The truth about how Spain is changing

Day 5: a democratic mandate or the rule of law?

Feb 23, 2019, 6:43 pm
Chronicle: Defendants refuse to answer questions from Vox; the King says one may not appeal to democracy without respecting the rule of law.

On the fifth day of the trial of the twelve separatists in Madrid, four people testified. They all had good, precise and clear memory of their ignorance of the Enfocats document or where the ballot boxes and ballot papers had came from, and total certainty about the absence of public spending for the referendum of October 1, 2017.

The former regional territory minister, Josep Rull, was very confident before the court but arrogant when correcting the prosecutor, Consuelo Madrigal, over a bad description in one document, lecturing the judges about democracy or commenting on the quality of the examination: “I have the feeling that these questions are a bit rhetorical...”. His tone of voice suggested he would rather preside over the court instead of sitting in the dock.

“Please don't question the prosecutor”, said the judge, Manuel Marchena, in one of his many rebukes: “Let's avoid the debate between who asks and who answers”.

Much of that discussion was about the “democratic mandate” versus the rule of law. Mr. Rull spoke of a conceptual “triangle”, adding legitimacy to the first two sides: “the relevant mandate is what was stated in the electoral manifesto, which was not challenged at any point”.

“We ran for election [...] I fulfilled citizens' democratic mandate”, he argued: “The government was linked to the mandate of the people of Catalonia as expressed in the polls”.

“I never thought it was a crime, so we kept moving forward,” said the former regional work and social affairs minister, Dolors Bassa. She contrasted the Constitutional Court rulings with the will of “80% of the population”: “I felt I was a public servant and that is to fulfil the democratic mandate of the people”.

Beyond the Supreme Court, King Felipe and the current Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, also chimed in on the issue. “One may not appeal to a so-called democracy without respecting the rule of law”, said His Majesty. “What is inadmissible is the state using the courts against the democratic will of citizens”, Mr. Torrent replied.

All the defendants denied having used public money for the October 1, 2017 vote. “None,” said Mr. Rull, “not one euro”, “you will not find any related invoices” because there was an “extraordinary” level of control over the Catalan government, which reduced to the role of a mere “manager” due to Finance Ministry overwatch. “Not one euro was used in my department for the referendum,” said Mertixell Borrás, the former regional governance minister.

“The moment the law is suspended, we do nothing else”, said Ms. Bassa. Both she and Mr. Rull argued that the budget line items in the March 2017 bill were only provisions, not for the October 1 illegal referendum but for a future vote agreed upon with the central government, or to prepare for the next regional or general elections.

Mr. Rull criticised the the Constitutional Court's “significant deficit of moral authority” and Ms. Bassa stated she failed to follow the six court orders because it was only “a transitional conflict”.

Asked by the prosecutor, Javier Zaragoza, about the reason why he had not considered suspending the referendum or questioning his colleagues, Carles Mundó, the former regional justice minister, replied: “You attribute powers to me that I did not have”.

Beyond the Enfocats document, they denied a strategic plot with the road map towards independence. It was a “statement of intent”, in the words of Mr. Rull; “there was not a joint strategy but a joint programme to achieve independence”, said Ms. Bassa.

Mr. Mundó said they all signed the referendum document together because “it is an extraordinary fact... precisely to emphasise the political character of that moment”.

Mobilising citizens “is the basis of everything”, Mr. Rull explained, “a fundamental element in any democracy”, although his view of the right to protest contradicted “that of the prosecutor”.

Regarding October 1, “it was never seen as a conclusive act for independence”, said Ms. Bassa, who also did not know how the ballot boxes had arrived at polling stations that day.

Schools were opened to allow the organisation of 'Catalan sausage parties' (butifarradas) and dances for the elderly: “in my department no specific action was being taken for the referendum”.

Mr. Rull also did not know anything about the origin of the ballot boxes, envelopes or ballot papers but said that “the strength of hope is extraordinary […] I had an intimate, deep confidence that they would appear […] it was a confidence in my country”.

Ms. Bassa contradicted the former regional government spokesman, Jordi Turull, about the Catalan government's relationship with a key postal company: “Yes we had worked with Unipost [...] yes, we had worked with Unipost before”.

The advantage of the universal electoral roll, explained Mr. Rull, getting back to the topic of the day, was that it “allowed a balance between existing judicial decisions and the right of citizens to vote”.

He described the declaration of independence as a “political declaration”, a mere “resolution proposal”. For Ms. Bassa, “on October 27, after the political and peaceful event, there was nothing else”.

Asked about the signing of a previous declaration of independence in the Catalan Parliament on October 10, she explained it was “a political act that was done in a room that was not the chamber”.

Supreme Court investigating judge Pablo Llarena, in the indictment sending them all to trial on March 21, 2018, concluded that on that day in that room “they signed a declaration of independence. In it they agreed: (i). To constitute the Catalan Republic, as an independent sovereign state".

All the defendants refused to answer questions from Vox, the private prosecution, “out of respect for people who have suffered xenophobia, racism, homophobia” (Rull) or “out of respect for the women of Spain” (Bassa).

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