Catalan separatists toy with new premier; Madrid calls him non-viable

Jailed independence activist Jordi Sànchez could soon be the new candidate to lead the region

Jordi Sànchez could soon be nominated to the Catalan premiership.
Jordi Sànchez could soon be nominated to the Catalan premiership.AFP

The Spanish government is convinced that Jordi Sànchez, a pro-independence leader who is in pre-trial detention in connection with a rebellion probe, will not end up being the next premier of Catalonia.

Sources familiar with separatist parties’ negotiations said that a statement is likely on Wednesday to present a deal that includes nominating the ex-head of the civic association Catalan National Assembly (ANC) to be the next Catalan premier.

I have no calling to be a symbol

Carles Puigdemont

“Conversations are progressing and we are optimistic. We are near the end. It is imminent, there are very few loose ends left,” said Sergi Sabrià, a spokesman for the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), on Monday.

The Mariano Rajoy administration trusts that the Supreme Court will invalidate the candidacy, and that Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent will refrain from putting Sànchez’s name forward.

Catalan politics have been at a standstill since the regional election of December 21, when separatist parties secured a collective majority but were unable to produce a valid candidate to form a new government.

“It’s almost a common sense thing that they should encourage a candidate who is in a position to do so [work as the premier]; it seems slightly odd to propose an individual who is in prison, and thus dependent on a judge’s authorization to attend the investiture debate,” said Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catalá on Tuesday. After that, said Catalá, such a candidate would still be facing a trial that could potentially end in a conviction and disqualification from holding public office.

Ousted Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont in Ghent.
Ousted Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont in Ghent.Delmi Alvarez

The Catalan Socialists (PSC) said on Tuesday that they will never vote for a separatist candidate, but urged pro-independence forces to at least nominate someone who is in a legal position to be appointed.

“We are still dealing with a non-viable candidate. These impossible nominations only create frustration,” said José Luis Ábalos, the Socialist Party’s organization secretary, alluding to an earlier attempt by separatists to get ousted premier Carles Puigdemont reinstated.

Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to avoid a rebellion probe following Catalan separatists’ unilateral declaration of independence last year, attempted to get reinstated from his new location, but Spanish and Catalan laws do not allow for remote appointments.

At a public appearance on Tuesday in the Belgian city of Ghent, Puigdemont told a crowd of young supporters of the Flemish party Open VLD that he would accept a different candidate than himself if the Catalan parliament so decides.

Why is Sànchez in jail?

Jordi Sànchez, the former president of a civic association called Catalan National Assembly (ANC), has been in preventive prison for 135 days as part of an investigation into sedition following incidents in Barcelona on September 20, when thousands of protesters tried to block the actions of Spanish National Police and Civil Guard officers who were charged with preventing the illegal referendum in the region.

“I have no calling to be a symbol,” he said, addressing rumors that he was going to be offered a symbolic presidency of Catalonia. “My authority emanates from a decision by the Catalan parliament. If my parliament decides not to renew its trust in me, I will terminate my term.”

Separatist parties – Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia (JuntsxCat), the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the anti-establishment CUP – have been negotiating to find a new nominee before the region is forced into a fresh election.

The Spanish government is asking for a candidate to step forward who will not be hampered in his or her everyday duties by a criminal investigation, as is Sànchez’s case.

“It is unimaginable to think of a regional premier who is a fugitive from justice living abroad, and it is also difficult to think of a regional premier who is in prison and cannot exercise his duties,” said Minister Catalá. “Having said that, it is up to Catalan deputies to make this decision, and to see whether it is the most convenient one to serve the interests of Catalans.”

In order to personally attend the investiture debate inside the Catalan parliament – a necessary step for any candidate – the Supreme Court judge in charge of the rebellion probe would have to grant Sànchez a temporarily release from Soto del Real penitentiary in Madrid.

Judge Pablo Llarena already refused a similar request from Sànchez and two other ex-Catalan officials in pre-trial detention who had asked to attend an investiture session planned for January 30. The parliament speaker ultimately postponed the session indefinitely as no valid candidates stepped up, and a new session is still pending.

English version by Susana Urra.


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