Quim Torra takes over Catalan regional presidency

A political newcomer who was nominated to the Catalan regional presidency has been elected. The move brings to an end seven months without a functioning parliament, following the October 1 referendum on independence from Spain, deemed illegal by the government in Madrid.

Quim Torra, a close ally of former leader Carles Puigdemont, finally achieved the 66 votes needed on Monday May 14, with 65 against and four abstentions.  Two days earlier Torra, a staunch campaigner for independence, needed 68 votes to be elected but only received 66.

In Monday’s vote only a majority in the 135-seat regional parliament was needed.

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Former regional president Puigdemont nominated Torra to the region’s presidency in a bid to break the gridlock that has prevented a leader from being elected to the highest office in Catalonia, in northeast Spain.

The separatist leader chose Torra, a member of parliament from Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya (JxC) party, for the presidency. He announced his decision in a video filmed in Berlin, where he remains in self-imposed exile.

Puigdemont left Catalonia in late October after Madrid imposed direct rule on the region and arrested several high-ranking politicians for leading a separatist movement that culminated in a declaration of independence. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government has issued an European arrest warrant for Puigdemont on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds.

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Elections were held in Catalonia in December and although separatist parties won a narrow majority of parliamentary seats, they were unable to settle on a presidential candidate.

Pro-independence Catalan politicians had wanted to nominate Puigdemont to lead their regional government, regardless of his self-imposed exile in Germany, a spokesman said on May 5.

Puigdemont says he will return to Belgium once an extradition case against him in Germany is settled. A court in Schleswig-Holstein ruled against extraditing Catalonia’s former leader on charges of rebellion on April 5. Puigdemont was released on €75,000 ($90,000) bail but still faces charges of corruption.

Catalonia, in the north-east of Spain, has a strong pro-independence movement whose lawmakers issued a symbolic declaration of independence in late October 2017. This prompted a strong crackdown from the central government.

“We want to vote on the investiture of @KRLS (Puigdemont), a legitimate president, the one who emerges from the polls with the mandate … before May 14,” Eduard Pujol tweeted after addressing reporters in Berlin.

Judges in northern Germany dismissed Spain’s charge of rebellion, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years, saying it was inadmissible because there was no element of violence. However, Puigdemont could still be extradited to Spain on misuse of public funds charges.

After a meeting of Puigdemont’s Junts Per Catalunya (JxCat) party leaders in Berlin, the divergent position of electoral partners Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) continued to demand an “effective investiture” to recover the Catalan institutions – this idea, reiterated by ERC since January this year, implicitly highlights the impossibility of Puigdemont’s candidacy. On the other hand, JxCat announced that they will insist in proposing Puigdemont as president of the Catalan Generalitat after they passed the reform of the Presidency Law last week, which would allow such an unusual remote investiture (La Vanguardia).

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At a press conference following his release, Puigdemont called for more dialogue with the Spanish government. Speaking in Berlin, he said: “I hope the situation could help … Spanish authorities understand that political measures are needed.”

Madrid said it stood by the German court’s ruling.

“The government never gives an opinion on court decisions, especially when it concerns court decisions made in another country. It always respects them, whether it likes them or not,” a government spokeswoman said.

Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium from Spain last October, was stopped on a highway along the German border with Denmark on March 25. He is the subject of a European arrest warrant initiated by Spanish authorities, who want him to face charges related to Catalonia’s unilateral declaration of independence in late 2017.

Two days earlier Spain’s Supreme Court had ruled that 25 Catalan leaders would be tried for crimes related to that declaration.


(Read more WikiTribune coverage here.)

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