Catalan Statute reform
Catalonia voted overwhelmingly in favour of a statute giving it more autonomy on Sunday (June 18), but low turnout in the ballot immediately sparked questions about its validity.
According to official data, with 99.6 percent of the votes counted, 73.9 percent of Catalans said "yes" to a fiercely contested statute that has fired debate on autonomy in Spain's regions and reawakened sensitivities that date back to the Civil War of the 1930s.
But just under half of the 5 million Catalans eligible to vote did so, with 50.6 percent abstaining from the ballot.
The leader of the right-leaning main opposition party Mariano
Rajoy said the result showed a lack of support. He affirmed that "now
Catalans have not supported this and his (Prime
Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's) personal project has been rejected because two of every three citizens of Catalonia have not supported the project of reform of the statute. This statute had the biggest rejection in our democracy," Rajoy said, counting those who abstained as equal to a "no" vote.
Zapatero said the vote was valid and urged Rajoy and other political parties campaigning for a "no" vote to move on.
The referendum gives the wealthy region a greater slice of its income tax and more spending, and was considered a test of strength of the central government.
The statute has been the subject of dispute between regional and national political parties for more than a year, centring on a phrase that says Catalonia perceives itself as "a nation".
Compromise on that phrase in the final statute was eventually rejected by both ends of the political spectrum -- the right-leaning Popular Party (PP), which says it is a threat to Spanish unity, and the Catalan nationalist party Esquerra Republicana (ERC), which says it does not go far enough.
Zapatero's government, seen as backing more autonomy to Spain's already powerful regions, campaigned for a "yes" result. But the PP accuses the prime minister of selling out in both Catalonia and in the Basque Country, where the government aims to start peace talks with the armed band ETA after they declared a ceasefire in March.
June 19, 2006 | 12:56:35