CATALAN INDEPENDENCE DRIVE

Catalan premier refuses to comply with Supreme Court decision to strip him of seat

The Barcelona Electoral Commission has given the regional parliament 48 hours to name a replacement, but Quim Torra says he will not step down

The Spanish Supreme Court agreed on Thursday to strip Catalan premier Quim Torra of his seat in the regional parliament until a final sentence is reached on his ban from public office. In December, the Catalan Regional High Court found Torra guilty of disobedience for refusing to remove banners in support of jailed pro-independence leaders from public buildings during an election campaign, something that violated regulations on political neutrality. The ruling, however, is not definitive until the Supreme Court issues a decision on Torra’s appeal.

The top court did not rule on whether stripping Torra, a hard-line separatist, of his position as a lawmaker in the regional parliament would mean the pro-independence leader would have to step down as premier of Catalonia. This decision, in principle, must be made by the Catalan parliament, according to its own rules.

The decision to strip Torra of his seat has cast more uncertainty over the political situation in Catalonia

The Supreme Court’s decision has raised political tensions once again, and threatens to trigger more conflict between the Catalan regional government and the courts. “I am a lawmaker and premier of Catalonia because that’s what the people decided and that’s what was ratified by parliament,” Torra said after the verdict was announced.

The Barcelona Electoral Board has given the general secretary of the Catalan parliament, Xavier Muro Bas, 48 hours to name a representative from the Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) party who will assume Torra’s seat. If this does not happen, the board will choose a replacement. The Barcelona Electoral Board sent the notice right after Spain’s National Electoral Board (JEC) called on the Catalan parliament to “immediately” comply with the Supreme Court’s decision.

For weeks now, the political future of Quim Torra has been in the hands of the Supreme Court. The criminal bench of the court must rule on Torra’s appeal against the decision from the Catalan regional High Court, which sentenced him to an 18-month ban from public office for disobedience. And the administrative bench must review the JEC’s decision to strip Torra of his position as deputy in the Catalan Parliament because of his ban from public office.

Catalan premier Quim Torra

Agreements reached by the JEC are immediately enforceable, but they can be appealed before the Supreme Court, which is what Torra did. In his appeal, the politician called for the Supreme Court to temporarily freeze the JEC’s decision until the administrative bench reaches a ruling on his case. This appeal was rejected on Thursday, meaning that Torra will be stripped of his seat while the top court considers whether or not to uphold the JEC’s decision. If the criminal bench rules on Torra’s appeal of his disobedience sentence before then, the ruling would become final which would decide the political future of the Catalan premier.

The decision to strip Torra of his seat has cast more uncertainty over the political situation in Catalonia. The center-right party Ciudadanos (Citizens) has written to the parliament’s speaker’s committee, the Mesa de la Cámara, to demand that Torra be removed as a lawmaker and replaced by another member of Junts per Catalunya, the party led by ousted Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont. The Catalan branch of the Socialist Party (PSC), meanwhile, wants a report from the parliament’s legal advisors on how the Supreme Court’s decision will affect Torra’s position as lawmaker and premier.

After the JEC voted to strip Torra of his seat in early January, the in-house legal advisors concluded that losing a seat did not automatically imply losing the office of premier according to the rules of the parliament. But the Socialists believe that attorneys need to review this position in the wake of the new Supreme Court ruling.

The Supreme Court decision goes against the position of the public prosecutor

The PSC sent this request to Catalan parliamentary speaker Roger Torrent, who does not have to agree to the report. But if Torrent fails to comply with the Supreme Court ruling he could be charged with disobedience, according to Ciudadanos and the conservative Popular Party (PP). Both parties believe that Torra should not be able to vote in the next regional assembly, scheduled for Monday. Sources close to the regional government, however, say that Torra is planning to do so, despite the court ruling.

The Supreme Court decision goes against the position of the public prosecutor, which issued a report last week that was in favor of allowing Torra to keep his seat until his appeals were heard. In the report, prosecutor Pedro Crespo warned that there was a “legal debate” about whether the JEC had the power to remove a deputy for a sentence that was not final.

Quim Torra became regional premier in May 2018 after his predecessor, Carles Puigdemont, was ousted from office under Article 155 of the Constitution, which was activated by the Spanish government in the wake of the 2017 illegal referendum and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence passed by the Catalan regional parliament. Torra, who is a lawyer by trade, was elected as a regional deputy in 2017 as an independence candidate for the pro-independence Together for Catalonia bloc.

English version by Melissa Kitson.