Catalonia’s former separatist leader, Carles Puigdemont, has withdrawn his candidacy for president of the Spanish region after months of political deadlock with Madrid.
Puigdemont was the only candidate put forward by Catalonia’s parliament in Barcelona and lawmakers were expected to vote him in for another term as president.
But Puigdemont has been unable to overcome Madrid, which continues to seek the arrest of the separatist over his aggressive push to break Catalonia away from Spain. The independence drive plunged the country into its worst political crisis in decades.
In a video posted to his Twitter account on Thursday, Puigdemont said he informed the President of the Parliament of Catalonia “to start as quickly as possible the round of contacts with the different parliamentary groups to proceed with the election of a new candidate to be invested as president of the regional government.”
Puigdemont said his decision “does not fully guarantee the restoration of our autonomy … But it will give us the freedom to undertake the next phase of the road towards independence” from Spain.
Puigdemont said his party would propose a pro-secession campaigner, Jordi Sanchez – currently in remand in a Madrid prison on charges of sedition – as an alternative candidate, Reuters reported.
The nomination of Sanchez is likely to be just as fraught with difficulty, given that he is in detention, according to Reuters.
Puigdemont has lived in self-imposed exile in Belgium since October last year and has fought a war of words with Madrid from afar. But Madrid, which has maintained it has the law on its side, has waited out the crisis, refusing to allow Puigdemont to rule from abroad.
If Puigdemont returns to Spain, he will no doubt be arrested, making his return to the presidency problematic.
Spanish authorities accuse Puigdemont of rebellion, sedition and misuse of funds over his role in an illegal referendum to secede from Spain and parliament’s declaration of unilateral independence in October last year.
Other members of his political entourage have been jailed in Madrid, awaiting trial over their roles in the independence push.
Madrid imposed direct rule on Catalonia after the independence declaration, stripping the autonomous region of many of its administrative powers.
It has shown no sign that it plans to withdraw from Catalonia, though it is likely to if a candidate it regards as legitimate is anointed president.
Madrid called a snap election for December last year in hope of having a more moderate Catalan government to deal with, but its plan backfired when the region voted a majority of pro-independence MPs into parliament, maintaining the status quo. The region has been without an official leader since Puigdemont fled to Belgium in October last year.
His future appeared in doubt around a month ago, when one of his advisers was caught on camera receiving text messages from the downtrodden politician who seemed to have lost the support of Catalonia’s pro-independence alliance.
“It’s over,” Puigdemont was alleged to have written. Madrid “has won,” he wrote.