Catalan presidency conundrum comes down to a judge – again
Pro-independence parties might announce new candidate for the post in coming days should Spain’s courts block two nominated MPs
Wednesday will mark three months since the Catalan election called by Mariano Rajoy, which resulted in a majority for the pro-independence parties. But no president or government has yet been chosen –and so direct rule from Madrid continues. Why is it taking so long? Some point at the discrepancies between the parties in favor of a Catalan state. Others, at the Spanish government and judiciary. The truth is it might be a mix of both, but whatever the case, it is now all down to a judge –once more.
As the leader of the main pro-independence party, Junts per Catalunya, Carles Puigdemont was the MP nominated for president in January. Yet he was in Brussels and was unwilling to risk arrest and prison by returning to Catalonia for the parliamentary debate. With Spain’s Constitutional Court blocking his bid for the post and the Parliament speaker postponing his investiture debate, he eventually gave way to the number two candidate on his ticket, Jordi Sànchez.
Backup plan also blocked
Yet Sànchez has been in jail for five months now and earlier in March, the Spanish Supreme Court, which is overseeing the independence case, denied him permission to attend the Parliament for the investiture debate. Unless he can be there in person, he will not be able to take office –at least under Spanish law. His defense has appealed the decision and while the court considers its final decision on the matter, on Tuesday the judge will rule on a previous request for release. Sànchez will attend the hearing with little hope of his time behind bars coming to an end.
With the second candidate for president tied up in the Spanish courts, another backup plan might be put forward in the next few days. The main pro-independence parties, Junts per Catalunya and Esquerra, have pledged to come up with a new candidate for Catalonia’s leadership within 48 hours should Sànchez’s final appeals fail. The unionist parties are pushing to unblock the stalemate with the nomination of an MP who is not under investigation in the independence case.
With an open appeal in Spain’s Constitutional Court, the unionist Socialists are seeking to force the two-month deadline to appoint a Catalan president before a new election is automatically called. The law says that an investiture debate must be held around 40 days after the election. If the candidate for president is not elected, then the clock starts ticking down to the two-month deadline. But with the parliament speaker, Roger Torrent, twice delaying such a debate, there is still no deadline on the horizon.
But the judiciary is only one side of the story, as the pro-independence bloc is far from a united front. After some setbacks, Junts per Catalunya and Esquerra are now on the same page, after reaching a government agreement for this term. But the far-left CUP party’s four MPs are essential for a majority in the chamber, and CUP refuses to endorse any candidate because it says the deal has “important and decisive gaps” in how it aims to bring about an independent Catalonia.
In order to convince their minor party ally, Junts per Catalunya and Esquerra have vowed to promote a public-led constituent process, and Carles Puigdemont’s candidacy has put a mid-term motion of confidence on the negotiating table. What’s more, the deposed Catalan president is meeting the former CUP MP Anna Gabriel in Geneva on Monday, when the investiture issue is likely to come up.
The question now is: what will be quicker, the Spanish judiciary accepting a nominated MP for president, or the pro-independence parties reaching a full-fledged agreement for this term?