Over three months after the September 27 regional election, Catalonia finally has a new premier.
After the victorious Junts pel Sí coalition of pro-independence forces and the anticapitalist Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP) reached an 11th-hour deal on Saturday, Carles Puigdemont was sworn in as leader in the Catalan parliament on Sunday night.
He was elected with 62 votes from Junts pel Sí and eight from the CUP in an unusually brief session lasting under five hours so as to avoid going past the midnight deadline that would have required new regional elections to have been called. The two other CUP members decided to abstain, with the 63 opposition deputies from Ciudadanos, the Catalan Socialists, the Popular Party and the Podemos-backed Catalunya Sí que es Pot all voting against.
The independence declaration opened the constituent process and I hope that by the end of the session we will have the instruments to put it into practice”
New Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont
Puigdemont takes over from Artur Mas, who, after always insisting that he would not bow to the CUP’s demands to step aside, finally agreed to do so on Saturday to break the deadlock between the two pro-independence forces and avoid fresh elections. The small anticapitalist party’s 10 elected deputies held the key to power in the region after Mas’s Junts pel Sí – which comprises his own Democratic Convergence (CDC) party, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and other pro-sovereignty groups – failed to attract enough votes for an absolute majority at the September 27 election.
However, the road map to independence Puigdemont defended in his investiture speech on Sunday was the same as the one agreed by the secessionist parties under Mas’s leadership. The new government will not only defend the idea of proclaiming independence from Spain within 18 months, but also the steps laid out in the motion declaring the start of the breakaway process that has been struck down by the Spanish Constitutional Court.
Puigdemont said this was no time for “cowards” and defined himself as the premier of the “post-autonomous region and pre-independence era.”
“The [independence] declaration opened the constituent process and I hope that by the end of the session we will have the instruments to put it into practice,” he said.
He said his government’s mission would be to negotiate the constitution of a Catalan state “with the Spanish state” and with European authorities, adding that he would be counting on Mas to help him in this mission – something that raised suspicions among opposition deputies over how much autonomy the new premier will have.
Addressing parliament, CUP spokeswoman Anna Gabriel wanted to make it clear that her party’s support for Puigdemont was strictly conditioned upon the advance of the independence process.
“Carles, you have the challenge of opening the process, of creating the most transverse project, but without unnecessary delays. We have to close stages that we will not be able to open again. We have the opportunity to begin a new path,” said Gabriel.
In her address to parliament, opposition leader Inés Arrimadas, of Ciudadanos, accused Puigdemont of simply being a replica of Mas in following the same independence plan, and reproached him for failing to tackle the subject of corruption. “You are a premier chosen arbitrarily. More of the same,” she said.
Catalan Popular Party chief Xabier García Albiol classified the session as “one of the saddest days for the dignity of Catalonia,” while PSC leader Miquel Iceta and Catalunya Sí que es Pot chief Lluís Rabell both reminded the secessionist groups that independence parties failed to secure more than 50% of the vote at the September regional election. Iceta ordered Puigdemont to “listen to the 52% of citizens who did not vote for Junts pel Sí or the CUP.”
English version by Nick Funnell.