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Separatists fail to elect Quim Torra as new Catalonia leader

It remains likely that Torra will clinch the position in a second vote on Monday that requires only a simple majority.

Quim Torra

Catalonia's parliament has failed to elect a regional president by absolute majority, in its fifth attempt to form a new government in the northern Spanish region.

In Saturday's vote, candidate Quim Torra,a close ally of former leader Carles Puigdemont, was backed by 66 politicians - falling short of the 68 votes needed to be elected.

The 55-year-old, a fervent secessionist, will have another chance during a second round on Monday, when only a simple majority of more "yes" than "no" votes is required.

Catalonia's pro-independence parties risk an election being automatically triggered if they don't form a government by May 22.

Torra was handpicked by Puigdemont, who stepped aside from the running, to continue his fight with Spain's central government to achieve Catalan independence.  

At the opening of the debate in the regional parliament, Torra gave a bullish speech, signalling that the secession crisis is far from over, even if Catalonia does finally get a government after months of political stalemate.

"I want it to be clear that our president is Carles Puigdemont and we will be loyal to the mandate of October 1 to build an independent state in the form of a republic," Torra said, referring to last year's outlawed independence referendum.

He promised to restore Catalonia's laws suspended by Spanish courts and start drafting a constitution for a future Catalan Republic, stressing that he would "not give up anything" and would "assume responsibility for what comes from our actions".

Puigdemont would become involved as soon as his legal situation allowed, added Torra, who also condemned the "unacceptable silence" of European institutions over the Catalan crisis. 

But he did say he was "ready to talk tomorrow without conditions" with the government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Madrid.

Rajoy quickly responded to the speech, saying: "What we saw and heard did not please us ... but we will judge his actions."

Rajoy warned that the Article 155 of the constitution, which Madrid used to impose direct rule on Catalonia, "could be used again if necessary", if the next regional leadership did not respect the law.

Second chance

It remains highly likely that Torra will clinch the position in Monday's second vote.

Catalonia has been in political limbo since Spain's central government sacked Puigdemont and his cabinet and imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous region after it unilaterally declared independence on October 27.

Regional elections were held in December, which separatist parties won again, but every leadership candidate picked by the separatist camp since has fallen flat.

Since the last elections in December, four attempts to form a government have failed because the presidential candidates were either in self-imposed exile or in custody.

Puigdemont is abroad in self-exile and faces jail if he returns, while other candidates such as civic leader Jordi Sanchez are in prison, charged with rebellion for their role in the independence drive.


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