The Referendum of Catalonia
By Kunal Damaraju
Spain is currently facing one of their most heated political situations in recent history. For the past several years, the nation has been witnessing a long recession, where unemployment is at 25%, and, in 2013, approximately 79,306 Spanish nationals emigrated out of the country. To make matters worse, Spain has seen increasing support from residents and politicians in the region of Catalonia who are calling for the regions succession. Currently, Catalonia sits as the richest region in Spain, making up 18.8% of its GDP. However, several separatists believe that Catalonia is being anchored down by the economic disaster that Spain is experiencing. The region has several more reasons to be angry with the government in Madrid, including a 2006 statute that cut Catalonia’s public spending and limited power of the regional government. Years of debate and unrest has finally led Catalonia to call an unprecedented referendum.
Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont first called the referendum in June, later supported by Catalonia’s MPs in late July. The Parliament of Catalonia soon followed up with the notion and approved a law in September that allowed the referendum to take place. the government in Madrid, however, quickly criticized the decision and declared the motion unconstitutional through the Constitutional Court.
Spain's PM Mariano Rajoy has vowed that he would do everything in his power to make sure that a referendum would not be held. And he did not hold back his promise. Police raided government buildings, arresting officials, including Catalonian Secretary General of Economic Affairs Josep Maria Jove, who supported the scheduled referendum on October 1st. Police also seized posters that urged voters to vote in favor of succession. The unexpected raids sparked fiery protests and riots through the streets of Catalonia; in turn, the police responded with more violence and brute force. Rajoy condemned the protests on a televised statement, demanding that the protesters “Stop this escalation of radicalism and disobedience once and for all,
On the day of the referendum, the situation escalated as police were ordered to stop citizens from voting. Over 900 people were injured from police brutality, and more than 750,000 votes were not counted because the polling stations were shut down. Nevertheless, the referendum persisted, and a voting count was soon conducted after. Around 43% of the Catalonian population was able to vote, and of that 43%, about 90% voted in favor of secession. As expected, Madrid immediately declared that they would not accept the results of the referendum, reasoning that the referendum was illegal, and therefore the results were illegitimate.
Spain is in a troubling situation right now. If there is any chance of Catalonia seceding from Spain, then the nation can certainly expect an economic disaster. However, in the most likely scenario that Catalonia will not secede from Spain following this referendum, there can certainly be potential for more social unrest in the region. Catalonia remains as the nation's top contributor towards Spain's economy, so the direction of the outcome of this referendum will certainly affect both Spain and Catalonia, in terms of the economy and Spain’s status amongst European nations. It is up to the governments of Spain and Catalonia to come to a peaceful decision as soon as possible.
By: Kunal Damaraju
It’s been roughly two months since the most surprising snap general election in UK history came to an end. The Conservative Party was expected to win more seats in Parliament, maintain their mandate over Brexit negotiations, and solidify unity and strength within the party. Instead, the Conservative Party lost thirteen seats, losing the power and control that they once had to oversee their vision of successful Brexit negotiations. So what exactly happened that took the world by storm?
The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act of 2011 had laid out the procedure and timeline for each general election in the UK, stating that it must occur every five years. However, it also states that snap general elections can be called before the five-year term only when two-thirds majority of Parliament vote in favour of an election to be held. But with the Conservative party already holding a majority in the House of Commons with 331 seats, what was the need to call a snap general election?
For Theresa May, Prime Minister of the UK and leader of the Conservative Party, the reason is simple: Brexit. With approval ratings of the Conservative Party high, it seemed like an opportunity for tighter political power over Parliament for the Conservative Party. In a statement to the citizens of the UK, she stressed that "If we do not hold a general election now, their political game-playing will continue... and the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled election." The political games Theresa May was referring to involved the other MP’s from parties such as the Labour party, SNP, and the Liberal Democrats who aimed to make the process of negotiating for Brexit very hard for the Conservative Party. The additional time from an extended five-year term, it seemed, would also allow May and the Conservative Party to create free trade agreements for UK’s post-Brexit era.
Before the election occurred, the Labour party held 230 seats, while the SNP and LD held fifty-four and nine seats respectively. The Conservative party held 331 seats, and it was expected that the number would grow. However, overnight, the results were not what most expected. The Labour party gained an unprecedented 32 seats and now have 262 MP’s. The Liberal Democratic Party gained three seats and now have twelve MP’s, while the Scottish Nationalist Party lost seventeen seats and now have thirty-five MP’s. The biggest surprise was for the Conservative Party, who lost thirteen seats. In Parliament, a 326 seat majority is needed in order to gain control. Since no party reached the required number of seats, Theresa May and the Conservative Party were forced to form a minority government. Under this process, the party with the most MP’s is allowed to form a coalition with another party in order to reach the required 326. In this case, the Conservative Party chose the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, who hold ten seats in Parliament. The Democratic Unionist Party also support Brexit, but do not want Labour Party leader James Corbyn to have power in Parliament due to his relationship with Ireland Republicans, making the party a candidate for May to form her minority government. Minority governments tend to be weak and short lived. Stanley Baldwin, a former Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, formed a minority government in 1923 that lasted for only 10 months.
While some praise the election results, others find it to be grimacing. Federica Mogherini, the European Union's foreign policy chief, believes that the UK’s future with Brexit is unclear. She states that "One year after their referendum, we still don't know the British position in the negotiations on Brexit and it seems difficult to predict when we will.” Only time will tell to show the world the consequences of the UK’s 2017 snap general election.