Madrid has demanded that the Catalan President answer clearly whether he declared independence last Tuesday. His response could see the central government suspend Catalan automony in a crisis that has divided Spain.
As the clock ticked towards 10 a.m. in Spain (0800 UTC) on Monday morning, suspense remained on how Catalan President Carles Puigdemont would answer Madrid's request to give a clear "yes" or "no" answer as to whether or not he had declared independence for Catalonia following a contested referendum.
The government in Madrid under conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy imposed the deadline after Puigdemont declared last Tuesday that he had a "mandate from the people" of Catalonia to convert the wealthy northeast region of Spain into an independent nation. Puigdemeont then immediately proceeded to say that the declaration was suspended in order to facilitate dialogue with Madrid. The situation has become Spain's largest and most divisive political standoff in decades.
The Catalan leader is expected to send Rajoy a letter before the deadline expires. However, his potential answer remained unclear.
On Sunday, while paying tribute to the Catalan separatist leader Lluis Companys on the anniversary of his execution by Franco's troops, Puigdemont said that his answer would be "inspired by [Companys] commitment to peace, civility and serenity, but also firmness and democracy."
Spain's Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido responded that "peace, firmness and democracy" can only be understood "through the rule of law."
The Spanish government declared the October 1 referendum in Catalonia to be illegal. The vote saw a turnout of less than 50 percent of eligible Catalan voters. Of those who did vote, some 90 percent cast their ballots in favor of secession.
Will Spain trigger Article 155?
Regional media speculated that Puigdemont would not provide a straight-forward "yes" or "no" answer but would instead sidestep the issue by once more calling for dialogue with Madrid. However, the central government has said that no dialogue is possible until Catalonia drops its unconstitutional demands for independence.
Puigdemont observed the 77th anniversary of the death of Catalan leader Companys, who was executed by the Civil Guard on Franco's orders
Madrid has also stated that any vague response to their demand for a "clear and simple" answer will be treated as a "yes" on independence and will consequently trigger Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which allows the central government to suspend regional rule and take control. If Article 155 is triggered on Monday, Puigdemont would then have until Thursday to rescind his statement of independence.
In providing an ambiguous response with request for dialogue at its forefront, Puigdemont could be seeking to project an image of openness to negotiation and paint the central government as inflexible and oppressive. The violent response from the national military police force on the referendum date drew widespread attention and fed Catalan secessionists' arguments that the government in Madrid is oppressive.
The 54-year-old Puigdemont finds himself in a political bind: his government in the Catalan regional parliament is propped up by the leftist pro-secessionist CUP, who could withdraw support if he does not come out strongly enough in favor of independence. At the same time, Puigdemont faces international pressure to drop plans to secede from Spain, as well as pressure from many Catalans themselves who wish to remain a part of Spain.
cmb/msh (EFE, Reuters, AFP)