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Torra: Catalonia looks set to vote for hardline separatist regional president

Lluis Gene, AFP | Quim Torra addressing the Catalan regional parliament on March 1.

In an attempt to break the political deadlock, the exiled Carles Puigdemont has backed Quim Torra – a loyal hardline separatist – to succeed him as regional president. Torra looks set to be confirmed as leader in a parliamentary vote on Monday.

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In the first round of voting in the Catalan legislature on Saturday, Torra won 66 votes against 65. The same result in the second round vote scheduled for Monday would be enough for him to be elected, as only a simple majority is required.

Torra, a 55 year-old MP, only went into politics a few months ago.

He was a strategic choice for Puigdemont. The various pro-independence parties who make up a majority in the Catalan regional parliament – his own Junts per Catalunya formation, the left-wing ERC and the far-left CUP – all see Torra as a leader they can support.

>> Read more: Carles Puigdemont: The provocateur of Catalonia

'We won't even give up a millimetre'

A former lawyer, writer and publisher, Torra has shown himself to be a resolute supporter of Catalan independence during his few months in parliament. “Catalan freedom is a just cause, Catalan independence is a just cause […] we don’t think for a moment about giving up, we won’t even give up a millimetre to defend the legitimacy, the justice and the honour of this cause,” he said in a speech in March.

Torra has defined himself as an “emotional and unconditional independence activist”, according toSpanish daily El Pais.

“Loyalty to this land goes beyond other beliefs”, he has often declared.

In 2008, the prospective Catalan leader founded a publishing house, A Contra Vent, specialising in the works of Catalan journalists from the 1930s, which he sees as “the key moment” in the region’s history, according to Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia. (During this decade the Second Spanish Republic, set up in 1931, gave the region its first devolved parliament, only for the ultra-reactionary dictator Francisco Franco to dissolve the Republic, abolish Catalonia’s parliament and clamp down on any expression of Catalan nationalism, after his 1939 victory in the Spanish Civil War.)

Torra was part of the leadership of the ANC separatist association in 2012, which organised huge pro-independence demonstrations that year. He then went on to lead another separatist group, Omnium Cultural, in 2015.

All of these activities suggest Torra lives, breathes, eats and sleeps Catalan separatism.

>> Read more: Pro-independence Catalans divided over next step

'Spaniards only know how to steal'

He has also expressed his commitment to this agenda with an array of colourful tweets, which his political opponents have unearthed since the announcement of his candidacy for the regional presidency, and which were subsequently deleted. Some of the fruitiest include: “obviously, we’ve all been living under Spanish occupation since 1714”, “Spaniards only know how to steal” and “Spaniards removed the word ‘embarrassment’ from their vocabulary years ago”.

The unionist opposition sees the choice of Torra as a sign that the separatists are not going to dial down their intransigence. “We regret that the pro-independence bloc has chosen one of the most sectarian figures,” said a statement from the Catalan branch of Spain’s Socialist Party. One Socialist member of the Catalonia’s regional parliament, Miquel Iceta, implored Torra to “think of the whole region and not just the separatists” – who won just less than a majority, 47.5%, in December’s regional elections.

Torra was chosen not only because of his ardent separatist views, but also because of his loyalty to Puigdemont.

The latter has emphasised the “interim” nature of Torra’s prospective mandate, saying that “this is a temporary period, with political prisoners [and] politicians in exile” and requesting that Torra does not use office in which he worked as Catalan regional president. “Puigdemont will make all the decisions from a distance,” according to Le Vanguardia.

If Torra is voted in on Monday, Catalonia will fully regain its autonomy after the Spanish central government’s dissolution of the regional parliament in October. And – through him – Puigdemont could get back in the game.

This article was adapted from the original in French

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