19th May 2024
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Puigdemont will still seek to become Catalan president, despite ‘pro-Spain win’

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont said on Monday that he would seek to form a pro-independence minority government in Catalonia despite a weekend electoral setback which saw Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s socialists win.

Spain’s governing PSOE party – which is the Catalan Socialists (PSC) in Catalonia, led by former health minister Salvador Illa – won the regional election on Sunday, snatching away the pro-independence parties’ decade-long majority. ALSO READ: Catalan pro-independence parties lose majority, as PSC socialists win elections.

‘Catalonia has decided to open a new era,’ a triumphant Illa told supporters on Sunday night. ‘Catalan voters have decided that the Socialist Party will lead this new era, and it is my intention to become Catalonia’s next president.’

But Puigdemont insisted that he was still in a position to rally pro-independence groups and form a regional government.

‘We can assemble a coherent majority,’ said Puigdemont, who lives abroad in exile to escape trial for leading a botched independence bid in 2017.

‘Not an absolute one, but a coherent one, bigger than the one the socialist party candidate can gather,’ added Puigdemont, leader of the centre-right hardline separatist party Junts per Catalunya (JxCat). ‘We are going to concentrate on that from now on.’

He said he envisaged standing as a candidate for leader in a vote in the new Catalan regional parliament.

The PSC won 42 of the regional parliament’s 135 seats on Sunday — nine more than in the previous election in 2021, but short of an absolute majority. JxCat won 35 seats, up from 32.

For the moment Illa has the backing of the six seats from the left-wing Sumar group with whom Sánchez forms the country’s minority coalition government in Madrid.

The PSC could possibly also partner with the more moderate independence party Esquerra Republicana (ERC), which won 20 seats (down from 33) – or at least secure an abstention from this group. The ERC is the party of the sitting regional president, Pere Aragonès. He announced on Monday that he would not take his seat in the next parliament and was retiring from front-line politics. He ruled out doing any deals with the socialists and also with JxCat.

JxCat, ERC and the smaller far-left CUP secured 59 seats between them, compared with 74 last time.

Separatists have held the regional government in Barcelona since 2012 and had won majorities in four consecutive regional elections. But polling and a national election last July showed that support for independence has shrunk.

Puigdemont insisted the independence parties had ‘potentially more options’ for winning office. He said he had been in touch with ERC to discuss creating ‘a pro-sovereignty government’.

Puigdemont spoke in Argelès-sur-Mer, a few kilometres from the Spanish border. Ahead of the vote, he had pledged to retire from politics if he lost.

Sunday’s result offered a boost to Prime Minister Sánchez. He had wanted to show that his policy of defusing tensions triggered by the 2017 crisis had worked, reducing pro-independence sentiment in the wealthy northeastern region of eight million people.

The newly elected lawmakers in the Catalan Parliament are due to take their seats on June 10.

Click here for all our reports related to Catalan independence.

ALSO READ: Puigdemont says he will return to Spain if he can be elected as Catalan president.

ALSO READ: Judge asks Puigdemont to testify voluntarily and by video in terrorism probe.

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