Spain is bracing itself for an unprecedented challenge to its territorial unity as the Catalan regional government stages an independence referendum that has been suspended by the country’s constitutional court and dealt a series of devastating blows by the central government in Madrid. The pro-sovereignty administration of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont says that as many as 5.3 million people are eligible to vote in the unilateral poll and has vowed to declare independence within 48 hours of a victory for the yes campaign. But the Spanish authorities, which have ruled Sunday’s referendum illegal and unconstitutional, insist that the vote will not take place. After a tumultuous 10 days that have seen Catalan government officials arrested, referendum websites blocked and millions of ballot papers seized, the Spanish government said it was confident it had dismantled the electoral apparatus.
On Saturday, Enric Millo, Madrid’s most senior representative in Catalonia, announced that police had sealed off 1,300 of the region’s 2,315 polling stations, while Guardia Civil officers acting on a judge’s orders had searched the HQ of the Catalan technology and communications centre, disabling the software connecting polling stations and shutting down online voting applications.
“These last-minute operations have allowed us to very definitively break up any possibility of the Catalan government delivering what it promised: a binding, effective referendum with legal guarantees,” he said.
“That’s what the Catalan government had promised to deliver on 1 October. Today, we can assure people that it will not go ahead.”