Catalan lawmakers on Wednesday elected pro-independence politician Roger Torrent as speaker of the regional parliament in a sign of strength for parties seeking a split from Spain.
Torrent was the preferred candidate for speaker of the two main pro-independence parties Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Roger Torrent’s party: Republican Left of Catalonia).
The next step will be choosing a president for Spain’s wealthiest region, a difficult task when the top candidate, Carles Puigdemont, has fled to Belgium and took part in today’s debate by videolink.
Puigdemont is targeted by an arrest warrant over leading the secession bid. He is now in Brussels and faces arrest and potentially decades in jail the minute he steps foot in Spain.
Puigdemont and his allies have touted ruling via proxy or by videolink from Belgium.
But, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said Madrid would not recognize such an in-absentia regional government and would continue its direct rule of Catalonia. Catalan parliament’s own legal advisers said such a government would be against the law.
The problem for the nationalists, some of whom are in jail awaiting trial for sedition, is that, if they don’t manage to get one of them elected, there are no obvious replacement candidates and agreeing on someone else could be a lengthy and difficult process.
If parties agree on a regional leader and it’s Puigdemont while he is still abroad, Madrid would declare the vote null and keep its control over the region.
If they fail to agree on Puigdemont or another candidate in that time frame, it’s back to square one with fresh regional elections.