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New Catalan parliament meets, but questions linger over key issues

With eight deputies in Brussels or in prison, countdown begins to nominate candidates to premiership

The Catalan parliament.
The Catalan parliament.
Barcelona / Madrid

The first session of the new Catalan parliament will be held today, Wednesday. The new legislature meets in the wake of a series of momentous events: an illegal referendum; a unilateral declaration of independence; a takeover of regional self-rule by Madrid under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution; the flight from justice by several Catalan officials, including ousted premier Carles Puigdemont; a decision by a criminal court to keep other officials in pre-trial detention, including former deputy premier Oriol Junqueras; and a snap election on December 21 that yielded a majority of seats for separatist parties, even though the single most-voted party was the pro-unity Ciudadanos.

One of the key events to look out for today is whether the Mesa de Edad, a transitional committee presided by a veteran lawmaker, will greenlight a request by some of the absent deputies (those in remand or in Brussels) to vote by proxy in a pivotal vote to appoint the Mesa del Parlament, the permanent board of officials that sets the chamber’s agenda. Separatists are hoping to gain control of this influential body, as they did during the past political term – a fact that enabled them to pass the self-made laws leading to the unilateral independence declaration.

These are the main events coming up in the following hours and weeks:

WEDNESDAY

 11am. Constituent session of the new Catalan parliament. The seven members of the Mesa del Parlament will be voted in. The oldest deputy in the house will preside the session, with the two youngest acting as secretaries, in what is known as the Mesa de Edad (the “age board”). Coincidentally all three, Ernest Maragall, Gerard Gómez del Moral and Rut Ribas, belong to the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC). Deputies will be called one by one and asked to place their ballot in the box to appoint the speaker, two deputy speakers and four secretaries who make up the Mesa del Parlament. An absolute majority of 68 is required to become the speaker. If this number is not reached, there will be a runoff between the two most voted candidates. A similar system will be employed for the two deputy speakers. The new speaker will then address the assembly and declare that the new parliament has been constituted.

ABSENT DEPUTIES

There are five newly elected deputies currently in flight from justice in Brussels (Carles Puigdemont, Clara Ponsatí, Toni Comín, Lluís Puig and Meritxell Serret) and three in pre-trial detention in Madrid (Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez and Joaquim Forn). They are entitled to receive their certificate of election, but in theory cannot vote by proxy as parliamentary bylaws only allow this in the event of maternity/paternity leave, being hospitalized, or suffering from a serious illness. However, the Supreme Court justice in charge of the criminal investigation into rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds by secessionist officials has left the door open to proxy voting. A new report by the Catalan parliamentary counsel notes that the situation of the absent deputies does not fall into any of these categories, yet leaves the final decision up to the Mesa de Edad, whose three members, being all separatist deputies, will in all likelihood allow the proxy voting. But the five elected deputies in Brussels recently stated that they will not seek to vote on Wednesday, according to statements made by Junts per Catalunya deputy Jordi Turull on the radio station RAC1 (they will at the session to appoint a new premier). In this case, the separatist bloc, which won 70 seats, would get 65 votes on Wednesday. The pro-unity bloc, headed by Ciudadanos, has 57. And Catalunya en Comú-Podem has warned that its eight deputies will not vote for the Ciudadanos candidate as such a majority would be “tainted” because it is based on “repressive ways.”
EIGHT DAYS

There will be a period of eight working days to form parliamentary groups. Each deputy may belong to just one group, and parties may form just one group. Groups may have as few as five members, except for the Mixed Group, which may also have subgroups made up of at least three deputies from the same party, federation or coalition.

10 DAYS TO NOMINATE CANDIDATES
There will be 10 working days to nominate candidates to become the next Catalan premier. The session to vote in the new leader must take place on January 31 at the latest.
INVESTITURE SESSION

The candidate will present his or her program and request the chamber’s confidence. Representatives from each parliamentary group will take turns addressing other lawmakers, and a debate will take place, followed by a vote. The winning nominee needs an absolute majority of 68 votes. Failing this, a second session will be held two days later, and only a simple majority will be required this time. If the candidates does not achieve this threshold either, the speaker will begin a fresh round of talks with parliamentary groups, who may nominate a new candidate or choose to keep the same one.

REMOTE INVESTITURE

Junts per Catalunya, the electoral platform headed by ousted premier Carles Puigdemont, wants to have him sworn in remotely from Brussels. Catalan parliament lawyers have ruled out this possibility entirely, saying the candidate must be physically present at the session so he may engage in debate “directly and personally.” No other party supports this long-distance option, not even ERC.

TWO MONTHS TO APPOINT A NEW LEADER
The Catalan parliament has two months in all to elect a new premier. If this does not happen, parliament will be automatically dissolved and new elections called for 54 days later. This has never happened in the entire history of modern Catalan politics, beginning with the restoration of the regional parliament in 1980.

English version by Susana Urra.

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