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He’s running: Puigdemont wants to be president of Catalonia — again

He’s running: Puigdemont wants to be president of Catalonia — again

by host

Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont on Thursday announced his candidacy to be president of Catalonia in the snap regional elections set to be held on May 12.

“I have decided to run in the upcoming Catalan parliament elections,” said Puigdemont, who is a Member of European Parliament. “It is necessary to protect the institutions of our country above all other things.”

Puigdemont was already president of the region between 2016 and 2017, when he led the effort to organize an illegal referendum to make Catalonia an independent republic. Immediately following the vote, Spanish authorities moved to arrest him and other separatist leaders involved in the self-determination vote, prompting him to flee to Belgium, where he has lived ever since.

Puigdemont made his announcement from the French village of Elne, located just 20 kilometers from the Spanish border. Although he is still being pursued by Spanish prosecutors and is currently the subject of a terrorism probe, the separatist leader has expressed confidence that the controversial Catalan amnesty bill passed by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government will allow him to return to his native land in time to take office.

“Today the countdown for my return begins,” he said, adding that he would return to Catalonia if he has majority support to be sworn in as president of the region. “I will leave exile permanently to attend the plenary session and ask for the confidence of the parliament in person.”

Uncertain victor

Puigdemont’s victory in the regional elections is anything but assured. The Socialist Party candidate, former Health Minister Salvador Illa, is currently leading in the polls, and it is unclear whether the millions who came out in favor of Puigdemont’s self-determination referendum back in 2017 will be moved to back his bid for higher office. The separatist leader was last a candidate to lead Catalonia in 2021; on that occasion, his Junts party came in at third place.

During his speech, Puigdemont broached the possibility of pro-independence parties coming together to run in a coalition — presumably under his leadership. “I will never stop asking for unity,” he said. “Our country has never benefitted when we go it alone.”

The proposal is unlikely to go anywhere. Puigdemont has routinely attacked the ruling Republican Left of Catalonia party for its willingness to engage in negotiations with Madrid, and current Catalan president Pere Aragonès has not suggested he would be willing to play second fiddle to his predecessor.

Puigdemont said that he had spent long hours debating whether to run in these elections of next June’s European Parliament vote, which he said was just as crucial for the region’s future. He ultimately decided to be a candidate in Catalonia because he felt the need to reclaim the presidency from which he had been removed following the 2017 independence vote.

Puigdemont cast the upcoming election as a de facto referendum over wether Catalonia should be an “inoperative” part of Spain or “an independent nation.” He reiterated that he had “not renounced anything,” and that he maintained “the legitimacy of the referendum and our declaration of independence.”

Puigdemont’s announcement comes just one week after the lower house of the Spanish parliament passed the Sánchez government’s amnesty bill. The legislation is now in the hands of the country’s Senate and isn’t expected to be fully approved until May. Given that the text will undoubtedly be challenged in the courts, it is unclear if Puigdemont will really be able to safely return to Catalonia any time soon, or if he’ll continue to risk arrest upon stepping on Spanish soil.

This story has been updated to add more quotes from Carles Puigdemont.

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