Catalonia elects Quim Torra as new regional president

Catalan parliament votes in candidate handpicked by Puigdemont to end stalemate

Newly elected Catalonia regional president Quim Torra in the Catalan parliament on Monday. Photograph:   Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

Newly elected Catalonia regional president Quim Torra in the Catalan parliament on Monday. Photograph: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

 

A new president of Catalonia, Joaquim “Quim” Torra, has been voted in, ending months of political stalemate and legal wrangles over the formation of the region’s government.

Mr Torra needed only a simple majority in Monday’s second-round investiture ballot in the Catalan parliament and he won by the slimmest of margins, 66 votes to 65, with four abstentions. In the first-round vote, on Saturday, he had fallen short when requiring an absolute majority.

“Long live a free Catalonia,” he said after the result was announced, confirming he will become the 131st president of the northeastern region.

Mr Torra paid tribute to Carles Puigdemont, his predecessor in the post who led last year’s failed independence drive and who is now in Berlin awaiting the result of Spain’s attempt to extradite him. The former president handpicked Mr Torra as candidate after the Spanish judiciary blocked his own attempt to be invested from abroad.

“Our president is Puigdemont,” Mr Torra said. “We shall see him voted in.”

The successful investiture vote comes more than six months after the Spanish government introduced direct rule in Catalonia, removing Mr Puigdemont from office. Although pro-independence parties won a narrow majority in elections held in December, the courts deemed all three of their previous candidates for regional president unviable.

CUP abstention

Mr Torra had no such legal problems and in parliament he had the backing of Mr Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia (JxCat) and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC). However, the leftist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) expressed concern at his candidacy, suggesting it was a concession to the Spanish state. Having consulted with its supporters over the weekend, the CUP decided to abstain on Monday, ensuring Mr Torra’s bid was successful.

Nonetheless, the CUP did warn that it would watch his tenure carefully for signs of it straying from the aims Mr Torra laid out in his investiture speech, which included offering a vision for a Catalan republic.

“With the republic everyone will win rights and nobody will lose,” he told the chamber. “We want the republic because it means banking on the future.”

Polls suggest that Catalans are virtually split down the middle on the independence issue. Making some of his address in the Spanish language, rather than in Catalan, Mr Torra reached out to unionists in the region, pledging to represent them as well as nationalists.

But the opposition accused Mr Torra of extremism, pointing to opinions he had expressed in the past on social networks and in articles.

‘Psychiatrist’

Inés Arrimadas, leader of the Ciudadanos party in Catalonia, quoted an article in which he had allegedly written that “Spain needs a psychiatrist” and another one apparently calling unionist Catalans “animals”.

“The ideology you defend in hundreds of articles is that of xenophobia and exclusive populism,” she said.

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy is expected to withdraw direct rule once Mr Torra has formally taken office, in the coming days.

Mr Rajoy said his government will respond to the new Catalan leader with “understanding and harmony”, although he added that he will “guarantee that the law, the Spanish constitution and the rest of the juridical order will be obeyed”.