Cracks start to show in Catalan independence movement

Fate of jailed and exiled politicians highlights rift between leading secessionist parties

Catalan regional President Quim Torra: street demonstrators booed him for failing to be strident enough in defiance of the Spanish state. Photograph: Quique Garcia/EPA

Catalan regional President Quim Torra: street demonstrators booed him for failing to be strident enough in defiance of the Spanish state. Photograph: Quique Garcia/EPA

 

A dispute between Catalonia’s two main pro-independence parties has capped a gruelling week for the secessionist movement and threatened the survival of the region’s government.

Together for Catalonia (JxCat) and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) clashed over the status of their representatives in the regional parliament who are jailed or exiled.

In July, during the summer recess, the supreme court suspended six such MPs, ruling they must surrender their posts and be substituted by representatives who can be physically present in the parliament. Among those unable to attend the parliament are JxCat’s Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan president who is living in Belgium, and Oriol Junqueras, the imprisoned leader of ERC.

JxCat had insisted that the politicians should continue in their posts and not be substituted. However, ERC was more inclined to accept the court ruling and avoid further legal action. The disagreement came to a head on Thursday when ERC accused its governing partner of going back on a deal to resolve the dispute.

“They have tricked us,” one unnamed senior ERC politician told the media.

The status of the six representatives is crucial because they ensure that pro-independence parties maintain a narrow majority in the regional parliament, with 68 out of 135 seats. ERC feared that its partner’s defiance of the supreme court could lead to a legal sanction and subsequent loss of control of the chamber.

The clash, which caused the parliament’s opening session of the season to be postponed until next week, sparked reports that Catalan president Quim Torra was considering calling a snap election as early as December.

Last-ditch accord

The two parties eventually reached a last-ditch accord on the fate of the jailed and exiled representatives, although legal experts have cast doubt on the solution’s legitimacy. On Friday, JxCat and ERC announced their intention to guarantee the stability of the government in the short term, despite their differences.

“We have to talk more between ourselves in order to plan the future,” said Mr Torra of JxCat after a meeting with deputy president Pere Aragonès, of ERC.

The two parties have committed themselves to maintaining unity at least until the sentencing of nine jailed independence leaders, who are awaiting trial for their part in last year’s failed attempt to break away from Spain.

Cracks within the governing coalition were also apparent earlier in the week. On Tuesday Mr Torra threatened to withdraw Catalan nationalist parties’ support for the Spanish government in the national parliament if it did not agree by early November to stage a binding referendum on independence. ERC, which had not been forewarned about the announcement, appears to have distanced itself from the ultimatum, which the Spanish government has refused to consider.

 

Torra booed

El Periódico newspaper noted that JxCat “wants to arrive at the next elections wrapped in the gown of pro-independence purism”, whereas ERC “assumes the role of the party of order, of aiming for that which is possible ... and wanting to broaden [the independence movement’s] support base”.

Mr Torra’s own position has also been questioned. On Monday, some street demonstrators booed him and called for him to resign for failing to be strident enough in his defiance of the Spanish state. Many saw that as the trigger for the ultimatum he delivered the following day.

So far the Spanish government has dismissed calls from the political right to introduce direct rule in Catalonia in order to prevent a repeat of last year’s independence drive. However, on Friday it issued its own warning to Mr Torra and his beleaguered administration.

“If the Catalan parliament adopts decisions contrary to the constitution, the government will act accordingly,” said government spokeswoman Isabel Celaá.

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