January 29, 2020 / 11:36 AM / 24 days ago

In bid to reinvigorate independence drive, Spain's Catalonia gets set for snap regional election

BARCELONA (Reuters) - The pro-independence head of the Catalonian government said on Wednesday he planned to call a snap regional election in a move that could have a major impact on Spain’s national politics.

The leader of Catalonia's regional government Quim Torra delivers a statement at Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona, Spain, January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Quim Torra cited distrust in his coalition partner in the regional government and said he wanted to regain unity among separatist parties to move towards winning independence for the wealthy northeastern region.

“The political course of this legislature has come to an end...It’s essential to again give voice to the citizens,” he said in an address at his government palace.

He gave no precise date but said it would be called after the Catalan parliament had approved the region’s budget plan for the year. Taking into account normal parliamentary and electoral procedures, the election could be held in late May at the earliest.

Torra’s term was due to end in 2021 but his future has been uncertain since a court sentenced him in December to an 18-month ban from public office for refusing to remove symbols supporting jailed Catalan activists from government buildings.

He has appealed and the ban will not take effect until being upheld by a higher court.

But as a consequence of the ruling, the Catalan parliament on Monday stripped Torra of his rights as a lawmaker, opening a rift with Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), his fellow separatist coalition partner.

“No government can function without unity, a common strategy...and loyalty among its partners,” Torra said, addressing the internal squabbles.

ERC said it respected Torra’s decision and played down the rift.

“Our adversary is no other than the (Spanish) state and its repression that punishes the overall independence movement,” it said in a statement.

ERC, which last year was the most popular party in Catalonia in local and national elections, could benefit from the ballot.

NATIONAL IMPACT

Catalonia has been a major driver of Spanish politics since the region unilaterally declared independence in October 2017 following a referendum deemed illegal by courts, prompting Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades.

Madrid briefly imposed direct rule there before calling an election that resulted in a pro-independence regional coalition government headed by Torra.

The leader of Catalonia's regional government Quim Torra delivers a statement at Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona, Spain, January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Torra is due to meet Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Barcelona on Feb. 6 to set the agenda for negotiations over the region’s political situation.

He said he wanted to explore at the meeting the central government’s “real will” for a negotiation.

The dialogue was a condition for ERC to facilitate Sanchez’s appointment as prime minister earlier this month, while Torra’s Junts per Catalunya party voted against the Socialist leader.

Reporting by Joan Faus, additional reporting by Jose Elias Rodriguez, editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan

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