That election took place last month, and separatist lawmakers retained their narrow majority, winning 70 of the 135 seats in the Catalan Parliament. B ut the coalition of three separatist parties has struggled to form a new government, with its main leaders either in prison or in self-imposed exile.
Mr. Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia was the largest vote-getter among the separatist parties, though he campaigned from Belgium. Mr. Rajoy’s Popular Party lost seats, finishing last among seven parties.
“I will fight to the last to defend the rights of Carles Puigdemont,” Mr. Torrent said on Tuesday. The parliamentary vote for a regional president was postponed, he said, because there had been insufficient “guarantees” from the Spanish government to ensure Mr. Puigdemont’s re-election, but it was “under no circumstances canceled.”
Mr. Rajoy’s government, with the help of Spain’s judiciary, has used every means possible to stop Catalan lawmakers from electing a fugitive politician. Early on Tuesday, local media reported that police surveillance had been reinforced around the assembly in Barcelona to prevent Mr. Puigdemont from making a surreptitious, last-minute return.
In its decision on Saturday, the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that Mr. Puigdemont would need to appear before a Spanish judge to seek preliminary permission to attend a session of the Catalan Parliament.
Mr. Torrent said that within 10 days, the Catalan Parliament would appeal the ruling, which he called “a judicial bungle,” designed to defend the political interests of Mr. Rajoy’s government. The next regional president of Catalonia, he said, would be “the one elected by the lawmakers of this chamber, not the one decided by a court or a minister 600 kilometers away” in Madrid.
Still, Mr. Puigdemont’s refusal to step aside because of his legal problems and allow another separatist candidate to lead the region is raising tensions among the already-fragile coalition of pro-independence parties. Last weekend, Joan Tardà, a leading politician from the Esquerra Republicana party, told the newspaper La Vanguardia that his party backed Mr. Puigdemont, but that his re-election bid might have to be “sacrificed” if it risked endangering the formation of another separatist government.
“We cannot put at risk the great electoral victory” of Dec. 21, when separatists retained their majority, Mr. Tardà said.
The political deadlock in Catalonia for now leaves the region under the direct control of Mr. Rajoy, using the same emergency constitutional powers that he invoked in October. When he called the snap election, Mr. Rajoy pledged to return Catalonia quickly to “normality,” as well as to end the secessionist threat, but he warned this month that he would extend direct rule over Catalonia to prevent Mr. Puigdemont from returning to power.
Under the rules of the Catalan Parliament, new elections are called if a presidential candidate fails to win a parliamentary majority and no alternative candidate emerges in the following two months. Under such a scenario, the Parliament would then be dissolved and new elections convened between 40 and 60 days later.
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