Aragonès confirmed as presidential candidate for Friday’s parliamentary vote

Whether there is enough support to turn Esquerra's frontrunner into government head is not guaranteed

Pere Aragonès, Esquerra Republicana's candidate for the presidency of Catalonia (image from Ruben Moreno/Presidència)
Pere Aragonès, Esquerra Republicana's candidate for the presidency of Catalonia (image from Ruben Moreno/Presidència) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

March 24, 2021 04:42 PM

The 135 Catalan MPs will vote on Pere Aragonès' presidential bid on Friday in parliament, in a debate due to open at 10 am.

The chamber speaker, Laura Borràs, confirmed it on Wednesday after meeting with each of the party leaders and concluding that Esquerra's frontrunner is the MP most likely to succeed in this kind of vote.

However, after almost six months of having an interim cabinet, it is not a clear path for Aragonès to succeed Quim Torra.

His party, left-wing Esquerra, is still engaged in talks with the other mainstream pro-independence party, Junts per Catalunya, to repeat the alliance of the previous term but with the roles changed – although, negotiations have not yet produced any outcomes.

A deal would still mean not enough MPs and would demand the nine seats of far-left CUP – Esquerra has already reached a preliminary agreement with the anticapitalists, but its members still have to take part in internal discussions from which we will get a result on Thursday.

Sunday vote could follow

In accordance with the chamber's regulations, the first debate on who should become the next Catalan president must take place within ten working days of a new parliament's opening session. As this occurred on March 12, Borràs has scheduled the discussion for the last day possible within this timeframe.

In order to officially become Catalonia's president on Friday, the candidate will have to secure the backing of at least 68 MPs. If they fail to do so, another vote will be held on Sunday in which they will only have to obtain more yeas than nays. In the event that both attempts to elect the next head of the Catalan government are unsuccessful, parties will have two months from March 26 to agree on a candidate before an automatic snap election is called.

Esquerra-CUP preliminary deal

On Sunday, Esquerra and far-left CUP finalized a preliminary agreement to elect Aragonès as Catalonia's next president.

The deal includes a mid-term evaluation of the presidency in 2023 when a decision on whether to continue talks with the Spanish government should continue.

ERC favors engaging in talks with Madrid in order to persuade Spain's president Pedro Sánchez to agree to a self-determination referendum – but CUP is skeptical.

A vote of confidence on the government would also take place in parliament, which, if Aragonès were to lose, would see him automatically ousted and a new president would have to be elected – or else Catalonia would face another snap election.

The deal also includes creating a space among all pro-independence parties and civic groups to set a strategy for the movement and prepare "the necessary conditions" for a new "democratic onslaught" towards a split with Spain, "preferably in the form of a referendum."

Missing piece: Junts per Catalunya

Yet, the deal is still incomplete: ERC and CUP have only 42 seats altogether, far from a majority (68). Junts per Catalunya are the missing piece of the jigsaw for a pro-independence agreement to ensure that Aragonès can be president.

Sunday's deal adds pressure on that party led from exile in Belgium by former president Carles Puigdemon to join, particularly after the agreement to elect Laura Borràs as parliament speaker – yet, this is still far from clear.

The secretary-general of the party, Jordi Sànchez, said in a press conference on Tuesday that "nothing prevents us from reaching a deal in the coming days or weeks", signaling that talks are advancing, but also that Aragonès might not get elected next Friday. Sànchez also ruled out seeking a second election and asking ERC to put forward a different presidential candidate.

JxCat MPs Meritxell Budó and Miquel Sàmper, the current interim spokesperson and interior minister, respectively, stated on Monday that they had found out about the ERC-CUP agreement through the press and refrained from commenting on their party's stance.

"I don't know about its contents or how effective it is," Sàmper told Ser Catalunya radio station of the deal that calls for a parliamentary review of policing and an end to the use of foam bullets by the Mossos d'Esquadra, the police force his department oversees.

Budó, meanwhile, stressed the importance of having pro-independence parties take their time before striking a deal. "How long it takes to reach an agreement is not as important as that it is a good one," she said, suggesting this could possibly not be the case by the end of the week.

Some members of JxCat, however, are pushing their party management to agree to a Pere Aragonès presidency. Several sources, consulted by the Catalan News Agency (ACN) on Tuesday morning, say an agreement with ERC is imminent, including some party executive leaders, members of the current government, as well other elected MPs.

Possible government pacts

Because no party obtained the absolute majority of 68 seats needed to fully control the Catalan parliament in the February 14 election, a governing deal will have to be forged.

While the Socialists were the most voted party in the February 14 election, they tied at 33 seats with Esquerra Republicana (ERC), the pro-independence party led by Aragonès, which together with other pro-independence allies control 74 out of 135 seats and are in talks to form a new government. Junts per Catalunya (JxCat), came in third with 32 MPs.

The Socialists’ presidential candidate, Salvador Illa, who resigned as Spain’s Health Minister to run in the election, has insisted that he deserves an opportunity to try to form a government, but has virtually no chances of succeeding without a majority of MPs supporting him.

To use our interactive tool to explore potential coalition agreements, click on the parties in the key to toggle them on and off and to see which possible party combinations could work to reach the required number of MPs.