Catalonia postpones vote for new president as speaker blasts Spain for trying to ‘dictate terms’

The speaker of the Catalan parliament has postponed the inauguration of Carles Puigdemont until he can be invested “with guarantees”, amid an intensifying legal battle over the return of the pro-independence leader.

Announcing the move just hours before the scheduled investiture, Roger Torrent insisted he would not succumb to Spanish authorities’ efforts to prevent Mr Puigdemont taking office, saying he would “go until the end” to ensure the parliament’s choice was respected.

The postponement follows Saturday’s ruling from Spain’s Constitutional Court that Mr Puigdemont could not be invested remotely from Belgium, but must seek judicial permission to attend the Catalan parliament in person.

As Mr Puigdemont faces a warrant for his arrest on sedition and rebellion charges, that would entail delivering himself to Spanish justice and his likely imprisonment. 

Mr Puigdemont’s party, Junts Per Catalunya, filed an appeal against the ruling, but it was rejected by the Constitutional Court.

Blasting the ruling as a “judicial botch”, Mr Torrent insisted that “neither a minister nor a court 600 kilometres away will decide who is the president of the (Catalan) government”.

The postponement was hailed by the government in Madrid as a show of “respect for legality” in the wake of the Constitutional Court ruling.

Among pro-independence parties, the response was mixed. Sergi Sabrià, spokesman for the Esquerra Republicana (ERC), coalition partner to Mr Puigdemont’s party, welcomed the postponement as “a good decision to defend the votes of the people”. 

But Mr Puigdemont’s party appeared blindsided by the decision, while the hardline pro-independence party the CUP insisted the inauguration should go ahead. "Democracy cannot be postponed,” Carles Riera, the CUP’s parliamentary leader, wrote on Twitter. 

The Constitutional Court ruling has drawn controversy due to its unprecedented nature. The Spanish government had defied legal advice to appeal against the proposal of Mr Puigdemont as president, an appeal which, if accepted, would have triggered the suspension of the inauguration. 

The Court refused to hear that appeal but instead imposed the preconditions on the inauguration, a move it acknowledged was “without any precedent” but said was merited due to the “exceptional urgency” of the situation.

A report on Monday in the Spanish daily El Pais that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and ministers had personally telephoned judges to warn them of the gravity of the situation should Mr Puigdemont be inaugurated has also stirred accusations of political interference.

Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia, today rejected claims of interference, describing them as "false and perverse".

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