BARCELONA, Spain, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Emboldened by a straw poll that saw over 80 percent of Catalonians vote in favor of independence from Spain, Catalan leader Artur Mas is doubling down on the call to break free from Madrid's central government. Spain, however, criminalized the straw poll with a last-minute court injunction and has publicly announced its plans to sue Mas for holding the ceremonial vote.
Claiming "disobedience and dishonesty" on Mas' part, Spain's suit seeks to ban Mas from ever running for office again. But regardless of the potential threat to his political future, Mas is continuing efforts to establish Catalonia as an independent government.
"A huge majority of Catalans, whether in favor of independence or not, just wanted to express their wishes at the ballot box having given my government and the Catalan parliament a mandate for that in the last parliamentary elections in November 2012," Mas wrote in an op-ed published by the Guardian on Wednesday.
"I therefore call on Spain's government, and also on Spain's people, to listen to the people of Catalonia. The hour has come and our whole hearts are in this. I also call on the international community to urge President Rajoy and Spain's parliament to allow Catalonia to choose its own system of government, for ourselves and for our children. Spain was a shining example of a country that suffered 40 years of dictatorship and peacefully transformed almost overnight into a western democracy. Let's keep that light of democracy shining."
Mas directly addressed the legal threat to his political career, saying he is not intimidated and insisting any legal action taken by Madrid be against him alone.
"Despite constant threats from the Spanish government, we were not intimidated and went ahead with our vote. If the Spanish public prosecutor is looking for someone to blame, that person should be no one else but me."
In a corrections letter to the Jerusalem Post published the same day as Mas' editorial, Spanish Ambassador to Israel Álvaro Iranzo Gutiérrez reiterated the Spanish government's position that independence for Catalonia would bring about little change for Catalans as the regional government has a significant amount of autonomy.
"Catalonia has its own institutions, police, representation overseas, civil code, elects (in 40 electoral occasions since 1978) its representatives at the national, regional town and European level, uses and promotes the Catalan language, and its citizens enjoy every civil and political right."
Despite central government opposition and the lawsuit against Mas, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy conceded Tuesday he is open to a dialogue with Catalonia about reforming the region's political and financial relationship with Spain.
"The Parliament of Catalonia is authorized to start the process of a constitutional reform," Rajoy said in a press conference.
While expressing a willingness examine existing policies, Rajoy made it clear he is not open to discussing Catalonia's potential secession.
"This is what they should have done from the beginning. This is the only legal and responsible path to go forward with its proposals. Both me and my party will be against any constitutional reform that leads to the end of the national sovereignty."