Catalan parties to seek return of Puigdemont as president

Pro-independence parties agree deal to try to re-elect ousted leader, who fled to Belgium after referendum row

Catalonia’s two largest pro-independence parties have cut a deal that could see Carles Puigdemont re-elected as the region’s president, three months after he fled to Belgium following the Spanish government’s decision to sack him over his role in staging an illegal referendum and unilaterally declaring independence.

On Tuesday night Puigdemont’s party, Together for Catalonia, reached an agreement with its former coalition partner, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), to give pro-independence parties a majority on the parliamentary board when the regional assembly sits next week for first time since the secessionist bloc retained its majority in last December’s elections.

A spokesman for Puigdemont said that under the pact both parties would “move forward with this new parliamentary term with Puigdemont as the president”.

In a little over a decade, Carles Puigdemont has gone from obscurity to becoming the Spanish government’s bête noire and the pubic face of the Catalan independence movement.

A staunch and long-standing independence campaigner who has been the regional president of Catalonia since January 2016, Puigdemont was born to a family of bakers in the Catalan province of Girona in 1962.

He studied Catalan philology at university before becoming a journalist on the Girona-based daily El Punt and helping to launch Catalonia Today, an English-language paper.

He was elected in 2006 to the Catalan parliament as an MP for the Convergence and Union party representing the Girona region and five years later became the mayor of Girona.

Puigdemont found himself thrust into the Catalan presidency in January 2016 after his predecessor, Artur Mas, stepped aside to facilitate the formation of a pro-independence coalition government.

However, it is unclear exactly how the deal will work in practice as Puigdemont is facing arrest the moment he returns to Spain on possible charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds relating to the secessionist campaign.

An ERC spokeswoman said the party’s legal team was looking into whether Puigdemont could be invested via videoconference or have one of his MPs read the speech that presidential candidates are required to give before voting takes place in the investiture session.

The far-left Popular Unity Candidacy, which helped the two larger pro-independence parties secure a majority after previous elections and is adamant that the unilateral push for independence must continue, said it would support the formation of a “republican government”.

In recent weeks fissures have appeared between Together for Catalonia and the ERC, whose leader, Oriol Junqueras, a former vice-president of the region, remains in custody after choosing to remain in Spain while Puigdemont fled.

Junqueras, who has promised to obey the law if he is released on bail, has signalled that he is prepared to take a more moderate approach to independence. Shortly before the election on 21 December, he appeared to hit out at Puigdemont, saying: “I went to prison because I do not hide and I am consistent with my actions.”

On Thursday night the former Catalan president Artur Mas announced that he was stepping down as leader of his pro-independence PDeCat party – whose political platform in the election was the Puigdemont-led Together for Catalonia – saying the new stage required new leaders.

In what some have seen as a coded warning to Puigdemont, he said: “Throughout my political life I have been guided by one principle: the country first, then the party and, finally, the person.”

Although the secessionist bloc retained its parliamentary majority in the elections, winning 70 of the 135-seats in the regional parliament, it again failed to attract a majority in favour of independence, taking 47.7% of the vote.

The biggest single winner was the centre-right unionist Citizens party, which won 37 seats and 25.4% of the vote.


Sam Jones in Madrid

The GuardianTramp

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