MADRID – Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy extended on Friday the hand of open and realistic dialogue to the new Catalan regional government, a day after pro-independence parties gained a majority in Parliament.
Catalonia on Thursday held elections following the triggering of Article 155 by the Spanish government, which reeled back the region’s autonomy and dissolved its Parliament in response to a separatist referendum and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence deemed illegal by the Spanish judiciary.
Pro-independence parties gained 70 of the 135 seats, though the Spanish center-right Ciudadanos was the individual party to win the largest amount of votes and now holds 37 seats.
Following the election, ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont asked Rajoy to meet with him “anywhere but in Spain,” where he is wanted for arrest on sedition and rebellion charges for his role in the illegal independence process.
Speaking at a press conference, Rajoy assured that any government formed in Catalonia could count with “collaboration and willingness to hold constructive, open and realistic” talks with the Spanish State, which he believed would create a safe and certain framework that was vital for the economy to grow.
But the PM said the person he had to speak with now was the winner of the elections, referring to Ines Arrimadas, Ciudadanos’ regional leader, and with whoever was elected by parliament to be the new leader of Catalonia.
He defended Art. 155, insisting that he had not triggered it to gain more or fewer votes and that it would be pulled back once the region had a new government, which according to Spanish legislation should occur within 20 working days of the election.
Rajoy warned that Puigdemont’s legal situation would not change despite the election success, as the political alliance the former president was a candidate for, Together for Catalunya (JxCat), won 34 seats and the two other pro-independence parties that had formed a government following the last election, the Republican Left of Catalunya (ERC) and the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), won 32 and four seats respectively, giving them a parliamentary majority.
The regional branch of Rajoy’s Popular Party, led in Catalonia by Xavier Garcia Albiol, won just 2.2 percent of the vote and now holds only three seats, having lost eight since the last election in 2015.
In the 2015 elections, the center-left ERC had, alongside Puigdemont’s center-right Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) and several others, formed part of the Junts pel Si (JxSi) political alliance that won 62 seats and was backed by the anti-capitalist CUP to form a government.
This year, ERC decided to run on its own and not part of the alliance, which became JxCat.
Puigdemont, a member of JxCat, and his former vice president, Oriol Junqueras, from ERC, were both re-elected to parliament, though they are among the 18 Catalan lawmakers facing sedition and rebellion charges in Spain.
Puigdemont and five of his cabinet members traveled to Belgium before charges could be filed against them, while Junqueras stayed in Spain and was placed in pre-trial detention without bail.
Meanwhile, Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena has agreed to extend his investigation into possible sedition and other unlawful activity to include former Catalan president Artur Mas, seen by many as the architect of the current pro-independence bid, Marta Rovira – the general secretary of ERC – and the parliamentary spokeswoman of the CUP, Anna Gabriel, among others.