Ousted Catalan leader calls for ‘democratic rupture’ after ban from public office
Quim Torra described the Supreme Court’s decision as a “coup” and urged separatist parties to stay united ahead of a regional election in the coming months
The regional leader of Catalonia, Quim Torra, on Monday responded to his removal from office by Spain’s Supreme Court, describing it as “a coup devised by the powers of the State” and urging independence supporters to make “a democratic rupture” as the “only way to advance” towards secession.
Surrounded by his Cabinet in full, Torra, a hardline supporter of Catalan independence, said he will go to the European Court of Justice to appeal the Spanish Supreme Court’s decision to uphold an earlier ruling barring him from holding public office for 18 months over disobedience charges.
That ruling, handed down in December, stemmed from Torra’s refusal to take down signs supporting jailed separatist politicians that were hanging from public buildings during election campaigning in March 2019. The signs read “Free political prisoners and exiles,” and Spain’s electoral commission had warned the separatist leader that official buildings could not be used for partisan messages during campaign periods.
Torra said he will go to the European Court of Justice to appeal the Spanish Supreme Court’s decision
His removal comes as Catalonia prepares for a new regional election that keeps getting delayed. Although Torra announced as early as January that he would call an election, he refused to hold it during the summer citing coronavirus concerns – despite the fact that residents of two other Spanish regions, Galicia and the Basque Country, did go to the polls at that time.
Now, with the pandemic increasingly out of control and the prospects of a fall season with no vaccine in sight, Catalans will likely be asked to go vote sometime in early February 2021. This means that the region will be run for several months by a caretaker administration after Torra’s deputy, Pere Aragonès, takes over the helm of government.
The Supreme Court’s decision ends Torra’s short term – two years and four months – at the helm of the Catalan executive. His predecessor, Carles Puigdemont, headed a failed unilateral breakaway attempt in October 2017 and fled Spain to avoid arrest and prosecution.
On Monday evening, Torra addressed a crowd of several hundred supporters who had gathered in Barcelona’s Sant Jaume square in violation of the government’s own rules prohibiting gatherings of more than six people. The outgoing leader criticized the Spanish judiciary and monarchy, and framed the upcoming election as a plebiscite on independence. He said the Spanish state was “thirsty for revenge.”
Torra also urged separatist parties to show unity at a time of growing divisiveness within the independence movement, which includes Torra’s own Together for Catalonia (JxCat) and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), the party that the new caretaker premier, Pere Aragonès, belongs to. “The only way to advance [towards independence] is through a democratic rupture. The elections need to be a new plebiscite that ratifies the referendum of October 1,” said Torra, alluding to the unauthorized vote held on October 1, 2017 that resulted in Puigdemont’s ouster and a temporary suspension of regional powers.
The latest survey by the Catalan government’s Center for Opinion Studies (CEO), released in December 2019, shows that 47.9% of Catalans reject independence while 43.7% support it, with the rest undecided. The study confirms the division of opinion regarding independence for Catalonia, which is home to around 7.6 million people.
English version by Susana Urra.