The political climate has become volatile in Spain with Catalonia, the wealthiest region in the country, voting to secede from Spain and become its own separate country. The independence referendum this week passed with an overwhelming majority of the vote; Spain and Catalonia are now in a standoff over whether the vote is binding.
Here are five things to know about the Catalonia independence referendum.
1. Around 90% of those who voted approved of the referendum. However, the voting turnout was only 42%, which is low. This might have been due to the fact that some didn’t turn out after the Spanish government declared the vote to be illegal; under the Spanish Constitution any referendum must be voted on by Spain as a whole. Over 2.25 million people voted; there are 5.3 million registered voters in Catalonia.
2. Catalonia’s quest for independence dates back to the 1700s. Catalonia was conquered by Spanish King Phillip V in 1714, and ever since the region has clamored for independence. There have been two instances prior to Sunday’s vote where Catalonia has come close to independence; the first was in 1932, when Spain recognized Catalonia as a Catalan Republic. But Catalonia lost its autonomy in 1939 when Spanish dictator Francisco Franco purged Catalan nationalism. The second instance was in 2006, when the Constitutional Court invalidated Spain recognizing Catalonia as its own nation.
3. The Spanish government sent police to shut down polling booths in an attempt to suppress the vote; voters resisted the police and violence ensued. According to CNN, nearly 900 people were injured. Here’s how CNN described the scene:
Police fired rubber bullets at protesters and voters trying to take part in the referendum, and used batons to beat them back.
Police smashed their way into polling stations, and were seen pulling voters out by the hair and restraining elderly people.
Catalan leaders have responded to the violence by slamming the Spanish government for “returning Spain to authoritarianism,” per The New York Times.
4. What happens next is unclear. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy refused to acknowledge that the vote even happened on Sunday evening. Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catalá has suggested that the Spanish government could go as far as seizing control of Catalan through exercising the government’s emergency powers and implement snap elections for new Catalan leaders. That hasn’t deterred Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont from planning to have the Catalan regional parliament approve the result of the referendum. Needless to say, the road ahead for Spain is quite bumpy and will likely result in protests and strikes.
5. Losing Catalonia would be a major blow to Spain’s economy. Catalonia consists of around a fifth of Spain’s economy and a fourth of Spain’s exports and rakes in foreign investment, per CNN Money. It’s no wonder then that there has been a recent decline in the euro and in Spain’s stock market.
Catalonia’s exit could have even wider consequences for Spain. As CNN notes, Spain “has 17 regions with varying degrees of autonomy, and losing one may inspire other regions to begin, or revive, separatist movements.”
Clearly, Catalonia’s independence vote has caused serious political turmoil in Spain that doesn’t appear to have an end in sight any time soon.