Catalan lawmakers to vote on new regional leader

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Catalonia’s parliament is set to vote on whether to appoint hardline independence supporter Quim Torra as regional president, handpicked by deposed leader Carles Puigdemont who stepped aside from the running.

The 55-year-old was handpicked by deposed leader Carles Puigdemont, who stepped aside from the running on Saturday, t o continue his fight with Spain‘s central government to achieve Catalan independence.  

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Torra gave a bullish speech at the opening of debate in the regional parliament, signalling that the secession crisis is far from over, even if Catalonia does finally get a government after months of political stalemate.

“I want it to be clear that our president is Carles Puigdemont and we will be loyal to the mandate of October 1 to build an independent state in the form of a republic,” Torra said, referring to last year’s outlawed independence referendum.

He promised to restore Catalonia’s laws suspended by Spanish courts and start drafting a constitution for a future Catalan Republic, stressing that he would “not give up anything” and would “assume responsibility for what comes from our actions”.

Puigdemont would become involved as soon as his legal situation allowed, added Torra, who also condemned the “unacceptable silence” of European institutions over the Catalan crisis. 

But he did say he was “ready to talk tomorrow without conditions” with the government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Madrid.

Rajoy quickly responded to the speech, saying: “What we saw and heard did not please us … but we will judge his actions.”

Close vote expected

Catalonia has been in political limbo since Spain’s central government sacked Puigdemont and his cabinet and imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous region after it unilaterally declared independence on October 27.

Regional elections were held in December, which separatist parties won again, but every leadership candidate picked by the separatist camp since has fallen flat.

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Puigdemont is abroad in self-exile and faces jail if he returns, while other candidates such as civic leader Jordi Sanchez are in prison, charged with rebellion for their role in the independence drive.

In his response on Saturday, Rajoy warned that the Article 155 of the constitution, which Madrid used to impose direct rule on Catalonia, “could be used again if necessary”, if the next regional leadership did not respect the law.

The opposition will be given the chance to respond to Torra’s speech in the afternoon, after which the parliament will hold a vote of confidence.

Torra is not expected to get enough support as the vote requires an absolute majority which he does not have.

However he will get another opportunity in a second round, likely to take place on Monday, where he will only need a simple majority – although even that is not assured. 

There are currently 70 lawmakers in the regional parliament who are pro-independence, against 65 who are not.

But four of the 70 are from the anti-capitalist, separatist CUP party which has said it will vote for Puigdemont – and no one else.

If they decide to abstain, Torra will scrape through in the second round with a simple majority.

But if they vote against, he will not succeed.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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