Catalan leader rejects elections as showdown looms with Spain
Catalonia's president said yesterday he would not hold snap regional elections that could have broken a deadlock between Madrid and separatists, escalating the political crisis rocking the country.
Carles Puigdemont twice postponed planned addresses in which he had been expected to call elections in Catalonia in order to head off moves by Madrid to take direct control of the region.
But in a move that stunned Spain's political establishment, Mr Puigdemont said yesterday afternoon that he would not call early elections because he did not have "guarantees that would allow them to be held in absolute normality".
Today, Spain's senate is due to vote on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's plans to use exceptional constitutional powers to impose direct rule on Catalonia.
These powers would allow the Spanish government to remove Mr Puigdemont from office, assume total control of Catalan finances and place the region's parliament under direction from Madrid.
In his address, Mr Puigdemont said that he had listened to advice from his pro-independence allies, some of whom favoured elections, while others, such as Oriol Junqueras, the Catalan vice-president, had wished to press ahead and declare independence based on the mandate from an illegal referendum held on October 1.
Mr Puigdemont said he had felt a duty "to avert the impact on our institutions from the application of Article 155", which he described as "unlawful, abusive and unjust".
But, he continued, he had not received guarantees that elections could be held without a disruptive intervention by the Spanish government.
Mr Puigdemont said it was now up to the Catalan parliament to decide how to proceed in the face of suspended self-rule.
"[Today] we will finally chart a new direction for this country," were the words chosen by Lluís Corominas of Mr Puigdemont's ruling coalition at the start of a debate on the application of Article 155 in the Catalan parliament yesterday.
Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, Spain's deputy prime minister, slammed Mr Puigdemont for refusing to attend the national parliament to make his case for dialogue and reform, adding that the government would guarantee that free and fair elections could take place in Catalonia within the next six months.
"The ultimate objective of Article 155 is to hold elections in a situation of political normality and institutional neutrality," Ms Sáenz de Santamaría said in the senate.
Mr Rajoy's ruling Popular Party has a sufficient majority in the senate to trigger Article 155, and the government has been offered support by the centrist Ciudadanos and by Spain's main opposition socialist party.
Earlier in the day, the socialists' parliamentary spokeswoman, Margarita Robles, had anticipated what she assumed would be a "magnificent decision" by Mr Puigdemont to hold elections in Catalonia.
"We hope now that Article 155 will not be put into action," she said.
As Mr Puigdemont seemingly dithered over what to announce to the waiting cameras, hundreds of supporters of independence gathered in San Jaume square in front of the Catalan government headquarters.
Some shouted that the Catalan leader was a "traitor" on the assumption that he was going to announce elections instead of declaring independence.
Two members of Mr Puigdemont's ruling coalition announced their intention to step down from their parliamentary seats due to their disappointment at the anticipated dissolution of parliament.
Mr Puigdemont told the Catalan parliament on October 10 that the region had a mandate to declare independence but the assembly did not vote the proclamation into effect. (© Daily Telegraph, London)