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

BRUSSELS (AFP) – 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 video link 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.”

Catalonia’s ousted regional president Carles Puigdemont poses for a picture as he holds his first post-election meeting for members of his parliamentary group in Brussels on January 12. – AFP

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 video link 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.