Roger Torrent elected new Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, on strength of pro-independence votes

Catalan MonitorNews Roundup

Photo: Roger Torrent in the Catalan Parliament (Credit: Josep Maria Montaner)

By Joan Serra Carné, Oriol March & Roger Tugas
17th January, 2018

Roger Torrent is the new Speaker of Parliament, for Catalonia. The representative of the Republican Leftist Party (ERC), who relieves Carme Forcadell, has been chosen by the Catalan Chamber thanks to the majority of pro-independence votes in the chamber. The Torrent candidacy, which required two rounds of voting, received 65 votes of support.

Torrent was voted in by the deputies of Together for Catalonia (JxC), ERC and the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), with the exception of Carles Puigdemont and the councilors in exile, who decided not to vote through delegates, because of pressure from the Spanish state. However, Oriol Junqueras, Joaquim Forn and Jordi Sànchez, prisoners in Estremera and Soto del Real prisons, all voted through delegates. Ciutadans, the Partido Popular (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSC) voted for José Espejo-Saavedra while Catalonia in Common-Podem chose to abstain.

It had emerged recently, that Catalonia in Common (Comú) had been weighing up the possibility of voting for their own candidate, but in the end they opted to abstain. In the first round – and also in the second – nine blank ballots were collected, one more than the number of deputies from the party led by Xavier Domènech. Socialist sources consulted by NacióDigital have “categorically denied” that one of their deputies had voted blank. It is likely that this ninth blank slip comes from one of the unionist forces.

Just after he was elected, Carles Puigdemont called Torrent to congratulate him while he was still in the Chamber, while he also put out a tweet, in which he stated he was convinced that he will take charge of the role of Speaker “with nobility and courage”.

CUP: No seat at the table

Once Roger Torrent was elected, the chamber chose the vice presidents of the table. The first vice-president will be Josep Costa, Deputy of Together for Catalonia (JxC), while the second vice-presidency position will be assumed by José María Espejo-Saavedra (Ciutadans Party). The pro-independence forces voted for the JxC candidate and the unionist bloc opted for the Ciutadans deputy. The “Commons” once again abstained.

Alba Vergés, Eusebi Campdepadrós, Joan Garcia, David Pérez complete the Parliament’s “mesa”, or board/cabinet, for the coming legislative period. It emerged that the CUP will not be present at the governing table of the chamber, although this had seemed possible in recent days, according to statements made at the anti-capitalist party’s national council.

Before the voting took place, which was interrupted by applause when the exiled or arrested deputies were named, Ciutadans and the PP asked the oldest sitting deputy and acting president of the parliament, Ernest Maragall (ERC) to reconsider the decision to count the votes of the jailed politicians Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez and Joaquim Forn, a maneuver which went unchallenged by Miquel Iceta, leader of the Socialist Party (PSC). “[Allowing them to vote] is the best possible interpretation of the position the Supreme Court has taken, as wel as the reports filed by the lawyers,” said Iceta, who in the previous legislature tended to side with the liberals (Ciutadans) and the Partido Popular in matters of regulation.

Photo: Inés Arrimadas, during the constitution of the parliament (Credit: Josep Maria Montaner)

Maragall defends the delegated voting by prisoners

Maragall defended the possibility for elected prisoners to vote via delegates, stating their right to do so in the “case of prolonged incapacity”, which is included in Parliament’s regulations, and to guarantee the “fundamental democratic principle in which elected deputies must be able to carry out their political duties”. Thus, Jordi Sànchez and Joaquim Forn delegated their votes to Jordi Turull, deputy of JxCat, Jordi Turull, and Oriol Junqueras delegated his to the general secretary of ERC, Marta Rovira.

This decision was met by criticism by Ciutadans and the PP. The leader of the liberals in Catalonia, Inés Arrimadas, asked for it to be reconsidered, and asserted that “there really are only three clear cases for delegating a vote, which are maternity, paternity and serious or incapacitating illness, and imprisonment could not be considered one of these”. She continued that parliament would be “starting off of on the wrong foot” if it did not reconsider. She criticized Maragall’s opening moves and speech, describing the initial session as “more of a rally by the ERC than a parliamentary plenary”, due to the oldest member’s critical comments against political and judicial persecution of the State against independence.

Santi Rodríguez – whom Maragall, by mistake, called “Fernández” – also expressed his opposition to the decision, and indicated that is should not be up to the oldest member in any case. “It supposes, de facto, an extension of the suppositions of delegation of vote”, emphasized the leader of the PP, that in this legislature only has 4 deputies.

Harsh Criticism by Maragall

The speech by the ERC deputy Ernest Maragall, the oldest serving parliamentarian, at the beginning of the Parliament’s constitution on Wednesday, was filled with tough criticism of the application of article 155 and the persecution of the members of the Government and the “Jordis” whom he regretted could not be there, because “some are prisoners, others are in exile, and all of them have been dismissed.” This proclamation took place ion a chamber where large yellow ribbons sat in the seats where those elected officials now absent ought to be sitting (which also received criticism from the opposition).

Despite all this, the former Socialist deputy, and former Deputy of the European parliament insisted that Catalonia “will not resign, and will continue to be itself”, and to build a “new country, fair and free”. For this reason, he explained that there was “an accumulation of indignation in the face of the aggressions that we receive and an increasingly large number of reasons to justify the challenge of working for independence”. He pointed out that he should not be a deputy, but “more of an advisor for demonstrations or debates”, since “those who should actually be here are those who are not here”, and he went on to denounce that “the the Spanish state, saying that it does not know how to win, but rather to destroy, and it does not know how to share, but rather how to humiliate and to punish.”

In his defense of the October 1st and 21st December results, Maragall reminded the audience that “acceptable normality” would have been “mutual respect and recognition” of the will of Catalan society. “It is the first time since the transition [from the dictatorship of Franco] that the plenary of the constitution of the legislature is bein undertaken with the government bench empty,” he stated, to highlight the exceptional situation. The ERC deputy, leading the plenary session, as elder statesmen in the absence of the government, argued that even in 1980, Josep Tarradellas, sentenced to exile, was allowed to be in the plenary session of Parliament on April 10th.

Maragall also stated that, bearing in mind the outcome of the previous legislature and the repressive response of the State, the pro-sovereignty side had taken note of the facts. “We will continue moving forward, we have learned. We know our strengths and we have a better measure of those of the State,” he said. The deputy also pointed out that Parliament will be able to attend “the diverse and complex vote” of 21-D. “We will not abandon the democratic roadmap,” he added.

Kicking off the legislature with unknowns

The twelfth legislature has now begun, with two major unknowns, hanging over parliament over the coming few weeks: trying to come up with a formula through which Carles Puigdemont could be inaugurated (his name was again re-iterated by Together for Catalonia and the ERC), and the roadmap from which the country will be governed over – theoretically – the next four years. At present, one thing the pro-independence camp can be sure of, is that Roger Torrent, on the back of votes by the republicans, will be the highest leader of the chamber, and second-in-command of the country. Never has anyone as young – 38 years of age – acceded to this office, since the restoration of democracy [after the dictatorship of Franco].

He will replace Carme Forcadell, the president in the previous legislature, and will have a large part of the responsibility in the decisions taken by the cabinet on the remote investiture of Puigdemont, which is currently being negotiatied by Together for Catalonia and the ERC. Between the two candidatures, they will have 4 of the 7 seats around the table. Torrent and Alba Vergés on the part of the Republicans, and Josep Costa – first vice president – and Eusebi Campdepadrós Geis, from the pro-sovereign party with the most votes on December 21st. Two deputies from Ciutadans – José María Espejo-Saavedra and Joan Garcia – and one from the PSC – David Pérez – will complete the cabinet table. The CUP, at the moment, is not participating, having not been offered any suitable proposals.

Photo: Carme Forcadell and Roger Torrent, at the start of the plenary session. (Credit: Josep Maria Montaner)

This legislature, like the previous one, has been birthed in an exceptional context. Parliament will have a minimum of eight absences this Wednesday. They are those of the exiles –Carles Puigdemont, Clara Ponsatí, Lluís Puig, Toni Comín and Meritxell Serret- and those of the prisoners -Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez and Joaquim Forn-, who have delegated the vote. ERC’s number two, Marta Rovira, will vote for Junqueras, while Turull will do it for Sànchez and Forn. The president of the Spanish government, Mariano Rajoy, has already made it clear that he will go to the Constitutional Court if the exiles can vote in the first parliamentary session of the legislature. And this might have serious consequences.

The Brussels deputies will not ask to vote through delegates, unlike the imprisoned ones, who will, according to sources from the respective parties this morning.

Photo: Roger Torrent, this Wednesday (Credit: Josep Maria Montaner)

Parliament’s lawmakers in fact issued a report in which they closed the door on the delegation of voting rights, by prisoners and exiles. The reasons that justify it, according to the text, must be interpreted “restrictively, without allowing analogs or extensions to other assumptions than those that are naturally deduced naturally from the regulation.” The regulation only speaks of “assumptions linked to circumstances related to maternity or paternity or health reasons, including incapacity”. However, it will be the board of elders, chaired by Ernest Maragall, who will decide on the question.

In case the exiles can delegate their vote, there will be a whiff of danger around the beginning of this legislature. If Rajoy resorts to the Constitutional Tribunal, the constitution of the Parliament’s table, as already announced, could be blocked. This would mean, according to the Moncloa, that the wo month period which Parliament has to choose a candidate for the presidency of the Generalitat would not begin. The investiture debate should be held, in theory, on January 31st.

Waiting for Puigdemont

The President of the Generalitat intends to attempt an investiture at a distance, probably by delegation. That would mean that a member of Together for Catalonia would read the investiture speech and that the candidate could not debate with the opposition. The Spanish government has warned that it would immediately refute to a remote investiture, so that it would be suspended and not signed off by King Philip VI.

The supporters of independentism argue that this is a moment when Puigdemont could consider taking a step back and giving way to another candidate, although Together for Catalonia remains firm in that there are no alternatives on the table. The names of Jordi Turull, Elsa Artadi and Eduard Pujol are the ones who are mentioned most often when a possible B plan is debated, underground, although until the investiture debate is reached the presidential list will continue to publicly insist on restitution [of Puigdemont]. This argument, however, was already “superseded”, according to nationalist sources, from the moment there were legitimate counselors -Carles Mundó, Meritxell Borràs, Dolors Bassa- who have already said they will not take up their previous posts from the last legislature.

Albert Batet, mayor of Valls and number three from the JxCat list, climbs the ladder to become president of the parliamentary group

As for the Paliamentary Group for Together for Catalonia, one of the names gaining more traction is Albert Batet. He is part of the Puigdemont inner circle and was with him in Brussels strategizing the recent candidacies. The names put forward for the board/cabinet -Eusebi Campdepadrós and Josep Costa- are part of the traditional base of independents. Campdepadrós was head of the list for Tarragona and Costa is professor of Political Theory at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), and has regulatory experience.

Over the next few days, Together for Catalonia and ERC must agree to build a Government, beyond the presidency, and provide it with content. During the campaign, senior leaders in the candidature of Puigdemont insisted that, without obtaining 50% of the votes, the legislature had to be used to “widen the base”. The independentists achieved 47.5% of the votes and, with political prisoners and the latent threat of 155 – which will remain in force if the president is invested remotely from Brussels, according to Rajoy-, will be forced to recalculate the unilateral strategy of the last legislature.

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