BARCELONA – The speaker of the Catalan parliament said on Monday that the parties in favor of independence from Spain will nominate a jailed nationalist lawmaker to lead the regional government.
Speaker Roger Torrent had originally proposed restoring the regional president ousted by Madrid last October after an abortive push for secession, Carles Puigdemont.
But last Thursday, Puigdemont said from self-imposed exile in Belgium that he was “provisionally” withdrawing his candidacy in favor of Jordi Sanchez.
Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to escape arrest on the same charges faced by Sanchez and other Catalan politicians, said he was stepping back in the interest of seeing regional governing institutions “restored.”
The northeastern region has been ruled directly from Madrid since late October.
Sanchez is No. 2 to Puigdemont in the hierarchy of the center-right JxCat party, the largest element in the pro-independence coalition.
Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that Puigdemont could not stand for the regional presidency from outside Catalonia, while the government said he would be arrested immediately if he returned.
While Sanchez is in Spain, to become Catalonia’s president 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 part in the independence bid. Llarena has thus far rejected all petitions to temporarily release him from pre-trial detention.
Despite that obstacle, Torrent said Sanchez has the most support among lawmakers from the JxCat and the center-left ERC.
Yet the third party in the nationalist coalition, the leftist CUP, said that its four members would not vote for Sanchez as regional president, dooming the nomination to failure.
The CUP is asking Torrent for a “radically different proposal,” party spokesman Carles Riera said Monday.
JxCat spokeswoman Elsa Artadi said she planned to offer to include some of the CUP’s agenda in the governing program in exchange for their supporting Sanchez as president.
The Catalan nationalist coalition maintains that Madrid’s removal of the Puigdemont administration was illegal and reaffirms the validity of the 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.