Catalan parliament to vote on new president: speaker

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BARCELONA, March 22, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Catalonia’s parliament is to hold a debate and vote Thursday on a new candidate for regional president, Jordi Turull, who risks being disqualified from holding office over his role in the region’s separatist drive.

“I will propose to the chamber that Jordi Turull be candidate for president,” Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent told reporters late Wednesday, just hours after Turull was summoned to appear in court on Friday.

Turull, a former Catalan government spokesman, is under investigation over Catalonia’s secession drive but remains free under bail.

He is the third separatist candidate to be proposed followed failed bids to re-elect Catalonia’s ousted president Carles Puigdemont and jailed pro-independence activists Jordi Sanchez, who withdrew earlier on Wednesday.

“A huge honour. If parliament gives me its vote of confidence, I will work without rest for the progress and protection of the 7.5 million Catalans,” Turull said on Twitter after he was officially nominated.

A Supreme Court judge earlier on Wednesday summoned Turull and other Catalan separatist leaders under probe to appear in court on Friday to tell them exactly what they are charged with.

According to a court document made public Wednesday, the judge will also decide whether or not to remand Turull and the others in custody.

Even if Turull is elected Catalan president, if he is then judged and sentenced, he risks being disqualified from holding office and being forced to step down.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government sacked the Catalan government, called early elections and took direct control of the region in October just hours after the Catalan parliament made a unilateral declaration of independence.

It has vowed to resist any bid by the region to break away from Spain and called on Catalan separatist parties to appoint a candidate for president who does not face prosecution.

Separatist parties won regional elections in December, retaining their absolute majority in parliament, but they have still not been able to form a government as their two candidates for the presidency proved problematic.

As a result, Catalonia remains under direct rule from Madrid since October 27 when lawmakers declared independence.

Puigdemont, who was sacked by Madrid after the declaration of independence and left for Belgium where he lives in self-exile, was the first candidate to lead the region again.

But Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled he could not be appointed remotely, and he will be arrested if he comes back to Spain.

So he proposed Sanchez, the former head of the influential pro-independence ANC civil society group who is in jail pending the probe into the independence drive.

But this too proved problematic as Supreme Court judges refused to release him for a parliamentary session that would officially appoint him president.

Turull’s bid to be elected will need the support of the tiny far-left separatist CUP party which has four seats in the 135-seat Catalan parliament but the party has not yet decided what its position will be.

Its leaders will meet at 3:00 pm, just two hours before the debate and vote in the Catalan parliament is to begin to decide if they will back Turull.

Spain’s King Felipe VI, who has spoken out forcefully against Catalonia’s independence drive, would also have to sign Turull’s nomination as president before it could become effective.

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