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Ex-Catalan leader’s party pledges to re-elect him remotely

Catalonia’s ousted regional president Carles Puigdemont (C) walks as he holds his first post-election meeting for members of his parliamentary group in Brussels on January 12, 2018. Spain’s government will go to the country’s Constitutional Court if Catalonia’s former president Carles Puigdemont, in exile in Belgium, attempts to be re-elected into office from abroad, a government source said on January 11. Catalonia’s separatist parties on December 21 retained their parliamentary majority with 70 seats in the 135-seat Catalan parliament, but eight belong to politicians who are either in jail or have fled to Belgium, after Madrid sacked the Catalan regional government following the October 1 referendum and the unilateral declaration of independence. / AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS

The separatist party behind Catalonia’s deposed president Carles Puigdemont said Friday it is determined to re-elect him remotely as the region’s leader, even though he is in Belgian exile and Madrid has warned against such a move.

Puigdemont is the separatist camp’s favoured candidate to lead Catalonia again after pro-independence parties won an absolute majority in December regional elections.

But he is in self-imposed exile in Belgium and risks arrest on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for his role in the region’s failed independence bid if he comes back to Spain.

To be elected president, he should in theory be present at the parliamentary session where the vote takes place, but his supporters want him to appear by videolink or write a speech and have it read by someone else.

Asked about which option his party preferred, Elsa Artadi, Puigdemont’s campaign manager, said they were “looking into all the tools that Catalan parliamentary rules allow.”

In Brussels for a working meeting, she added that Puigdemont would not come back to Spain.

The Catalan parliament’s rules stipulate that the candidate for the regional presidency must “present his or her government programme to parliament.”

It does not detail whether this must be done in person, but several legal experts, the opposition and the central government insist it cannot be done remotely.

On Friday, central government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said Madrid would oppose such a move, adding that the candidate to Catalonia’s presidency should be physically present.

“The government would take any such trick to court, without any hesitation,” he added.

Catalonia’s Socialist party has asked judicial experts at the regional parliament whether appearing by videolink or via a written speech would be legal.

According to the Catalan daily La Vanguardia, “there is total unanimity” among these experts that his physical presence is required.

Artadi said it would be up to the next parliamentary speaker or lawmakers as a whole to interpret the rules.

It is still unclear however whether some separatist lawmakers will be able to vote, given some are in Belgium with Puigdemont and others in jail pending a probe into their role in the independence drive.

On Friday, the Supreme Court refused to allow the three jailed lawmakers — including former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras — out to attend the first parliamentary session on January 17.

But he has allowed them to pass their vote on to someone else.



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