Roger Torrent, a Catalan separatist, has been elected to the presidency of the Catalan Parliament. The Catalan legislature was sitting for the first time since the December elections, during which the centrist Ciudadanos party came out ahead, but the majority of seats were taken by a separatist coalition.
Torrent, a deputy and spokesperson for the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), was appointed President of the Parliament by 65 votes to 56, in the absence of eight secessionist deputies who are either in detention or voluntary exile in Brussels, including Catalan president Carles Puigdemont.
The election of Torrent as the head of the chamber is seen as the first step by the separatists towards the reinstatement of Puigdemont as the Catalan regional president. The former leader fled to Brussels fearing arrest after holding a referendum that was deemed illegal by Madrid and unilaterally declaring independence for the region.
It has been suggested by his supporters that he could, if re-elected as president, carry out his duties while in exile by way of videoconference and other online communication tools such as social media.
The Catalan parliamentary committee, which was also voted in on Wednesday and is composed of majority secessionist MPs will be the ones to decide if Puigdemont can be re-elected and govern from abroad.
Their decision is expected within the next two weeks.
However, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has already warned that he would not accept a Carles Puigdemont presidency from Brussels, vowing to challenge any parliamentary act designed to facilitate this.
According to the Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos, this political crisis has already cost 1 billion euros due to slowing growth in the region, which provides 19% of Spain’s GDP. More than 3,000 companies have decided to move their head office out of Catalonia since the referendum on self-determination on October 1.