Spanish court considers Catalan leader’s removal from office

MADRID (AP) — Catalonia’s regional president on Thursday vowed not to waver from his separatist cause after hearing the closing arguments at Spain’s Supreme Court, which is discussing whether to bar him from public office.

Quim Torra spoke after attending the hearing at the nation’s highest court of his appeal of a verdict by a lower court last year. That court, in Barcelona, ruled that Torra was unfit to hold public office for 18 months for having violated electoral law.

“I am in Madrid today because the judicial and political repression has gone too far,” Torra said. “Whatever the judges now decide, even though it contravenes a parliament’s democratic mandate, it must not force us to cede one inch in our political convictions and goals.”

The court’s ruling is expected in coming days.

Torra ran afoul of Spain’s electoral board after he refused to remove a banner reading “Free Political Prisoners and Exiles” during an official election campaign period, when public officials are prohibited from using public buildings to display political propaganda.

The lower court said that the banner’s message demanding the release from prison of politicians and activists who had broken the law to promote the cause of Catalonia’s independence favored pro-secession parties in the election.

Torra admitted he had disobeyed the electoral board, but argued that he was defending the higher cause of political and human rights.

In line with Catalan law, Torra has been allowed to remain in office during the appeal process.

Torra has not made clear what his response will be if he is ousted from power. He has often encouraged fellow separatists to practice civil disobedience to further their goals.

Torra’s partners in Catalonia’s coalition government have urged him along with opposition parties to call elections before the ruling so as to avoid destabilizing the region politically amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Torra has refused to call snap elections. Instead, he has floated the possibility of not stepping down, letting his vice president do the formal business of signing executive orders, while he still tries to call the shots.

“I’m not the one who will put this country through an irresponsible electoral period that will paralyze the Catalan administration at such a critical time,” he said.

It is unclear what would happen if Torra refuses to step down and the Catalan parliament does not name a new president, as Torra has suggested in an act of defiance of the courts.

If the parliament tries and fails to name a new president, that would trigger a two month countdown to find one among the members of the legislature. If that failed, regional elections would automatically be triggered.

Polls and election results show that the 7.5 million residents of Spain’s wealthy northeastern region are roughly equally split on the independence question.

———

Wilson reported from Barcelona.