Secessionist parties in control as Catalan parliament reopens

Uncertainty surrounds Puigdemont’s plan to be sworn in from exile in Belgium

Ribbon in support of Catalonian politicians who have been jailed on charges of sedition. Photograph: Manu Fernandez/AP Photo

Ribbon in support of Catalonian politicians who have been jailed on charges of sedition. Photograph: Manu Fernandez/AP Photo


Nearly three months after being dissolved by the Spanish government, the Catalan parliament has begun a new legislature with pro-independence parties firmly in control of the chamber.

However, there is still uncertainty surrounding their plan to have ousted president Carles Puigdemont reinstated to that post while remaining in exile in Belgium.

The region’s parliament in Barcelona was officially opened on Wednesday as deputies took their seats and voted in officials for the upcoming legislature. The secessionist parties’ majority enabled them to elect Roger Torrent of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) as the new parliamentary speaker.

“Let’s endeavour to recover our institutions and put them at the service and in the hands of the people,” said Mr Torrent.

Catalonia has been under direct rule from Madrid since late October, when the Spanish government sacked the region’s government and dissolved its parliament in response to a failed independence drive by secessionist parties.

The state’s legal action against many of the politicians who were involved in that attempt to break away cast a shadow over Wednesday’s session. Eight pro-independence politicians were absent: three in prison in Madrid facing charges of rebellion and sedition; and five, including Mr Puigdemont, are in self-imposed exile in Belgium.

Yellow ribbons

Yellow ribbons – a symbol of defiance of the independence movement – were placed on the seats of the absent politicians, and substitutes voted in place of the jailed trio when choosing Mr Torrent and other parliamentary officials.

The unionist Ciudadanos and Popular Party (PP) both filed unsuccessful complaints against allowing the delegated votes. However, the governing PP had suggested before the session that it was more opposed to the use of substitutes to vote on behalf of the politicians in Belgium than it was for those who were in jail.

Perhaps with this in mind, Mr Puigdemont and his four exiled colleagues did not attempt to vote. Their decision meant that Mr Torrent fell short of the absolute majority he required in the first round of voting. In the second round he needed only a simple majority, which he secured with 65 votes in the 135-seat chamber, receiving the support of ERC, Together for Catalonia and the Popular Unity Candidacy.

President Puigdemont?

Pro-independence parties now have four of seven posts on the Catalan parliament’s presiding council. The council, which controls debates and sets the chamber’s agenda, was crucial during the previous legislature in implementing the unilateralist road map of pro-independence parties.

However, the future of this legislature remains deeply uncertain, due to Mr Puigdemont’s legal status, which means he would almost certainly be arrested on returning to Spain. Although he has the support of pro-independence parties to become president of Catalonia, if he attempts to be invested either via video-link or by using a substitute, the Spanish government is expected to appeal against the process before the constitutional court and extend the use of direct rule.