Catalonia's Puigdemont Steps Aside
Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont was unable to attend an official ceremony in Spain this Thursday, which led Spanish courts to rule his aspired presidency illegitimate. Puigdemont’s resignation might mark a turning point in Spain’s biggest crisis since the restoration of democracy in 1975.
The ceremony would have introduced Puigdemont’s second term as president of Catalonia. However, since the country has been ruled by Madrid with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy employing constitutional powers to maintain Spanish rule, Puigdemont was left with little choice but to withdraw his candidacy. He said his decision "is founded in one reason only - under current conditions it's the way to get a new government underway.”
After the leader of Junts Per Catalunya declared Catalan independence last fall, Puigdemont fled into exile in Brussels to avoid the legal charges he would face in Spain. Since the separatist lawmaker overruled Spanish refusal to allow an independence referendum last October, the Rajoy government made it clear that Puigdemont would face arrest if he maintained his position.
Ending his reappointment bid, Puigdemont declared activist Jordi Sanchez his desired successor. Sanchez, who was himself imprisoned in relation to the independence referendum, responded to this announcement on Thursday, stating that “it is a great honour and enormous responsibility to be able to represent the people of Catalonia.” However, the new candidate is also expected to face strong opposition in Madrid.
Difficulties aside, this step is seen as the only possibility to finalize direct rule from the Spanish government. Spain’s application of emergency powers, according to Article 155, requires a legitimate president of the Catalan Parliament to ease Spanish rule over the country.
The political struggle in Catalonia has also led to a setback to the pro-independence cause. According to a recent survey by the Catalan Center for Opinion Studies, support for independence dropped from 48.7 percent in October to 40.8 percent. This drop is deemed correlated to the lack of international support of the movement, as most European leaders continue to refuse meeting Puigdemont or other representatives of the movement.