by Hannah Strange, The Telegraph, February 27, 2018
Catalan separatists are finalising a deal for ousted leader Carles Puigdemont to hand over the presidency to an alternative candidate at home, while retaining a symbolic role from his exile in Belgium.
Under the plan, Mr Puigdemont would be symbolically inaugurated as the “legitimate president” before stepping aside for a day-to-day leader who can form a government and restore Catalan autonomy after four months of direct rule.
Independence parties said on Tuesday that they would vote through a parliamentary resolution establishing Mr Puigdemont’s status in a session scheduled for Thursday, prompting threats of court action from unionist opponents.
The Spanish government reacted with dismay to widespread reports that the likely alternative would be Jordi Sanchez, who has been in prison since October over his role in leading street protests as head of the grassroots Catalan National Assembly (ANC).
Rafael Catalá, the justice minister, said that just as a Catalan president who is “fugitive from justice and outside Spain” was “unimaginable”, so too it was “difficult” to conceive of a president “who is in prison and cannot exercise his functions”.
The arrangement is aimed at circumventing the Spanish Constitutional Court’s ban on Mr Puigdemont being returned to power through a remote inauguration from Belgium, where he fled in late October.
The court ruled last month that the independence leader could only be inaugurated in person, a move which would lead to his arrest on rebellion and sedition charges over the October 1 referendum and subsequent declaration of independence.
But Enric Millo, the government’s delegate in Catalonia, urged independence parties to select a president who was “free of court cases”, insisting that Mr Sanchez could not be inaugurated. Choosing the jailed activist demonstrated that secessionists were willing to "continue with the tension"," he told Catalan radio station RAC1.
He warned that a failure to invest a new president would only lead to the extension of direct rule from Madrid. “We are in full application of Article 155, which will end when the president of the (Catalan) Parliament proposes a candidate who fulfill the requirements and can be elected.”
The Republican Left (ERC), the primary coalition partner to Mr Puigdemont's Junts Per Catalunya, declined to publicly confirm on Tuesday that Mr Sanchez would be the alternative candidate. But spokesman Sergi Sabria defended the ANC leader's right to be inaugurated should he be put forward, and suggested an agreement could be announced as early as Wednesday.
Joan Maria Piqué, Mr Puigdemont's campaign manager in Belgium, declined to comment on reports of the handover to Mr Sanchez, telling The Telegraph that it was too early to confirm the details of the agreement.