Deposed Catalunya president Carles Puigdemont has decided not to continue with his candidature for the role, despite the pro-independence parties having collectively ratified him as their ideal choice.
Still in exile in Belgium and unable to return to Spain as he would be arrested immediately, Puigdemont is in an impossible situation as he can only be sworn in as regional president at a ceremony in Catalunya’s Parliament building in Barcelona.
In an announcement this evening (Thursday), Puigdemont said the Spanish government had effectively prevented him from exercising his elected role by forcing him to stay out of his native country, and that he had therefore decided to ‘provisionally’ step aside.
As his replacement, Puigdemont has nominated Jordi Sànchez, leader of the campaign group Catalunya National Assembly (ANC) and number two in Puigdemont’s party Junts per Catalunya (‘Together for Catalunya’, or JxCat).
But Sànchez is still in prison for sedition for his role in helping the disputed independence referendum go ahead and for staging a protest outside Parliament which ended up hindering the police when they tried to enter the building.
Also in custody for the same reasons is Jordi Cuixart of the pressure group Òmnium Cultural.
Puigdemont describes Sànchez as ‘a man of peace’ who is ‘unjustly locked away in a Spanish prison’.
The former president of Catalunya has urged regional Parliamentary chairman Roger Torrent to start the ball rolling as soon as possible to nominate Sànchez as the new presidential candidate.
This has already caused ripples among the Spanish government, with justice minister Rafael Catalá saying it ‘would be difficult’ for someone in jail to carry out his duties as regional president.
After the State government called a regional election on December 21, the pro-independence parties collectively won the most votes – enough to stop the single party which earned the most seats, centre-right Ciudadanos, from governing.
The right-wing PP, in power in Spain as a whole, has just four MPs in Catalunya and is very much a minority, Puigdemont recalls, saying that with such a small representation, the party did not have the right to ‘decide the future’ of the region’s government.
“They’ve caused a great deal of damage to people and to families in their drive to punish the region’s population,” Puigdemont said.
“We need to defend our democratic rights.”
Puigdemont intends to file an action with the United Nations against Spain for what he considers to be the State’s ‘abuse against Catalunya’.
He says his team of international solicitors is working on the claim in his name, which will be directed to the global organisation’s Human Rights Committee.
Torrent has agreed to start the meetings required for Sànchez’s nomination, and Sànchez himself has called, via Twitter, for his right to be able to participate in a Parliamentary activity in the same way as the rest of his fellow MPs, pointing out that he has been democratically elected into his role.
Along with Sànchez and Cuixart, other Catalunya politicians in jail include the now-ex deputy regional president Oriol Jsets, who recently gave an exclusive interview to the BBC.
Puigdemont is accompanied in his Belgian exile by four of his ministers, and spokeswoman for the independence party CUP, Anna Gabriel, is in Switzerland.
None of them is able to return to setting foot on Spanish soil would guarantee their immediate arrest.
Switzerland has refused to extradite Sra Gabriel as its penal code does not recognise ‘political disputes’ as criminal offences, and Belgium is under no obligation to extradite the ‘Catalunya five’ as their arrest warrant is a national one only and does not apply outside of Spain.