Separatists back Carles Puigdemont to lead Catalonia in regional government

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has warned the ousted former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont not to try and govern from exile. Juan Medina Reuters

An election on 21 December yielded a majority of seats for Catalan separatist parties, but the man most likely to lead the new government, Carles Puigdemont, will be arrested if he returns to the region.

Spain's prime minister warned Monday that Madrid would maintain unpopular direct control of Catalonia if the former regional leader Carles Puigdemont tries to govern again from exile in Belgium.

"This is not a problem that has anything to do with the election of a new leader, but being a real physically present leader who will be able to be a president", said Javi Lopez, a MEP and member of the the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats said.

Spanish authorities appear unprepared to offer any leniency to allow Catalan parliamentary democracy to proceed.

But parliamentary legal advisers said in a report this week that Puigdemont can't be sworn in via video link or by having a proxy candidate as he must debate his candidacy in person in the parliament.

If the main pro-independence parties - Together for Catalonia, Esquerra Republicana and the CUP - are to maintain control of parliament via a majority of more than 65 MPs, some of those unable to attend the opening session will need to step down to allow others to stand in their place.

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But their majority remains theoretical, with three of the 70 deputies being held in prison as they are probed for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for their role in the failed independence bid. In a first for Catalonia, a party that fiercely opposes independence was the most voted and gained the most seats.

The separatists know that "any benevolent interpretation of the rules to favour Mr Puigdemont could open the door for a ruling by the constitutional court, which could then block everything", said Mr Pablo Simon, a professor of politics at the Carlos III University in Madrid.

This, in turn, could spark further suspensions and penalties, according to the expert.

Mr Puigdemont fled to Brussels in October after Mr Rajoy fired him as Catalonia's leader after he declared an independent republic following an unrecognised referendum.

"I think that an initiative to proceed with Puigdemont's candidacy for the presidency goes against the rules of the Catalan parliament".

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