BARCELONA – Catalan lawmakers began a plenary session on Thursday to debate how to bring the region’s institutions back under autonomous control since those powers were stripped by the Spanish government in the wake of an abortive independence bid, but a plan to legitimize the presidential candidacy of a self-exiled former leader proved a sticking point that sparked a familiar rift down separatist and unionist lines.
A loose alliance of three separatist parties with a slim majority in the chamber backed a proposal to recognize Carles Puigdemont’s candidacy to the presidency of the northeastern Spanish region by establishing a parallel office from afar in Brussels, where he was in self-exile to evade an arrest warrant in Spain for his alleged hand in the Oct. 1 independence referendum and its consequences.
“We will be scrupulously loyal to the will of the Catalan voters as expressed in the polling stations,” said Quim Torra on behalf of Puigdemont’s own Together For Catalonia (JxCat) party, the largest of the pro-independence groups. “This resolution is the starting point for the republican project that we want to propose to the people of Catalonia,” he added.
The Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) mirrored those calls, as did the far-left pro-independence CUP, although their tabled amendment to the resolution calling for the recognition of the Oct. 27 unilateral declaration of independence was turned down by JxCat.
Pro-Spanish unity parties, who have long dismissed calls to reinstate Puigdemont as absurd, voiced their frustration at the content of the debate.
“How long are you going to maintain this fiction, this farce, this lie that even you don’t believe in?” said Inés Arrimadas, leader of the regional branch of the pro-Spanish unity party Citizens, which has the most seats in the Catalan chamber but fell short of being able to strike a majority coalition with like-minded factions, all offshoots of Spain’s mainstream parties.
It was the first plenary session in the Catalan chamber since it was revived by regional snap elections in December after sitting empty for almost two months following the Spanish government’s constitutional action to reel back the prosperous region’s autonomy in the wake of the independence declaration.
Yellow ribbons were pinned to two vacant seats in the parliament, whose potential occupants, ex-vice president Oriol Junqueras and Jordi Sanchez, remained in pre-trial detention in Madrid facing charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for their alleged role in the independence bid.