After nearly five months of political deadlock following a failed attempt to secede from Spain, the country’s northeastern autonomous region of Catalonia has a new premier that was handpicked by ousted nationalist leader Carles Puigdemont.
Quim Torra was voted into office on May 14, during the second session of an investiture debate after failing to secure an absolute majority on May 12. Considered a radical hardline separatist, Torra was elected with a razor-thin majority when 66 of the delegates voting in his favour and 65 others cast their ballot against his candidacy.
A lawyer and former journalist, Torra has been active in the region’s radical pro-independence movements for years, including publishing several books about Catalan history and culture. Much like his predecessor Puigdemont, Torra is considered a pro-independence firebrand that is fully committed to forcing the wealthy region’s population of almost 8 million down the secessionist path.
Torra was recently forced to apologise for discriminatory remarks expressed on Catalan nationalist social networks aimed at other Spaniards. He is a man of provocation, who has made clear he will pursue the divisive push for Catalan independence.
Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after being sacked as Catalonia’s leader when he attempted to force through an illegal, internationally unrecognised independence referendum in October, is currently in Berlin awaiting a German court ruling on whether he will be extradited to Spain on charges that he misused public funds for his secessionist vote.
Torra’s candidacy was fully endorsed by Puigdemont, who went out of his way to propose his close ideological ally in an address released on his still-active YouTube video channel. The former will need to be confirmed in a vote of confidence by the Catalan Parliament prior to taking up the post.
Spain’s Constitutional Court accepted an appeal by Spanish lawmakers in Madrid that blocked pro-independence Catalan politicians from voting Puigdemont into office, while he remains on the run from the law. Torra’s elevation to the post became a foregone conclusion after the Popular Unity Party – a radical far-left, pro-independence faction – said it would abstain from taking part in the investiture process in Catalonia’s capital of Barcelona.
Torra again suggested that Puigdemont could play some role in his future government despite being formally barred from returning to the premiership.
One possibility that Torra suggested would be to have the so-called Assembly of Elected Officials symbolically vote-in Puigdemont as a president-in-exile. The body was created by hardline secessionists ahead of the illegal October referendum to create a provisional pro-independence parliament in the event that Madrid suspended Catalonia’s home rule statute. The group has never met and has no official headquarters, but separatist forces feel that it could play a leading role in legitimising their goal of seceding from the central government in Madrid.
Torra has acknowledged that he lacks any legitimacy to govern other than through the goodwill of wishes of Puigdemont, whom he has referred to as the legitimate leader of Catalonia, despite having initiated a process that violated existing social harmony laws in the region.
Spanish daily El Pais summarised what Torra’s leadership would look like elsewhere in Europe, saying it would be unfathomable that anyone with Torra’s xenophobic and radical nationalist past – which included his penchant for exclusionary policies towards non-Catalans – could lead a police and paramilitary force of more than 17,000, collect taxes to run public services, educate children with respect for plurality, while also guaranteeing equality and free speech in the media using both the regional language, Catalan, and in Castillian, Spain’s national language.