Debate to swear in MP Jordi Turull as president to be held Thursday 5pm

Pro-independence parties agree on the short notice move, as Spanish Supreme Court might send the candidate for the post to jail

Junts per Catalunya MP Jordi Turull on March 1, 2018 (by Elisenda Rosanas)
Junts per Catalunya MP Jordi Turull on March 1, 2018 (by Elisenda Rosanas) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

March 21, 2018 10:09 PM

Catalonia might have a new president as soon as this Thursday. In an unexpected move, the Catalan Parliament speaker on Wednesday evening called a plenary session in the chamber for Thursday evening. The candidate for the post will be Jordi Turull, a senior MP in Carles Puigdemont’s candidacy, Junts per Catalunya. The pro-independence parties agreed on the move at such short notice as the Spanish Supreme Court might send Turull and other investigated officials for the independence case to jail on Friday. During his statement, speaker Roger Torrent denounced “meddling” by the Spanish authorities in the chamber.

Why has the plenary session been called so suddenly?

Because the backup candidate for the main pro-independence party might be behind bars if they wait any longer. Spain’s Supreme Court, which is in charge of the pro-independence judicial case, has summoned six investigated officials on Friday to discuss whether to incarcerate them – again. Five of them, including Jordi Turull, have already served some time in prison, and are now free on a bail.

Will Turull have enough votes to be elected?

The pro-independence parties have 70 out of the 135 seats in Parliament, which is two seats more than what is needed for an overall majority in the chamber. The main parties in favor of a Catalan state have agreed on a deal for the term, yet two of their MPs, Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín, won’t be able to attend and vote because they are in Belgium and risk prison if they set foot in Catalonia. A third MP, Oriol Junqueras, whois currently imprisoned, will be able to vote by proxy. Yet the kingmakers are the far-left CUP party members: their four votes are essential.

What will CUP do?

This far-left party has said for the past few weeks that it will abstain in any investiture debate put forward by the main pro-independence parties because it says the deal has “important and decisive gaps” in how it aims to bring about an independent Catalonia.

However, given the exceptional circumstances, and with Friday’s hearing looming, CUP will announce whether it backs Turull after a party meeting to be held on Thursday at 3pm.

After two failed candidates, can Turull take office under Spanish law?

Yes – in theory. The Spanish courts blocked Carles Puigdemont and Jordi Sànchez’s bids. The former wasn’t allowed to vote by proxy as he wanted, while the latter, in prison, was denied permission to attend Parliament to be sworn in. Turull will be able to attend the chamber and is not barred from office, as being in pre-trial prison does not automatically mean being barred from office –unless the judge explicitly orders it.

Yet before his election as president is official under Spanish law, King Felipe has to sanction it. Some political commentators say in the event that Turull is sent to pre-trial jail hours after being sworn in, the monarch might avoid approving his appointment. On what grounds is not clear. Such a political interference by the King would also be unprecedented.  

What are the chances that a new Turull government lasts a full term?

Slim. It is not even clear if he will be able to take office in the end. But if he does, he will still face proceedings in the independence case. Along with several other officials, he has been charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of funds, which carry a sentence of up to 30 years in prison.

He has already spent 32 days behind bars and if he was returned to pre-trial jail, he would automatically be barred from office while indicted and prosecuted. The judge will issue the bill of indictment on Friday, but this decree can be appealed. In any case, it is very likely that the final sentence in the independence case includes barring the key leaders from office.

Who is the candidate for president, Jordi Turull?

He is one of the closest allies of the Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont. Turull has been in politics for over 30 years, MP for 14 years and one of the most senior MPs for Puigdemont’s party in the past terms. In July 2017, he was appointed as presidency minister and government spokesman. He had a key role in organizing the October 1 referendum.  

What does the Spanish government say to the exceptional upcoming plenary session?

Mariano Rajoy’s executive stated that the plenary session “damages” the Parliament’s dignity because its president has acted “hastily and with a lack of transparency.” In a statement, it also made it clear that direct rule of Catalonia will continue until “a new government takes office in accordance with the law.”

Are there any other reactions to the news?

Yes –a lot. Carles Puigdemont said via Twitter said that Turull will be a “great president” and he stated that Madrid will not be able to carry out any “maneuvers” to damage the dignity of the candidate for president. The leader of the Catalan branch of the People’s Party branded the plenary session a “fraud”and will request a meeting of party spokespeople to reconsider Torrent’s decision. The Socialists also criticized the Parliament speaker’s decision, as did the Ciutadans party leader, who branded the plenary session a way to “degrade” the institution.