New Developments in Catalonia by Nathan Richmond
Puigdemont Withdraws "Provisionally"
On Thursday, March 1, 2018 the Catalan Parliament voted to reaffirm their support for Catalonia's "President-elect-in-exile" Carles Puigdemont. Puigdemont is currently in Brussels, and wanted by the Spanish government on charges of sedition and rebellion. The Parliament also voted to reaffirm the validity of their October 2017 independence referendum.
Shortly after the Parliamentary votes, Puigdmont announced by video on social media that he was "provisionally withdrawing his candidacy" in favor of Jordi Sànchez. According to Puigdemont, "under current conditions it's the only way to get a new [Catalan] government under way."
Who is Jordi Sànchez?
Sànchez is a political science professor at the University of Barcelona, a political activist, and the former leader of the Catalan National Assembly, a separatist organization, not to be confused with the Catalonia Parliament.
Sànchez was arrested, along with other independence activists, following the October 1, independence referendum. Currently held in ‘‘pre-trial detention,’’ Sànchez is charged with sedition in connection with organizing a September 20, 2017 pro-independence, mass demonstration in Barcelona, and the referendum.
If convicted, the charge carries a 15 year prison sentence. Although the Spanish government vehemently denies it, many view Sànchez as a political prisoner.
What’s Next for Catalonia?
Will Sànchez be inaugurated as Catalonia's president, thus ending the current standoff between Catalan separatists and Madrid? It’s not likely. Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy declared recently that a Catalan leader “must be chosen now who is in Spain... and who has no problems with the law." Following PM Rajoy’s statement, one of the parties in the parliamentary coalition of separatists withdrew its support for Sànchez.
The Catalans have made a concession, sort of, by Puigdemont stepping aside ‘provisionally’. But the nomination of a jailed activist does not go far enough to appease the government in Madrid who does not view Sànchez as a viable candidate.
Further, if Sànchez is unable to secure the support of all separatist parties represented in the Catalan Parliament, or if the Spanish court hearing his case does not release him from pretrial detention long enough to be invested as Catalonia’s president, the Spanish government, reluctantly, will continue its direct rule of Catalonia under Article 155 of the Spanish Constituion.
This situation cannot continue indefinitely, however, and the likely outcome will be either the nomination of a new presidential candidate acceptable to all secessionist parties and to Madrid, or Madrid will schedule new elections for Catalonia.
Nathan Richmond is Professor of Government at Utica College