Roger Torrent, a 38-year-old deputy with the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC), has become the speaker of the new Catalan parliament that emerged from the December 21 election, which yielded a majority of seats for separatist parties.
On Wednesday, lawmakers meeting at the first session voted in the members of the Mesa del Parlament, the permanent board of officials that sets the chamber’s agenda. The outcome of the vote, which had been widely expected, gives control of this pivotal body to the separatist bloc. During the last political term, the separatist-controlled Mesa allowed the votes that resulted in the passing of self-made laws and a unilateral declaration of independence.
In his opening address to the new parliament, Torrent used a much more conciliatory tone than Ernest Maragall, the veteran lawmaker who provisionally presided the session until the speaker’s appointment.
Torrent said he will work “tirelessly to restore the Catalan institutions”
“I want to contribute to mending Catalan society,” said Torrent, calling Catalonia a society “of crossed identities” and “a plural country.” He underscored that as mayor of Sarrià de Ter (Girona), he always tried to reach across the aisle, and said he intends to do the same now as speaker of the Catalan parliament.
Torrent announced that he will work “tirelessly to restore Catalan institutions,” a reminder that regional self-rule has been temporarily taken over by central authorities in Madrid after invoking Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.
The new speaker also mentioned the eight absent deputies who are either in pre-trial custody in Madrid in connection with the rebellion probe, or in flight from justice in Belgium. “I would not be honest if we didn’t denounce this fact resoundingly,” said Torrent, who pledged to defend the rights of all deputies, “ especially those who are not here.”
Torrent failed to secure the 68 votes necessary for an absolute majority in the first round of voting, and won in a runoff with a simple majority of 65 votes from the separatist parties Junts per Catalunya, ERC and the far-left CUP.
There were 56 votes for José María Espejo, the candidate for Ciudadanos, the pro-unity party that was the winner of the December election with a majority of seats (37) and a majority of votes. The unionist bloc, however, is not large enough to outnumber the separatists inside the 135-seat assembly.
Besides Ciudadanos, the Popular Party (PP) and the Catalan Socialists (PSC) also voted for Espejo, while the eight representatives of the officially unaligned Catalunya en Comú-Podem group cast blank ballots.
There was one additional blank vote by a deputy whose identity remains a mystery, as ballots were cast inside a box following a roll call. The Socialists have categorically denied the possibility that the rebel deputy may be one of their own, specifically Ramon Espadaler, a former chief of internal affairs in the government of Artur Mas – under whose tenure the independence drive gained new traction – and a former leader of the now-defunct party Unió Democràtica de Catalunya. Espadaler has denied on Twitter that he is the deputy who broke with the party line.
Torrent will be replacing Carme Forcadell, the former speaker under whom the regional parliament passed controversial self-made laws last year despite protests from the opposition and warnings by the parliamentary counsel. Forcadell has been targeted in a Supreme Court investigation into rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds by secessionist officials, and was briefly remanded in custody. After telling the judge that the independence declaration of October was merely symbolic, and pledging to obey constitutional laws, she was released on bail.
Separatists will hold four of the seven seats on the Mesa – two for Junts per Catalunya and two for ERC – while Ciudadanos gets two and the Socialists one.
Josep Costa (Junts per Catalunya) and José María Espejo (Ciudadanos) will be the first and second deputy speakers, respectively. The four secretaries are Eusebi Campdepadrós (Junts per Catalunya), David Pérez (PSC), Joan García (Ciudadanos) and Alba Vergés (ERC).
English version by Susana Urra.