Intense January in Catalan politics ahead
Q&A on the new term set to start next week, with the appointment of new Parliament bureau and president of government unresolved
The pro-independence parties won in the December 21 election. With this new majority in the Catalan parliament, under ordinary circumstances this would mean a new president of the chamber taking office within weeks, and short negotiations among parties to appoint a new Catalan president and government. On January 17, the new term officially starts in the Catalan parliament, a date unprecedentedly set by the Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy. Its constitutive session is expected to appoint a new president and bureau for the chamber. Yet this is not going to be that straightforward for the parties in favour of a Catalan state.
Why will it not be that easy for pro-independence parties to appoint a new Parliament president despite having the majority of MPs?
While the pro-independence parties want control in the parliament with their new majority, some of their MPs will have to make the first move. They got 70 out of 135 seats in the election, with the majority at 68. Yet three elected MPs are in jail, including the vice president of the deposed Catalan government, Oriol Junqueras. What’s more, five more members of the dismissed executive are in Brussels, and all of them are elected MPs, including President Puigdemont. If none of them can turn up on January 17, the pro-independence forces would go down to 62, with the rest of the parties having 65 MPs.
Why might some pro-independence MPs step down in order to make the most of the majority?
If Together for Catalonia, Esquerra Republicana and the CUP don’t want to risk losing the control of the chamber, some of their MPs in exile or in prison will have to step down. Two elected representatives held in custody are to testify at the Spanish Supreme Court this Thursday. Yet there is little chance that they will be freed or given permission to attend the debate. Junqueras was also summoned to appear in the same court on January 4 but the judges decided to keep him in jail. Anyway, two or three more MPs for the parties for a Catalan state would not be enough to keep control of the chamber from January 17 onwards. Some elected MPs in Brussels will either have to step down, or return to the country, but an arrest warrant is hanging over their heads. So as soon as they set a foot in Catalonia, they are very likely to be arrested, and imprisoned.
Will Carme Forcadell be president of the Parliament again?
If the pro-independence parties manage to have more than 65 MPs in the parliament on January 17, the presidency of the chamber will be theirs. But who will be the person appointed for the post? Carme Forcadell was in office for the past term, but she is now hesitant about taking the position again. Why? She played a key role over the past few months, allowing debates over independence in the chamber and even accepting a vote declaring the Catalan Republic on October 27. Because of that, she is now being investigated by the Spanish justice system, charged with rebellion, facing up to 30 years in prison. Having been detained, she was then freed on a €150,000-bail after spending one night in prison.
How is a new Catalan president appointed?
Once the parliament bureau is formed, it is then time for a new Catalan president to be appointed. The investiture debate is expected on January 31, with the first vote on a new president set for the following day. If the candidate does not get an absolute majority, a successive vote is held two days later. If the same candidate does not get at least a simple majority this time, the Parliament has two months to agree on a candidate. In the event that MPs fail to find one within this deadline, a snap election is automatically called for around the end of May.
Will Carles Puigdemont be able to be president again?
The candidate for the pro-independence forces is Carles Puigdemont, as leader of the party for a Catalan state with the most votes. But he is in Brussels, and he will also be arrested and probably jailed as soon as he returns to Catalonia. He pledged to return if he was to be appointed president “risking” being arrested, as he said in the electoral campaign. However, he has not made his intentions on becoming president any clearer. Will he return? Will he try to be appointed remotely from Brussels? Is this legal at all? His candidacy, Together for Catalonia claims there is no alternative but appointing Puigdemont as president once more.