The Catalan High Court of Justice’s (TSJC) decision to suspend the February 14th elections was to be expected. It was expected by those of us who, while not involved in politics, analyze with a certain passion if you will, politics and everything that has to do with them. I understand why lawyers disagree over the High Court’s authority on this matter. I’ve heard clashing opinions coming from very respectable positions, therefore I will not enter a legal debate, where I would be fighting a losing battle. Besides, this was not, and never has been the crux of the matter.
In my opinion, ever since the Catalan socialists (PSC) started speculating about a possible appeal against the other political parties’ agreement to postpone elections until May 30th the real question was another one: Would the High Court of Justice stand aside, or would it enter the field as a key player? The answer to this question was an easy one. They would enter the field and steal the spotlight. What was to be expected from a court that pushed for Catalan president Quim Torra’s disqualification for hanging a banner in support of the Catalan political prisoners at the Generalitat’s (the Catalan government palace) balcony?
Catalonia now finds itself in a complete electoral limbo. No one believes the elections can be held on February 14th, and after this whole ado it would be stupid to postpone them until May 30th. The debate over their suspension finished before it had even started, and this is partly the Catalan government’s responsibility, given that it called off the elections without setting a new official date. Since electoral law does not allow for the election date to be set so far in advance, talking about May 30th was mere speculation. It is also likely that the arguments for postponement were not strong enough, and that the Government’s justification reports were not convincing. Postponement was a sensible and defensible decision, but given it technically meant the elections would be called off, perhaps the motives provided were not sufficient. Whatever the case may be, the Catalan High Court had an easy decision.
How can this mess of possibilities be solved now? Should the February 14th date be kept? Should extra weeks be given to recover the time lost? Should elections be celebrated on May 30th, as was agreed, regardless of the last events? The court’s decision on the appeal presented by judge Javier Aguayo Mejía offers few clues, if any. The document simply explains, in convoluted language unfit to mere mortals, that “due to extraordinary urgency, the suspension measure [of the elections postponement to May 30th] must be adopted, and the electoral process must continue with utmost celerity”. The process would continue tomorrow, Thursday 21st at 10AM , when the deadline for the Catalan government and the public prosecutor to present any allegations ends.
If the document does not mention the Catalan High Court’s decision, what path will it choose? Perhaps its insistence to emphasise the purity of an electoral process without interruptions, -fixed by article 42 of the Spanish electoral law- can give us a hint towards its position on the subject. There seems to be an established opinion in the magistrates court that the dissolution of Parliament on December 21st that set up the February 14th elections damaged the electoral process, due to the absence of a Catalan president with legal authority to do so (Quim Torra was disqualified as Catalan president, and it was Pere Aragonés, the vice-president acting as president who did so). Therefore, the process should restart, and if the deadline opened next Tuesday, on the 26th, the election date would be set for March 21st. The prior options, February 14th and May 30th would be forgotten, and the elections would be celebrated in march, as the PSC intended, a deadline that would assure all polling station staff received both doses of the vaccine.
What about Covid-19 figures? They should be better that in February, though the Catalan government believes they would be worse that on May. Whatever the case may be, the electoral calendar, as was the case in 2017, is out of the Catalan government’s control. And that is a grave problem.