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The ballot took place in the greatest confusion on Sunday in Catalonia. – Photo credits: LLUIS GENE/AFP More than 5.3 million Catalans are called today to vote in a referendum on independence, surrounded by uncertainty over the intention of Spanish institutions to prevent this plebiscite banned by justice.

The independence referendum did indeed take place, but numerous breaches of electoral rules cast doubt on its credibility.

The election day of this independence referendum prohibited promised to be atypical. The ballot, suspended by the Constitutional Court and which the Spanish government promised would not take place, while the Catalan executive assured that it would be held, could not be normal. As of Sunday morning, the independence government confirmed the strange nature of this vote, by authorizing voters to place ballots without an envelope in opaque ballot boxes purchased on Alibaba; it also made it possible to vote in any office, by virtue of electoral lists suddenly declared "universal". And at about the same time, the police charges turned the bizarre election day into a national psychodrama. Sunday, the interminable debate on the possibility or not for the Catalan separatists to advance towards their sovereigntist horizon changed in nature. The 844 wounded, according to the balance sheet of the Catalan government, and the images of citizens of all ages beaten by the Spanish police are now at the center of the debate.

From the start, nothing worked as planned. The Mossos d'Esquadra, 17.000 men paid by the regional administration to enforce national law, never seemed to take seriously the order of justice to prevent the poll. The Catalan police leadership sent two or four officers to polling places it knew were occupied by hundreds of voters. His men had visited them several times the day before and the day before. They had seen for themselves that parents of students pretended to organize fairs and other back-to-school parties there to better break the court ban. In Lérida, capital of one of the four Catalan provinces, a judge has opened an investigation against the Mossos for disobedience.

Targets chosen by the police

The national police and the civil guard, for their part, seemed to choose their targets according to their symbolic value. The first images of the Civil Guard charging against overwhelmingly peaceful citizens come from Sant Julià de Ramis. This is where the regional president, the separatist Carles Puigdemont, had to go, before his services decreed the possibility of voting anywhere. The polling station planned for Carme Forcadell, the president of the regional parliament and historical figure of independence, as well as that of the former Catalan president Artur Mas have also been dismantled. For the rest, according to information from the regional government, 319 polling places were closed out of a total of 2. In front of certain voting centers, pro-independence activists erected barricades to protect them from police intervention.

“There was no referendum today in Catalonia.”

Mariano Rajoy, President of the Spanish Government

The cross accusations, usual since the conversion of Catalan institutions to independence five years ago, crossed a new frontier this Sunday. At midday, Carles Puigdemont recorded a speech to denounce “the unjustified, irrational and irresponsible use of violence by the Spanish state”, which, he said, “will shame him eternally”. In the evening, the president of the Spanish government, Mariano Rajoy, replied: “The only responsible are those who broke the living together”. He also claimed “There was no referendum today in Catalonia.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have indeed deposited a ballot in a ballot box, but it seems difficult to speak of a referendum. The Electoral Commission, dissolved because of fines against its members, was replaced at short notice by international observers from European parliaments. The rules of the game were changed the same morning. Many presidents and assessors who could not be found have been replaced by volunteers. The electoral lists have been replaced by a mobile application with random connection. Some journalists and the anti-independence association Societat Civil Catalana, claim, with supporting photos, to have voted several times in different offices. According to the count of the online newspaper El Confidencial, the supposed election violates 20 of the 34 articles of the law on the referendum supposed to frame it.

At the end of the day, it seems that the match that each of the two camps persisted in winning ended in failure for all. The Catalan government, ready to do anything to guarantee its vote, proved incapable of organizing a credible referendum whose results it could present to the world, its real objective. His spokesman called for the "patience" of voters: the counting will be "long".

A failure for all

The Spanish government said it was prepared to assume the image of the forces of order seizing the ballot box. But the photos and videos of the violent charges shocked public opinion beyond Catalonia and Spain. Rajoy opened a door to a dialogue that today seems more impossible than ever, by announcing his intention to bring together all the parliamentary formations, including two Catalan independence parties, to "reflect on the future that we must face together". Puigdemont, for his part, approached a unilateral declaration of independence, announcing that he would transmit the results of the ballot to the Catalan Parliament. However, a law voted by the independence majority provides, in the event of a victory of the “yes”, that Parliament will proclaim independence 48 hours after the announcement of the results. About forty trade union, political and social organizations in Catalonia launched a call for a general strike in the region on Sunday evening, in response to the intervention of the Spanish state.

The separatist leaders, willingly imagining their challenge to the state as a game of chess, never made a secret of their double plan: if they were unable to defeat the Spanish government, at least they could push it to mistake. For several months, the attitude of each part is more reminiscent of “chicken run” races, where each driver rushing towards the other is convinced that the opponent will give up before him. This Sunday, no driver touched the brake pedal.

This article is published in the Figaro edition of 02/10/2017. Access its PDF version by clicking here

Source: ©  Le Figaro Premium – Violence widens the gap between Madrid and Catalonia

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