BARCELONA – Carles Puigdemont, ousted by Madrid from Catalonia’s regional presidency last October after an abortive push to secede from Spain, said on Thursday that he was “provisionally” withdrawing his candidacy to lead the region in favor of a colleague now behind bars awaiting prosecution for sedition.
The decision to step back and nominate Jordi Sanchez was due to a desire to see regional governing institutions “restored” to the people of Catalonia, Puigdemont said on social media from his self-imposed exile in Belgium.
The northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia has been ruled directly from Madrid since late October.
Puigdemont, who is a fugitive from Spanish justice, also said a team of international lawyers had filed a lawsuit Thursday on his behalf before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
He said the suit accused Spain’s government of violating his rights.
Sanchez’s path to becoming Catalonia’s president, however, also is fraught with difficulties because he would need the approval of Pablo Llarena – the Supreme Court judge leading the sedition investigation against Puigdemont – to attend the investiture debate in the region’s Parliament.
Sanchez has been held in preventive detention since Oct. 16 on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for his alleged role in the independence bid and Llarena has thus far rejected all petitions to temporarily release him from pre-trial detention.
Puigdemont, who faces similar charges if he returns to Spain, fled into self-imposed exile in Brussels on Oct. 30 along with several members of his deposed Cabinet but still campaigned to be reinstated as Catalonia’s leader.
Madrid, for its part, has rejected a hypothetical Sanchez candidacy, with Justice Minister Rafael Catala saying Tuesday it was “difficult” to contemplate a president of one of Spain’s autonomous regions being in jail and thus unable to carry out his duties.
Spanish government sources have insisted that Catalonia urgently needs a regional president who has the conditions to govern.
Puigdemont’s decision to suspend his pursuit of a second term came after Catalan separatist parties, who have a slim 70-seat majority in the regional Parliament but have been unable to form a government, approved a resolution Thursday criticizing what they said was the illegal destitution of the previous regional government and reaffirming the validity of a banned Oct. 1 independence referendum.
Weeks after that plebiscite was held, the Catalan government on Oct. 27 unilaterally declared independence from Spain.
In response, the Spanish Senate voted to trigger Article 155 of the Constitution, which saw the region’s autonomy reeled back and its Parliament dissolved.
Three pro-independence Catalan parties then won a slim majority in the 135-seat Parliament when new regional elections were held on Dec. 21.
Puigdemont was initially proposed as candidate for re-election as regional leader, but Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that he could not participate in an investiture debate from outside Catalonia.
That decision led the speaker of Catalonia’s Parliament on Jan. 30 to suspend a session in which the separatist parties had hoped to swear Puigdemont in as leader.