Opinion

Elections In Catalonia, Chicago-Style

Of all the lessons to be learned from the great American experiment of democracy and elections, the Catalans in Spain learned vote fraud and election day chaos. Now, the country is on the verge of a constitutional crisis.

Officials there declared last week that 90% of the ‘voters’ favored secession from the Central Government.  Soon the Regional Parliament will be and validate the so-called results. If the 90% canard we were to be true, then how did those favoring independence pull it off? Here’s a stab at an answer: Perfecting the art of good old-fashioned election fraud shenanigans long practiced in Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia.

The Central Government in Madrid would never under any circumstances validate or recognize the referendum. As a consequence there were no controls in place for a responsible balloting process is another answer to the 90% question.

President Mariano Rajoy felt the need to use brute force to prevent a referendum at all as the illegal election neared. His government seized ballots with the help of police and the military. Images of protests and violence were viewed throughout the country and the world.

My friends on the ground in the regional capital Barcelona said the Gestapo style tactics not only persuaded some Catalans to switch allegiance to independence, it also encouraged more creative fraud tactics. The Catalans took a page out of many a Democrat party playbook.  Election day voting was implemented so voters could show up at any polling place of their choosing any time they wanted.

Reminds me of stories I heard in Wilmington, Delaware of people being transported in buses from precinct to precinct. I knew a guy – God rest his soul – who followed the buses in a pickup so overloaded with bottles of liquor to be given as rewards to those voting that the axle on his truck broke. Bet that repair receipt never made it on an election disclosure form. The Catalans skirted the law by printing their own ballots.

United Nations observers were not present to observe so no one could validate results. The European Union announced they would not recognize an independent Catalonia so no countries therein would trade with the potential outlaw state. Here in the USA President Trump has publicly expressed his desire for Spanish unity. The last thing most European countries yearn for is secession movements, that, if successful could redraw the map of Europe to mirror medieval times.

Add to the stew the cascade of bad actors supporting secession. By that, we don’t mean the likes of John Stamos. We’re referring to support from wikileaks villain Julian Assange and Russia. President Vladimir Putin would love nothing more than a fractured and economically weakened European Union. If it’s true you can tell a lot about someone by the friends they keep, then, enough said.

Spain is a country made up of 17 regions known internally as ‘autonomous communities’. The look of modern day Spain was basically realized in 1492, the year Columbus discovered America on an investment from the Spanish throne.  It was also when the last of the Islamic faith Ottomans left Spanish soil.

Americans, more than most other citizens of the world should appreciate the value of a Constitution that upholds law and national identity. Spaniards protect their Constitution as fiercely as Americans do.

While it is true that in practice some regions in Spain like Catalonia, the Basque region and Galicia are more equal than others, every single region voted in 1980 that Spain would be organized in autonomous communities upholding the Constitution. It is true that some hold more autonomy than others.

Which leads us to the arguments the central government makes that the Catalonian elections were illegal.  Main among them is the legal mechanism for secession is a national referendum of all regions and not by vote of a single region. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as it were.

Spain is a parliamentary system of democracy. Rajoy and his center right Partido Popular party formed a fragile government with help from Barcelona. The Catalan Regional Government has often straddled left and right to further their own self-interest.

As Catalonia sees it, they are a ‘giver’ region unfairly propping up the rest of the country. That’s not how the rest of Spain sees it.  Some say the central government has, in a sense, been appeasing Catalonia more generously over time to the extent they are strongest amongst equals.

The Catalans thought they were giving up too much of their wealth to the rest of an ungrateful rest of Spain. The rest thought appeasing the Catalans in order to maintain constitutional order had gone a bridge too far. Catalonia already has a more aggressive inculcation program in regional schools promoting their own culture.

There are always two sides to a story. Unfortunately, the outcome for both after this sham is “lose, lose”. That’s the analysis of my friend and colleague Cesar Martinez who told me the episode was “lose, lose for both.” Martinez is a veteran of political campaigns in Spain and the United States where he and I worked for Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential run.

So how is the process considered ‘lose’ for Madrid?  Certainly because of the scenes of violence broadcast that the central government surely regrets. Images brought to mind what some in the Americas might recognize as banana republic democracy.

Believe it or not, some think the government waited too long to act with force. The consequence of such inaction may have been the use of excessive force on election day. Whether or not true, one thing is abundantly clear, the government lost the optics battle. Secessionists were incensed which only increased illegal turnout.

It should not be lost in this debate that Spain is still a Monarchy. That distinction, too, can be changed with a national referendum.  However that is most improbable, as the crown remains popular. King Felipe VI has been an outspoken opponent of secession warning of the dire consequences of moving toward a constitutional crisis. When the King speaks people listen.

Martinez’s partner, Daniel Urena says Catalonia lost the chance to tell a great story, and that “story telling is at the heart of great political campaign”. Catalonia indeed has a strong economy, their own flag and language. Essentially, they have their own culture. But that’s no different no other regions in Spain.

While the Catalans did not battle with legal or constitutional arguments in their favor, they most certainly stirred emotions. As Martinez’s partner Daniel Urena of MAS Consulting in Madrid wryly noted, ‘elections aren’t won on arcane arguments over sections of the legal code. They are won on emotion.”

Urena, also President of the Hispanic Council, believes the adverse attention and publicity will most certainly hurt Barcelona’s as the sexy spot in Europe. Already there is evidence that other European governments like Italy would rather invest in San Sebastian the Basque regional capital. Ironically, it is here where the Euskadi Ta Eskatasuna (ETA) has a stronghold and a history of paramilitary conduct in their own efforts for independence. Imagine losing national sympathy to those guys.

The Parliament in Catalonia will meet to certify the vote a sweeping mandate for secession. Madrid has warned of a swift response.  Most observers believe a civil war will most certainly be avoided, but at what cost. Nearly all agree the whole process was neither legitimate constitutionally nor legitimate electorally.


Perspectives expressed in op-eds are not those of The Daily Caller.