THE CATALAN PARLIAMENT – RECENT ELECTIONS & THREATS

Diarmuid Breatnach

The Catalan Parlament went ahead recently with its house management work, electing a Speaker and Deputy Speaker and four Secretaries (see fly-on-the-wall report below).

After that, they had 10 days to elect a President of the Government. The choice of the Independists seems to be unanimously for Carles Puigdemont, the previous Government’s President; however, the Spanish State wants to arrest him (as it has done with other independist parliamentarians, without granting bail and threatened to others, including the previous Speaker of the Parlament, which is one reason why Puigdemont has been living in Brussels in recent months). The President of the Catalan Parlament, Roger Torrent, despite a threat by the Spanish State to arrest him also, announced that Puigdemont was the only choice for President of the Government. Naturally the Spanish unionists in the Parlament objected vociferously but the independists have the majority.

Roger Torrent, the newly-elected Speaker of the Catalan Parlament
(Photo source: Internet)

Could Puigdemont be sworn in as President by proxy? This was a question to which contrary replies were given. The Spanish State said not but a number of others said it was a possibility. The Spanish State is not preventing the jailed Catalan politicians from having proxies vote on their behalves and presumably, even if they jail Puigdemont, though it would disrupt the Parlament considerably, he would still be able to vote through a proxy. The Spanish National Court in Madrid seems to have had this in mind when it rejected an application by the state’s Attorney General to renew the European Warrant for the arrest of Puigdemont when he arrived in Denmark. Puigdemont was there to take part in a debate organised by the University of Copenhagen titled “Catalonia and Europe at a Crossroads for Democracy? Debate with Carles Puigdemont.” 

In a statement which clearly revealed the political nature of the Spanish Court, Judge Pablo Llarena declared Mr Puigdemont was seeking to “provoke” his own detention in order to “force the context” in which he could delegate his vote, and therefore he refused to renew the EAW which the state had withdrawn on 5th December (apparently on advice that the Belgian court was not going to grant it — the “crimes” with which the Spanish court charged Puigdemont a) do not have criminal status in Brussels or b) are not those covered by the convention on the EAWs).

Puigdemont has asked the Spanish State whether it is going to arrest him if he returns to Catalunya in order to be inaugurated as President of the Parlament. Torrent has asked for dialogue to discuss the matter with the Spanish Prime Minister, Rajoy, who has refused. Rajoy’s party, the Partido Popular, lost heavily in the recent elections in Catalunya and had only one member elected to the Parlament (it also has only one elected town mayor in the whole of Catalunya). The Spanish Government has also threatened to continue its direct rule under Article 155, which it imposed after the Catalan Government declared for independence, on foot of the referendum on October 1st.

Carles Puigdemont in Copenhagen in the company of young local supporters (Photo source: Internet)

ELECTIONS OF HOUSE COMMITTEE POSITIONS IN CATALAN PARLAMENT

The Catalan Parlament pressed ahead with some necessary internal work on 17th January. They needed to elect the President del Parlament (not of the Government – this position is like the Ceann Comhairle in the Dáil or the Speaker in Westminster), a Vice-President and four Secretaries. As they were doing this in the public eye, Alan King, of the FB page Support Catalonia, translated and posted as it was happening. The summary below is taken from that commentary with his permission and our thanks.

Voting is taking place for the “speaker” (president del Parlament – not the same as the President of the Goverment). The name of each MP is called out and they walk up and hand over their ballot at the front of the chamber. Loud applause accompanies the names of those who are imprisoned or in exile. Those who are political prisoners have delegated their votes except for Carles Puigdemont, who has refused to do so.

The seats in the chamber have been decorated with large yellow ribbons. (This is to remember the members of the Parlament jailed by the Spanish State while awaiting trial for carrying out the wishes of their electorate and defying the Spanish Government; also for a leader of a Catalan independist organisation).

The new candidate for speaker is Roger Torrent, who will be the youngest person to occupy the position. Voting has ended and the names on each ballot are being read out. Hundreds of people are standing outside, surrounded by many Catalan flags, to follow the proceedings live from the street.

The candidate of the independence parties, Roger Torrent, was born in 1979. Here is a piece about him (in Catalan):

The “now you see me now you don’t” Podemos group decided to abstain in the vote. As a result, with the votes counted, no candidate has the absolute majority which means that now there will be a second vote, which is taking place. In this second round a simple majority will suffice.

The Podemos group which represents a Spanish so-called “left” movement go under the name of “Catalunya En Comú” (Catalonia in Common). They suffered heavy losses in the latest elections and only have eight Mps.

The people outside are chanting: “PUIGDEMONT! FREEDOM!”

 Loud applause in the chamber as Puigdemont’s name is called out as the second round of voting continues.

Comment from another observer at this point: “I’ve been watching live reporting on the Al-Jazeera TV news programme. Nothing on BBC ….”

The count for the first round of votes was:
Torrent (the independence candidate): 65
Espejo (the unionist candidate): 56
Abstentions; 9

The voting is over for the second round and the ballots are now being counted.

Roger Torrent is 38 years old and a member of the Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left) party. He is described as a perfectionist and a good communicator.

Torrent has replaced Carme Forcadell as speaker of the Catalan Parliament. Forcadell announced she wanted to step down on account of the many legal issues she must face because of persecution by the Spanish courts.

One of Torrent’s well-known quotes: “We will build the Republic without asking permission” (Farem República sense demanar permís).

The session now continues with the election of the Deputy Speaker (vice-president de la Mesa). There are two candidates again, put forward by Junts Per Si and Ciudadanos respectively.

The election of Deputy Speakers has concluded. The First Deputy Speaker will be Costa (the independence candidate), while Espejo (Ciudadanos’ unionist candidate) will be the Second Deputy.

Finally, votes are now being counted for the four secretaries of the Mesa del Parlament. It is expected that there will be one secretary each proposed by Junts Per Catalunya, Esquerra Republicana and the unionist parties Ciudadanos and PSC.

It has been pointed out that the presence of more men than women in the Mesa fails to reflect the fact that women are in the majority in the parliament as a whole.

Roger Torrent is beginning his first speech as Speaker of the Catalan Parliament.

Torrent promises to try to win the confidence of all the members of parliament.

He is going on to draw attention to the intolerable situation with political prisoners and cabinet members in Brussels who cannot return to their country.

It is his job to represent the voices of all the elected members of parliament including those who cannot be present today.

There is an unprecedented situation where the Catalan institutions are under attack, and the first task must be to stop that. He calls on everyone to join forces to retrieve the institutions and put them at the service of the whole country.

The polls are the maximum expression of the will of the people and must be respected. The country’s civil and social rights depend on it.

Social progress is one of parliament’s essential goals.

It is their responsibility to forge agreements and understandings even among groups who don’t see eye to eye. He has worked for that as Mayor and will now do it in his new position.

But he demands one thing: respect. For the institutions, for each other, and for will of the people.

Democracy and coexistence are the two basic principles.

Catalonia is a diverse country and that diversity is reflected in the composition of parliament.

He has referred to his two female predecessors and says that he personally espouses the feminist vision, which is still unachieved in Catalan society and its institutions, but which he promises to do his best to advance.

After his speech, all stand for the Catalan national anthem, Els Segadors.

The anthem is followed by shouts of “Visca Catalunya” (Long live Catalunya!) and “Lliure!” (Free!), and of “Llibertat!” (freedom).

The session is over. The President of the Government remains to be elected, which needs to be done tend days from now.

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