Catalonia votes on new leader, Spain to lift direct rule



Mon, 14 May 2018 - 11:31 GMT


Mon, 14 May 2018 - 11:31 GMT

People react while the Catalan regional parliament votes for independence of Catalonia from Spain in Barcelona, Spain, Reuters

People react while the Catalan regional parliament votes for independence of Catalonia from Spain in Barcelona, Spain, Reuters

BARCELONA - 14 May 2018: The Catalan parliament is expected to vote in a hard-line separatist as leader on Monday, heralding an end to seven months of direct rule from Madrid but also more political uncertainty in a region that retains a mandate to seek a split from Spain.

Quim Torra, handpicked by the region's exiled former president Carles Puigdemont, failed to secure the absolute majority required to succeed him in a parliamentary vote on Saturday.

But in a second vote on Monday due at around 2 p.m. (1200 GMT) Torra will only need a simple majority, which he is expected to get.

His election will allow the wealthy northeastern region to run its own affairs for the first time since October, when Madrid imposed direct rule, having sacked Puigdemont and his cabinet following a chaotic referendum and an illegal declaration of independence.

It should also lead to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy securing the backing he needs from regional parties to implement much-delayed central government budget plans.

But there seemed little prospect on Monday of an easing of tensions between Madrid and the region.

In a speech to parliament on Saturday, Torra promised to work towards a Catalan republic and referred to Puigdemont as the legitimate leader of the region.

The Spanish government called the speech confrontational and a member of the Catalan parliament for Rajoy's People's Party (PP), Andrea Levy, said on Monday in a television interview that Madrid would apply direct rule again if the new administration overstepped the law.

Fearing an investor backlash, over three thousand companies have moved their registered headquarters out of Catalonia since October, while tourism also dipped after the referendum.

But over the whole of 2017, visitor numbers to Catalonia rose and its economy grew strongly, out-pacing the Spanish regional average.

As Monday's vote neared, police sealed off part of the park surrounding the Catalan parliament in central Barcelona, but streets were quiet with no demonstrations.

"It's essential that we put an end to direct rule from Madrid and for that reason alone this is definitely good news," said 33-year-old actor Sergi Cervera, waiting outside an office building near the city's famous Las Ramblas boulevard.

"It will be a positive feeling and some relief. But the conflict is years away from being resolved."

Under the terms of the legislation that allowed for Madrid to take over the regional government, direct rule will be lifted once the new administration has been formed with all cabinet members named.

Pro-independence parties won a majority of seats in regional elections called in December by Rajoy. However, the biggest single party was Ciudadanos ("Citizens"), which favours unity with Spain.



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