Former Catalan president optimistic about December 21st ballot

Pro-independence Carles Puigdemont conducting campaign from exile in Belgium

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont taking part in a pro-independence rally for Catalonia, in Brussels on  December 7th. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont taking part in a pro-independence rally for Catalonia, in Brussels on December 7th. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

 

The deposed president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, has seen his tough pro-independence rhetoric rewarded in the polls as a key election for the region looms.

Mr Puigdemont is campaigning for the December 21st election from Brussels, where he has been in exile to escape Spanish legal action for leading a failed independence drive in the autumn. Although the Spanish government removed him from office as it introduced direct rule in the region, he insists he remains the legitimate leader of Catalonia and hopes to win the ballot in 10 days’ time.

Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), a rebranding of his nationalist Catalan Democratic Party (PDeCAT), is in a virtual three-way tie for first place, according to a poll published by La Vanguardia newspaper on Sunday.

The poll gave the party 30 seats in the 135-seat Catalan chamber, an improvement on previous forecasts. The Catalan Republican Left (ERC), a fellow pro-independence party, was in the lead with 31-32 seats, ahead of the unionist Ciudadanos, with 31.

The boost for Junts per Catalunya follows a hardening of Mr Puigdemont’s secessionist message from Belgium and the decision to make his exile a centrepiece of the campaign. On Sunday, speaking via video link to supporters in the town of Mollerussa, he warned that unionist parties were planning to form a “Frankenstein” government whose policies would make direct rule look like “child’s play”.

In an interview with Catalan daily Ara, Mr Puigdemont dismissed so-called “third way” proposals by other parties for a reform of the constitution to grant Catalonia greater autonomy. “It’s been a mistake to inflate the bubble of the third way,” he said. “It’s pure fantasy. The [Spanish] state doesn’t want to be reformed.”

Possible return

Mr Puigdemont also insisted he planned on being sworn in as a deputy in the Catalan parliament, or even as regional president again, after the election. He also refused to rule out the possibility of returning to Spain before the vote.

The Spanish judiciary lifted an international arrest order against Mr Puigdemont last week, although a Spanish arrest warrant is still in effect, meaning he would almost certainly be detained on arrival in the country.

Pro-independence parties are together just short of a parliamentary majority, according to the latest poll. In the event that they were able to form a new government, the issue of who would lead it is generating tensions between Junts per Catalunya and ERC.

ERC’s Carles Mundó dismissed Mr Puigdemont’s imminent return home as “little more than a wish”. With that party’s leader, Oriol Junqueras, in jail awaiting trial for rebellion and sedition, ERC has been pushing its general secretary, Marta Rovira, as a potential Catalan president.

Meanwhile, the leading unionist candidate, Inés Arrimadas of Ciudadanos, told supporters on Sunday there is no difference between the separatist parties, including the anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP).

“Puigdemont is a member of PDeCAT, he thinks like a member of ERC and he acts like someone from the CUP,” she said at a rally in Tarragona.