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29 Jan, 2020 16:55

Catalan pro-independence leader Torra promises snap election, refuses to give up seat over disobedience charges

Catalan pro-independence leader Torra promises snap election, refuses to give up seat over disobedience charges

Catalan leader Quim Torra, who has kept his seat as the region’s president despite a court decision to bar him from public office, has called for a snap election.

Torra was found guilty of disobeying electoral rules over his pro-independence actions.

“Once the budgets have been approved in [Catalan] Parliament, I will announce the date of elections,” Torra said on Wednesday in a speech in Barcelona, the capital of Spain’s northeastern region. The announcement came as a surprise as Torra had kept firm to his political duties in spite of the charges he’s facing.

In December, the Catalan High Court sentenced Torra to an 18-month ban from holding public office and to a fine over his pro-independence actions during last year’s election period. At the time, he was ordered by the Spanish electoral commission to take down pro-independence yellow ribbons as well as banners in support of jailed pro-independence politicians from government buildings. Torra refused to do so, slamming the order as “illegal” and calling it “censorship.”

On Thursday, there was a ruling on Torra’s case from Spain’s Supreme Court, which stripped him of his parliament seat pending the decision on the ban from holding public office. However, Torra refused to step down as president. This was followed by a scandal in the regional parliament, as part of the ruling coalition sided with the Supreme Court and claimed Torra’s presidency is shaky as he no longer has the right to a seat in parliament.

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Now, analysts say that through his decision to call for an election, Torra has demonstrated that he still has control. He proclaimed that the government cannot function without restoring unity and a “common and shared strategy.” He also said that by staying in power, he wants to find out whether “the Spanish government is willing to end repression,” and promised to meet the Spanish PM next week.

The snap vote will likely renew the rift between Madrid and Barcelona, where pro-independence views remain strong. In 2017, Catalonia held a referendum in which 92 percent voted for independence with a turnout of 43 percent. Madrid said the decision was unconstitutional and directed police to disrupt the vote. Following the referendum, the Catalan parliament passed a declaration of independence. It was suspended by Madrid, which dissolved the parliament and called snap local elections.

Several senior pro-independence politicians, including Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, were sent to jail for their role in carrying out the referendum. Others, like then-leader of the region Carles Puigdemont, were forced to flee Spain in an attempt to escape prosecution.

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