region to stay a part of Spain.

Pro-independence groups would together gain 56 seats, short of the 68-seat majority needed to form a government in Catalonia’s regional parliament, according to a poll for La Razon newspaper published July 27. Pro-union parties, including the PP, the Socialists and Ciudadanos, would gain 55 seats.

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