MADRID – Spain’s conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy urged on Wednesday residents of the affluent region of Catalonia to ignore calls to volunteer at polling stations in a forthcoming independence referendum as it would be illegal.
Rajoy reaffirmed his right-wing Popular Party minority government’s stance during the weekly question time in the nation’s lower parliamentary chamber, the Congress of Deputies, which is located in the Spanish capital, Madrid.
In a message directed toward Catalonians, Rajoy said: “If someone asks you to assist at a polling station, do not do it, because the referendum cannot go ahead and it would be a completely illegal act.”
Catalonia’s parliament, currently governed by the Junts Pel Sí (Together For Yes, JxS) pro-separatist coalition of regional president Carles Puigdemont, controversially wrote the referendum into local law in a plenary session last week that was fraught with heated debate and walk-outs.
“It was clearly an undemocratic act; as it is to stage an illegal referendum,” Rajoy insisted, adding that his government would ensure that the vote would not go ahead.
Spain’s King Felipe VI spoke out on the matter during an address at the National Culture Awards in the city of Cuenca – his first public appearance since the Catalonian parliament passed the referendum law.
“As I have previously made clear, the Constitution will prevail over any threat against democratic co-existence that is, has been and will be the base of shared liberty, the foundation of our progress and an important pillar of our membership of the European Union,” the monarch said.
Spain’s highest judicial authority, the Constitutional Court, has already suspended the independence legislation in Catalonia.
Spain’s democratic coexistence, achieved after much sacrifice, can only be upheld if the laws that regulate and organize the country are upheld by its citizens and institutions, Felipe added.
The Spanish government and the judiciary were currently pursuing several legal challenges against pro-Catalonian authorities.
A day after instructing national and regional police to seize voting material in Catalonia, Spain’s Attorney General Jose Manuel Maza issued fresh instructions to Catalonian prosecutors to summon mayors complicit in preparing and facilitating polling stations for the vote and to issue arrest warrants those who disobey the order.
According to the website of the pro-independence Association of Municipalities for Independence (AMI), some 712 town halls have signed a decree to make polling stations available for the Oct. 1 vote.
Maza ordered regional prosecutors to focus initially on the most populous municipalities.
The referendum bid in Catalonia had sparked a national debate on identity and democracy but the move has been denounced by the Spanish state, most major political parties in Spain as well institutions across the EU.
Leaders in Catalonia have argued that it is their democratic right to hold the poll.