Spain’s Rajoy Pledges to Stop Catalan Referendum, Restore Links

  • Rajoy confirms PP backing with support of 95% of delegates
  • Podemos’ Iglesias gets re-elected as members demands unity

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pledged to stop the Catalan government’s planned referendum on independence while restoring links with the citizens of the country’s largest economic region.

“We won’t allow the holding of a referendum that’s forbidden by our constitution, seeks the independence of Catalonia, and the breakup of Spain,” Rajoy said in Madrid in his acceptance speech after being re-elected as president of the ruling People’s Party.

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Rajoy’s time as prime minister since 2011 has been marked by persistent clashes with Catalan separatists who argue their region gets a raw deal from the Spanish tax system to foment a widespread backlash against control from Madrid. Pro-independence parties won a majority in the regional assembly in 2015 and Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has vowed to hold a referendum on secession by September, in defiance of the Spanish courts.

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria is co-ordinating an effort to bolster visibility of the central government in Catalonia including improving the metropolitan trains in Barcelona and expanding infrastructure such as the city’s airport. Rajoy is also opening talks about a new funding system for the most of the country’s regions, which potentially could improve the economic means of Catalonia.

“We want to be present in their everyday life, we are doing it more,” said Rajoy, referring to Catalans, who also identify themselves as Spaniards. “We will never abandon them.”

Podemos Vote

Five miles (eight kilometers) across the Spanish capital, Podemos’ members on Sunday also confirmed Pablo Iglesias as secretary general, after a campaign dominated by sniping between his faction and the one led by his deputy Inigo Errejon. Errejon, 33, wants Podemos to adopt a more measured style to court mainstream voters. Iglesias, 38, envisions a more radical path for the party, tapping the energy of street protests that fueled its rise.

Iglesias’ list of candidates to the group’s executive committee got 50.8 percent of the votes compared with 33.7 percent for Errejon’s bloc, according to the party’s website. Iglesias got 89.1 percent of the votes as secretary general.

“There is a clear mandate for the secretary general: unity and unity,” said Iglesias his acceptance speech Sunday. “Unity and humility to continue as the opposition to the PP.”

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Rajoy’s successful bid to stay in power proved his party could hold off the populist challenge of Podemos. As he basks in a glow of approbation from his PP, a string of elections is about to put the political establishment in other European countries to the test.

In the Netherlands, the far-right Freedom Party is on track to be the biggest group in the parliament when elections are held next month, according to an Ipsos poll released last week. Marine Le Pen’s National Front is also the front-runner for a first round of elections in France in April.

Rajoy’s success “shows that it’s necessary to avoid an exaggerated and populist message,” said Antonio Lopez-Isturiz, secretary general of the European People’s Party, which groups conservative parties including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU. “In the end, it’s not what people need.”