Tensions high as Catalan parliament prepares for new term

The new term of Catalonia’s parliament is set to begin, with the pro-independence majority threatened by the imprisonment and exile of several MPs

THE PARLIAMENT OF CATALONIA will return to business with the opening of a new term on 17 January, with its first session expected to appoint a new president and bureau.

However, uncertainty hangs over the proceedings, as the pro-independence parliamentary majority is threatened by the ongoing imprisonment and exile of several parliamentarians.

If the main pro-independence parties who triumphed during the 21 December election are to maintain control of the chamber, then they will need to account for the three elected representatives that remain imprisoned by Spanish authorities, and the further five - including Catalan President Carles Puigdemont – who have remained in Belgium since the government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dissolved Catalonia’s democratically elected executive, and risk arrest and imprisonment should they return.

READ MORE: Catalan activist Anna Arqué: “Freedom is something you fight for every day”

If the main pro-independence parties – Together for Catalonia, Esquerra Republicana and the CUP – are to maintain control of parliament via a majority of more than 65 MPs, some of those unable to attend the opening session will need to step down to allow others to stand in their place. However, in order to do so, some of those currently in Belgium would need to return to Catalonia, where they would almost certainly face arrest on similar charges of rebellion and sedition for their involvement in the 1 October independence of last year, which the Spanish constitutional court declared illegal.

Spanish authorities appear unprepared to offer any leniency to allow Catalan parliamentary democracy to proceed. Last week, the Spanish Supreme Court decided that imprisoned Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, who has been in jail for more than two months, would not be granted permission to attend the Catalan parliament’s opening plenary session to maintain the pro-independence bloc’s majority.

However, the Court also stated that it would be up to the Catalan parliament’s bureau to decide if votes could be taken by proxy, meaning that Junqueras and his two imprisoned colleagues, Joaquim Forn and Jordi Sànchez, might be able to vote in absentia.

“It’s absurd that someone aspires to be president of the Catalan regional government as a fugitive in Brussels.” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy

Controversially, the Court also denied Junqueras the right to political representation, which under Spanish law is denied to those who are “part of or linked to an armed group, terrorists or rebel individuals.” Given that he has been charged with ‘rebellion’, the Catalan vice president falls into that category, despite the non-violent and democratically mandated nature of his actions.

Further evidence of the Spanish Government’s inflexibility came on Monday, as Rajoy warned that direct rule by Madrid could continue if the exiled Puigdemont attempted to govern from Belgium, despite the pro-independence majority’s stated intention to reinstate him in the office of the presidency.

In a speech at the ruling People’s Party headquarters on Monday, Rajoy declared: “It’s absurd that someone aspires to be president of the Catalan regional government as a fugitive in Brussels – it’s a case of common sense.”

Picture courtesy of Prachatal

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