Puigdemont issues clear message with acceptance of electoral challenge

Catalan parliamentary election on December 21st could divide pro-independence forces

Carles Puigdemont: ousted Catalan leader said he fled Spain for fear he and his government wouldn’t get a fair trial. Photograph: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

Carles Puigdemont: ousted Catalan leader said he fled Spain for fear he and his government wouldn’t get a fair trial. Photograph: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

 

Carles Puigdemont’s public appearances in recent weeks have been a litany of enigmatic and often confusing statements which have compounded the brinkmanship and tension of the Catalan crisis. On Tuesday in Brussels, however, the deposed Catalan leader issued a much clearer and less equivocal message, perhaps aware that his credibility was running thin, as was the patience of pro-independence Catalans.

His assertion that he has not gone to Brussels to seek asylum, but to take his cause to “the capital of Europe” will have reassured many secessionist Catalans, who tend to be acutely sensitive to international scrutiny and have been dismayed at the EU’s refusal to intervene in the dispute in recent weeks.

Puigdemont’s acceptance of the Catalan parliamentary election on December 21st, scheduled by the Spanish government, is coherent with the independence movement’s insistence that, as he put it, “voting is how you resolve problems”.

The election had presented Catalan separatists with a dilemma: to take part, but tacitly acknowledge that Catalonia remains part of the Spanish state; or to shun the vote as a step backwards and risk being utterly marginalised from the Spanish political stage.

Article 155

Puigdemont has chosen the former, framing the elections as a plebiscite on the Spanish government’s use of article 155 of the constitution, allowing it to rule Catalonia from Madrid.

The pro-independence forces have yet to decide exactly how they will compete in the election and there is still a risk it will create divisions within their ranks.

But they will have been buoyed by a new poll published by the regional administration’s study centre on Tuesday showing that 49 per cent of Catalans favour independence – an eight-point rise on three months ago – against 44 per cent who are opposed.

The success or otherwise of Madrid’s implementation of direct rule in the next two months will play a key role in the elections. The challenge for the Spanish government is to appear an efficient and discreet restorer of harmony and order, rather than an overbearing, occupying force.

Another key factor in the elections is likely to be judicial action against Puigdemont, his former government colleagues and others linked to Friday’s declaration of independence.  

Rebellion and sedition

The former leader and 13 former members of his cabinet are facing possible charges that include rebellion and sedition for their role in Friday’s independence declaration. They have been summoned to appear in the high court on Thursday and Friday – although Puigdemont and his fellow exiles appear unlikely to turn up.

The supreme court, meanwhile has announced it is accepting the state prosecutor’s case against Carme Forcadell, the former Catalan parliamentary speaker, and other parliamentary officials.

Two civic independence leaders are already in jail, Jordi Sánchez of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Jordi Cuixart of Òmnium Cultural, awaiting trial for sedition. With the independence movement already presenting Sánchez and Cuixart as political prisoners, it is almost certain to portray the cases against Puigdemont, Forcadell and others as yet another politically driven example of state repression.

The worry for Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy is that these cases distract from the credibility of the election itself.

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