Catalonia’s ex-leader Puigdemont banned from EU polls

Former Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont speaks in a videoconference during the election campaign opening event of the Catalan pro-Independence party JxCat in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, 11 April 2019. [EPA-EFE/Alejandro Garcia]

Spanish election authorities on Monday (29 April) banned Catalonia’s former president Carles Puigdemont, who fled the country in 2017 after a secession attempt, from running in upcoming EU polls.

Puigdemont slammed the move in a tweet as a “legal scandal and a coup to democracy”.

The electoral commission decision, seen by AFP, also excludes Toni Comin, who was in Catalonia’s regional government when the secession bid happened and is now in self-exile in Belgium.

Clara Ponsati, another former Catalan minister who fled Spain and planned to run in the European Parliament elections, has been banned as well.

No reason was given as to why they were banned from running. The commission would not comment when contacted by AFP.

Separatists strengthened by Sunday’s election

With 22 MPs, including four in jail, Catalan separatist parties boosted their standing in Spain’s national parliament in general elections Sunday, even as voters opted for more moderation by bringing the Socialists to power.

Separatist parties saw their share of the vote in Catalonia increase to 39% from 32% in the last general election in 2016, giving them five more lawmakers nationally.

Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after the independence declaration, did not do as well this time round. During the last regional elections in Catalonia in December 2017, his party scored a surprise win over the moderate pro-independence ERC party of jailed leader Oriol Junqueras.

But that changed on Sunday. The ERC won 15 seats in Spain’s 350-member parliament, up from nine – overtaking the more hardline Together for Catalonia movement of Carles Puigdemont.

“The fight between Together for Catalonia and the ERC is being resolved in favour of the ERC, which is now the moderate party,” said Joan Botella, a politics professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

The Socialists and leftist Podemos want to appease the secession crisis in Catalonia which reached a climax in October 2017 when the region pressed ahead with a banned referendum and followed it with a short-lived declaration of independence.

In Spain, Socialists pledge ‘pro-European government’ after election win

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez looks set to regain power after his Socialists overcame a historic challenge by right-wing nationalists in elections on Sunday (28 April), a result he portrayed as a morale booster for the European Union.

The Socialists gained …

Puigdemont wants ‘right to self-determination’ at EU level

Puigdemont’s party, Together for Catalonia, accused the electoral commission of wanting to “silence and push aside” Puigdemont “so that he can’t explain what he represents at the heart of European institutions.”

When he was picked last month to represent his party in the upcoming European Parliament polls, Puigdemont said: “It is time to take another step to internationalise the right to self-determination in Catalonia from the heart of Europe to the whole world.”

But Spain’s conservative Popular Party and centre-right Ciudadanos appealed his candidacy and that of the two others, prompting the election commission’s decision.

The head of the Popular Party, Pablo Casado, said on Twitter that he was “satisfied with the electoral commission’s decision.”

What Puigdemont “must do is come to Spain and appear before the courts,” he wrote.

Ines Arrimadas, head of Ciudadanos, tweeted that “if you undertake a state coup and then flee, you CANNOT represent in Europe the country where you made that coup.”

Together for Catalonia said it would “immediately deploy all forms of legal action in the Spanish state and in Europe to defend the rights of the three candidates.”

Puigdemont’s lawyer Gonzalo Boye told AFP “there is no legal obstacle (to them taking part) unless one wanted to exclude them for political reasons.”

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