Catalonia Separatists Support Re-Election of Exiled Leader Puigdemont

Artur Mas announces that he leaves the presidency of the PDeCAT

Artur Mas announces that he leaves the presidency of the PDeCAT

The two main pro-independence parties in Catalonia have agreed to back former leader Carles Puigdemont as their candidate to head the region, raising the likelihood of a renewed push this year for a split from Spain.

The deal comes after pro-independence parties won the narrowest of majorities in seats in the Catalonian parliament at elections on December 21 called by Spain's national government - which had suspended Catalonia's government.

A spokesman with Puigdemont's Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) ticket said that the separatist politician secured the backing of the left-republican ERC party Tuesday evening in Brussels.

In a Catalan election December 21, the three main separatist parties won 70 of the 135 seats in the regional Parliament, with 47.5 percent of the vote - nearly identical to the result in 2015.

However, another issue is that although separatists have a majority, the rules of the Catalan assembly dictate that deputies can not delegate their vote and with Puigdemont in Belgium and Junqueras and other elected deputies either in jail or in exile and in theory unable to vote, that majority effectively vanishes.

Mr Puigdemont fled to Brussels after Spanish authorities levelled charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds against him for his role in the region's disputed independence referendum.

The other main potential candidate to represent the pro-independence parties would be ERC leader Oriol Junqueras, who is serving a custodial sentence in a Madrid jail.

The Spanish attorney general wants to prosecute 20 separatists, including Puigdemont, on charges of organizing an unconstitutional referendum on October 1 and then declaring Catalonia's independence that month.

While the anti-secession Ciutadans (Citizens) collected the most votes of any single party, the prime minister's hope that the separatists would suffer a stinging rebuke at the polls went unfulfilled.

Puigdemont has called on Rajoy to meet outside Spain to negotiate a settlement to their dispute, a proposal the prime minister has rejected. He also removed Puigdemont and his Cabinet.

Far from ending the secessionist conflict, the election has opened another uncertain chapter for Spain. Puigdemont has not made clear how he plans to revive his independence drive. Some of the lawmakers in Belgium could appoint substitutes to take their seats.

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