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Ex-Catalan official seeks release from jail as he mulls bid for the premiership

Oriol Junqueras tells Spanish Supreme Court that he is a man of peace who supports dialogue

ERC leader Oriol Junqueras.
ERC leader Oriol Junqueras. AP

The Spanish Supreme Court will decide on Thursday or Friday whether to keep Catalonia’s ousted deputy premier, Oriol Junqueras, in pre-trial custody in connection with a criminal inquiry into rebellion against the authority of Spain.

Failing a favorable decision, the leader of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) will reiterate his request next week before Justice Pablo Llarena, who is in charge of the case.

Puigdemont’s return depends on a previous “political pact” with the Spanish state

According to sources who were present at the hearing, Junqueras stated that he is a religious man and a “man of peace,” and showcased his own “civic behavior” to convince the court that he should be released.

He also underscored that he supports dialogue and “a negotiated way” out of the conflict pitting Spanish central authorities and Catalan separatists, said his lawyer Andreu Van den Eynde outside the courthouse.

“He also appealed to his right to exercise his role as a deputy and to be allowed to work for the one million people who voted for him; to be able to be with his family, and ultimately to be a free man,” said the defense attorney.

Former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont may seek to be reinstated from a distance.
Former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont may seek to be reinstated from a distance. AFP

Presidential bid

In the meantime, Junqueras is also priming himself for a bid to become the next Catalan premier if his former boss Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Brussels to avoid facing the same criminal proceedings, does not return to Catalonia in the coming days.

Junqueras was part of a government that took steps to secede from Spain under the leadership of Carles Puigdemont; these initiatives included an unconstitutional independence referendum on October 1 and self-made laws paving the way for a Catalan republic.

The entire Puigdemont administration was ousted by central authorities in Madrid in late October after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy invoked a little-known constitutional provision – Article 155 – to temporarily take charge of regional affairs in the breakaway region. He also called early elections for December 21 in the hopes that a new government would emerge willing to keep its demands within the bounds of Spanish legislation.

Puigdemont and Junqueras’ personal strategies have been diverging since late October

But the outcome of that vote did not yield a clear result: while the anti-independence Ciudadanos was the most voted party, separatist groups collectively secured a higher number of seats. It is widely expected that the latter will seek to form another pro-independence front similar to the Junts pel Sí coalition (Puigdemont’s PDeCAT and Junqueras’ ERC) that governed with support from the far-left CUP until their forceful removal by Madrid.

Still, Puigdemont and Junqueras’ personal strategies have been diverging ever since separatist deputies in the Catalan parliament passed a unilateral independence proclamation on October 27. And it seems unlikely that both men will see eye to eye again beyond their own parties’ political arrangements once the new legislature is in session.

Puigdemont, who campaigned from Brussels with a new political group called Junts per Catalunya, promised that he would return to Catalonia if his party won the elections (it came in second after Ciudadanos). But Spanish authorities have warned that he will be arrested the moment he sets foot on national territory to answer the same charges as Junqueras and other members of his ousted cabinet.

If Puigdemont fails to return or to get himself reinstated from a distance, as his party wants to do, Junqueras will attempt to fill the position despite his own complicated legal situation. His party earned 32 seats on December 21, compared with Puigdemont’s 34.

On Thursday the Supreme Court will hear an appeal filed by Junqueras’ lawyer, Andreu Van den Eynde, asking for his client’s release so he can return to the front lines of political activity again.

“We will demand that the justice system recognize a status for Junqueras in keeping with his condition so that he may act as a deputy or, if the situation arises, as president of the Generalitat [Catalan government],” said Van den Eynde.

If the court confirms preventive prison for Junqueras, his defense will file a new request next week in the hopes that his client can take part in the constituent session of parliament on January 17.

In the meantime, it seems increasingly unlikely that Puigdemont will return from Brussels. Ferran Bel, a PDeCAT official, said that such a return depends on a previous “political pact” with the Spanish state to ensure that he would be allowed to come back without automatically going to preventive prison.

The PDeCAT wants the regional parliament to make Puigdemont the new premier through a “long-distance investiture” that is not currently contemplated by parliamentary regulations.

English version by Susana Urra.

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