Catalan parliament delays vote on leader but backs Puigdemont

Speaker says ex-president is only candidate to form government despite Spanish state’s warnings

The speaker of the Catalan parliament has postponed a session to invest Carles Puigdemont as president but insisted the deposed former leader remains the only legitimate candidate to form a government after pro-independence parties retained their majority in December’s snap elections.

Despite blunt warnings from the Spanish government that it will not allow Puigdemont to return to office after he fled to Belgium following last October’s unilateral declaration of independence, Roger Torrent said the investiture of a new president was a matter for the regional parliament alone.

“We don’t accept anyone telling us that the Catalans have voted incorrectly because we didn’t do what they wanted,” the pro-independence speaker said on Tuesday morning, hours before regional MPs were due to choose a president.

“Neither the [Spanish government] nor the constitutional court decides who will be president; that’s for the democratically elected members of parliament to decide.”

The defiant stance came three days after Spain’s constitutional court ruled that Puigdemont, who remains in self-imposed exile in Brussels, could not take part in an investiture debate via video conference or by getting one of his MPs to read a speech in his place.

The court’s judges said the session would be suspended unless Puigdemont attended parliament with prior judicial authorisation and rejected appeals from Puigdemont’s party.

Torrent said: “I am not proposing any other candidate apart from Puigdemont.”

Announcing that he was adjourning the session, he said: “It will be held when we can hold an effective investiture, without interference and with guarantees.”

The speaker said he would personally guarantee Puigdemont’s immunity and that of other MPs. “I will do whatever it takes to defend democracy because it cannot be suspended,” he said.

“The will of the Catalan people expressed at the ballot box is a mandate and this mandate cannot be suspended. Parliament represents the will of all the Catalan people and for this reason, it and the Catalan people deserve respect.”

Thousands of pro-independence protesters gathered outside the parliament building on Tuesday afternoon to show their support for Puigdemont.

Shortly before Torrent’s address, Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said any attempt to invest Puigdemont remotely would constitute a clear violation of the constitutional court’s ruling. He urged Catalan MPs to obey the law and choose another candidate.

“The speaker and those who support him need to be very aware of the consequences they could face,” Rajoy said in an interview with the state broadcaster.

Referring to Puigdemont, who faces arrest on possible charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds the moment he sets foot in Spain, Rajoy continued: “You can’t be a fugitive from justice, live in Brussels and try to get yourself elected president of a democratic institution … The most prudent thing would be for the speaker of the parliament to put forward a clean candidate.”

On Sunday, one pro-independence MP suggested the ousted president could step aside to allow someone else to take office.

Joan Tardà of the Catalan Republican Left party told the newspaper La Vanguardia: “What’s essential is that we have a government. If we have to sacrifice President Puigdemont, we’ll have to sacrifice him.”

Puigdemont has been in Brussels since the Spanish government responded to the unilateral independence declaration by sacking his administration, taking direct control of of Catalonia and calling an election.


Sam Jones in Madrid and Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

The GuardianTramp

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