Mas Fights to Keep Catalan Alliance Whole Before Deadline

It’s decision time for Artur Mas.

The Catalan President has to make up his mind by tomorrow whether to hold a vote on independence from Spain in defiance of the Constitutional Court or to duck a head-on collision in favor of a plan B, Francesc Homs, the regional government’s spokesman, said last week. Mas is due to speak at 10 a.m. today.

The separatist leader is trying to hold together a disparate alliance ranging from anarchists to executives, industrialists to greens as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy blocks the one course of action they all agree on: Holding a ballot on Nov. 9. While Mas has alternative plans for delivering Catalans the vote he’s promised, he risks losing political momentum if he changes course, or even just attempts to fudge the issue.

“Mas is trying to keep everyone on board, without leaving anyone behind, and that’s difficult,” said Albert Pont, chairman of Cercle Catala de Negocis, a pro-independence business lobby.

Should Mas opt against a head-on clash, he can call a regional election instead and use that as a de-facto referendum, Carles Viver i Pi-Suner, a former Constitutional Court judge who is advising Mas’s government, said yesterday.

Mas and his allies resolved on Oct. 3 to push ahead with their preparations for the non-binding vote to keep up the pressure on Rajoy and satisfy the expectations of their supporters. Still, Mas has said he won’t break the law to hold the vote, while his strongest ally, Esquerra Republicana’s Oriol Junqueras, has called on Catalans to use civil disobedience if Rajoy refuses to budge.

Pro-Spain Demonstration

Catalonia, a region of 7.4 million people in the northeast corner of the Iberian peninsula, is Spain’s largest economic region, boasting a 193 billion-euro ($244 billion) economy, about the same size as Scotland’s, where voters last month opted to remain part of the U.K. Output per head in Catalonia is 17 percent above the European Union average, whereas in Spain as a whole, it’s 5 percent below.

While the pro-secession parties seek to reach agreement on their next move, the unionists led by Societat Civil Catalana held a demonstration in Plaza Catalunya in downtown Barcelona on Oct. 12 to mark Spanish National Day with about 38,000 people attending, according to Barcelona city hall.

Spread Widening

Increasing tensions between the governments in Barcelona and Madrid have been incorporated into the price of Catalan bonds. The yield on Catalan bonds maturing in February 2020 jumped 20 basis points to 2.68 percent since Oct. 3 when Mas said he plans to push ahead with his preparations for the vote. The spread over Spanish debt widened by 19 points to 166 points, the biggest gap since Jan. 2014.

While the Oct. 12 gathering was peaceful, a bus bringing demonstrators into the city was attacked, Oscar Uceda, head of the Lleida chapter of Societat Civil Catalana, said in an interview. Two people boarded the bus insulting the passengers and after they were ejected a group of about 12 people threw rocks breaking the vehicle’s windscreen, he said.

In the same city, 162 kilometers (101 miles) from Barcelona, the offices of Ciutadans, another anti-independence party, were vandalized for second time in a week, the group said on Twitter.

Whatever option he picks, Mas will be seeking to retain the backing of the three other party leaders in his alliance, and Junqueras in particular, to protect himself from the political fallout. Junqueras, who finished second in the 2012 regional election, has opened a lead over Mas in recent polls by taking a more aggressive pro-independence stance.

‘Clear Mandate’

By abandoning plans for a Nov. 9 vote and calling an early regional election instead, Mas would, at least temporarily, reduce tensions with the central government because such a move lies clearly within his powers as president of the region. Beyond next month though, the underlying divisions would be likely to resurface.

“The new parliament would have a clear mandate to start the process of creating the independent state of Catalonia,” assuming most of the seats are held by pro-secession parties, Viver, Mas’s adviser, said in an interview with the regional government run Catalunya Radio.

In a survey by the regional government’s polling agency earlier this year, 47 percent of Catalans said they were in favor of independence while 28 percent said they preferred to stay with Spain. The rest were either undecided or planned to abstain.

While Rajoy remains committed to blocking the referendum, he made a symbolic concession to the nationalists this week, offering dialogue with the regional government in a Catalan-language editorial published by El Pais newspaper on Oct. 12.

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