Catalonia facing a new impasse after vote on leader gets postponed

Delay of investiture session and Carles Puigdemont’s refusal to back down could lead to a new election

Carles Puigdemont, delivering his message last Tuesday.
Carles Puigdemont, delivering his message last Tuesday.Efe

The decision by Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent to indefinitely postpone the session to vote in the next Catalan premier has raised concerns that the region is heading toward another institutional impasse.

On Tuesday, Torrent announced that the session to debate the appointment of ousted Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont – who is the only nominated candidate – would be adjourned, leaving the region mired in political uncertainty.

Puigdemont can only be sworn in if he seeks permission from a judge to physically attend the investiture debate

For the first time since the December 21 snap election, divisions have begun to appear between the two leading pro-independence parties: Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), led by Puigdemont, and the Catalan Republic Left (ERC).

Junts per Catalunya had reportedly prepared Puigdemont’s investiture speech – despite the legal obstacles – and they were not consulted by Torrent prior to his decision, according to sources from both parties.

Puigdemont is currently in self-imposed exile in Brussels after fleeing Spain to escape charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds over his involvement in the unilateral declaration of independence last October.

On Saturday, Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that Puigdemont can only become the new head of government if he first seeks permission from a judge to physically attend the debate, meaning the politician cannot be sworn in remotely or by delegating his vote. The court also warned that the Mesa, the speaker’s committee, would be found in contempt if it allowed Puigdemont to be sworn in through illegal means.

Puigdemont condemned the court’s decision as “a new attack from the state.” Torrent also said he would not let the next Catalan premier be chosen “by people sitting at a desk 600 kilometers from here,” in reference to Madrid.

Junts per Catalunya were not consulted on the decision to delay the investiture session

Torrent has promised that “the session will take place when there are assurances that it will be an effective debate, with guarantees and without interference,” and said that he is “not going to propose any other candidate who is not Puigdemont.”

Yet doubts remain over how the political crisis will be resolved. Puigdemont is refusing to step aside to allow another nominee to bid for the post, arguing that “there is no other candidate.”

The political loggerheads mean that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy could end up calling new elections. This could happen once the Constitutional Court rules on the government’s challenge of  Puigdemont’s candidacy, and after two months have passed since the first investiture vote, according to Catalan voting legislation.

Ciudadanos leader Inés Arrimadas, who won the most votes in the regional election but lacks enough support from other parties to form a government, has said that Torrent’s decision only extends “the agony of the process” and “the Puigdemont show.”

Separatists have said they will take their case to the European Court of Human Rights, which takes an average of six years to make a judgment.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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