Catalan referendum: Spanish government could impose direct rule on Catalonia

Article 155 of the Spanish constitution can be triggered when a region’s actions threaten to ‘gravely damage Spain’s general interest’. It has never been invoked before

Alasdair Fotheringham
Monday 02 October 2017 10:41 BST
Spanish PM praises 'effective and serene' police despite referendum violence

A top Spanish opposition party has called on Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, to implement article 155 of the country’s constitution in Catalonia, which allows for direct rule from Madrid in Spain’s autonomous regions.

Albert Rivera, head of the business-friendly Ciudadanos party and which considered Sunday’s referendum to be illegal, told various Spanish media channels on Monday he believed using article 155, which suspends home rule, was necessary to block a possible unilateral declaration of independence and to enable fresh regional elections to be called in Catalonia.

Article 155 of the Spanish constitution describes itself in the legislation as being “for exceptional cases only” such as when a region’s failure to obey laws “gravely damage Spain’s general interest.” It has never been invoked before.

“Applying article 155, even if it is only for a few hours, to call elections is the most straightforward and most democratic solution,” said Mr Rivera, who was born in Barcelona. “That way all the Catalans would get to vote, not just a part.”

Until now, Mr Rajoy and the ruling Partido Popular PP have not discussed article 155 publicly but this week, as Catalan leaders eye a possible declaration of independence, it is likely to be a difficult subject to avoid.

Nationalist leaders in Catalonia, headed by regional premier Carles Puigdemont, have said that the results of Sunday’s banned referendum will be sent to the regional parliament shortly.

Catalonia’s laws allow for a unilateral declaration of independence should it be supported by a referendum vote. In yesterday’s poll, just over two million people, roughly 90 percent of votes cast, backed breaking away from Spain. However the question of how votes either lost or seized by police during Sunday’s turbulent referendum, estimated at around 800,000, will be treated and if this makes that result provisional remains unclear.

Mr Rivera and Socialist party leader Pedro Sánchez, the head of Spain’s opposition parties, will meet Mr Rajoy this afternoon to discuss a possible unilateral declaration of independence by Catalonia. Today Mr Rajoy, having met with top-level PP leaders this morning, is also expected formally to request a parliamentary debate on Catalonia. Both the Socialists and Ciudadanos have backed Mr Rajoy on his opposition to the referendum, albeit with reservations.

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