The first round of the Catalan parliamentary vote on presidential candidate Quim Torra this Saturday brought no surprises. As expected, Torra, the fourth person proposed for the role by the JxCat party since January, was not appointed on the first ballot, which would have required approval by more than half of the chamber (68 out of the 135 members). On Monday he will have to face a second vote, in which a simple majority of votes will be sufficient. However, before then, the political council of the smallest pro-independence party, the left-wing CUP, will meet to decide whether they will maintain their abstention - which is indispensable for the investiture- or whether they will vote "no", as demanded by some of their territorial bodies. In Saturday's vote, Torra received 66 votes in favour, from the two larger pro-independence groups JxCat (Together for Catalonia) and ERC (Catalan Republican Left), with the 4 deputies of the CUP (Popular Unity Candidature) abstaining. The 65 votes against Quim Torra's investiture came from Cs (Citizens), PSC (Catalan Socialists), Cat en Comú-Podem (Commons group) and the PP (Popular Party).
In the vote taken at the end of Saturday's session, the "yes" total was able to reach 66 thanks to the acceptance of the delegated votes of exiled president Carles Puigdemont and minister Toni Comin, who are in Berlin and Brussels respectively pending decisions by German and Belgian justice on their extradition. Likewise, the votes of the five imprisoned MPs -Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull and Raül Romeva - were also counted. In the ERC group, four deputies voted in the names of Carme Forcadell, Dolors Bassa, Marta Rovira and Meritxell Serret, who were re-elected in December but have renounced their seats and are currently either in prison or in exile. These new deputies symbolically wore yellow t-shirts bearing the names of the MPs they are replacing.
The plenum had begun at 12 noon with the speech by the candidate Quim Torra, a speech less than an hour long but full of powerful political declarations, in which Torra promised to work for the Catalan republic and its constitution. The candidate highlighted the provisional character of the legislature, the exceptionality of the moment and the will to invest Carles Puigdemont as president, while also making a call to the Spanish government to engage in dialogue.
On Saturday afternoon, the different parliamentary groups had their turns to respond to Torra's discourse, in order from biggest to smallest, in terms of the parties' parliamentary strength. The uncertainty about the vote of the CUP - the critical factor in the final outcome of the investiture - was notable in the speeches of other party leaders: Inés Arrimadas (Cs), Miquel Iceta (PSC), Xavier Domènech (Commons) and Xavier Garcia Albiol (PP).
Warning from the CUP
In this context, there was a lot of interest in the address given by CUP deputy Carles Riera. "If today we are facing a fourth candidate for the presidency, it is because neither JxCat nor ERC have wanted to be disobedient [against the Spanish authorities]. They are presenting us with a candidature which appeals to the Spanish state and the Bourbon [royal family]", said Riera.
Riera accused JxCat and ERC of abandoning the path of disobedience and unilateralism and said he trusted that they would correct this. After recalling that the CUP is deciding its second-round vote at a Sunday party council meeting, he warned that the CUP is willing to assume all the consequences, in the event of a rupture with the Spanish state, while if, on the other hand, a JxCat-ERC government begins to behave as a simple autonomous region of Spain, it will not be able to count on CUP support. "You can be sure that whatever our movement decides will be for the good of the Republic and for independence", he asserted.
In his right of reply, the candidate Torra responded to "our colleagues in the CUP" that the government will not go back to an autonomist approach and that this would not happen because, since the 1st October, "a government that looks backwards" has become impossible. "I have always said no to putting pressure on the CUP, for me the CUP is part of the solution, because this project has to belong to all 70 pro-independence deputies or it cannot advance", he declared.
For ERC, party president Sergi Sabrià spoke, assuring that the independence movement has never given in and less so now, that it is so near its objective" and, therefore, ERC will work for a Republic. "It will take longer than we thought and longer than we would like, but it's as sure that we will get there, as it is sure that there is no other scenario viable", he stated, emphasising the need to recover the Catalan self-government institutions. "The state generates republicans, and it expels democrats", said the ERC leader, adding to Torra's proposals his party's wish to create an Office for Civil and Political Rights.
Arrimadas: "He's here to lead a CDR!"
The speeches by the opposition groups began with that of Cs leader, Inés Arrimadas. Like all the unionist speakers after her, she quoted the controversial anti-Spain tweets which Torra made in 2012: "We have gone from Guatemala to Guatepeor with Mr. Torra", she declared: "You represent exclusivist identity-based nationalism".
Arrimadas criticised the candidate who "has not come to direct a government, but to direct a CDR!" - in reference to the Committees for the Defence of the Referendum, local pro-independence groups. The Cs leader pointed out that his speech was lacking in content on social policy, environmental issues, health, and education.
Iceta: "We don't want a delegated presidency"
PSC leader, Miquel Iceta, was critical of a candidate who had been nominated "digitally" - implying that he was hand-picked by Carles Puigdemont - and who "has happily accepted being subordinate", saying that for this reason the socialist group would vote against his investiture, as the PSC does not want "a delegated president".
The head of the non-aligned, left-wing Commons group, Xavier Domènech, voiced another of the most frequent criticisms made of Torra's vision: the provisional nature of the government - “will he be the government's president or Puigdemont's president?”, he asked - while Catalan PP leader Xavier Garcia-Albiol branded Torra's speech as “putting out fire with gasoline”. "With you, the radical independence movement has doubled its bet", concluded Albiol: "if you carry on the way you indicated this morning, don't doubt that your freedom will end up interfering with our rights".
JxCat deputy, Eduard Pujol, responded one by one to the critical comments made by the opposition groups. "There will be no any retreat in the defence of this country's rights. Our commitment to the result of the 1st October referendum is stubborn and irreversible", he asserted.
The second vote on Torra's presidential candidacy will be held on Monday.