After the holidays, once everyone has been able to process the results of Thursday’s elections in Catalonia, a long obstacle course of bureaucratic and legal deadlines lies ahead for the new Catalan legislature. When it takes office, it will be the 13th since Spain’s democratic period began.
The 135 new deputies will have to take up their seats within the next 20 working days, as the first session of the new Parliament will have to be held no later than on Jan. 23. Catalan laws state that the outgoing president of the Generalitat should be the one to convene the new Parliament; however, since Carles Puigdemont was dismissed by the Spanish government after the implementation of Article 155, this function will be exercised by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
In the first session, the Bureau of the Catalan chamber will be elected, including the president of the Parliament. This selection will be key, as we examine further below. Recall that all of the members of the Bureau of the last Parliament are under investigation for allowing an “illegal” vote, according to the indictments against them.
The 131st Catalan president (according to the traditional count, going back to the 14th century; the sixth if we count only the democratic era) might not take office until April, even if all goes well. After the first session, the new president of the Parliament will have 10 days to propose the name of a new president. Accordingly, the deadline for this will be Feb. 6. Then, if the proposal does not obtain an absolute majority of the votes, as is likely, it will be put to a second vote two days later, when a bare majority of “yes” votes will be enough.
Last time, Artur Mas was defeated by the abstention of the CUP, which refused to make the man who was the symbol of Catalan corruption president, and he had to give way to Puigdemont. The deadline to find another candidate, if the first one fails, is 60 days (including non-working days). In that case, we would get to April 6 as the last possible date to elect a new president (and suspend the applicability of Article 155). Otherwise, there will be new snap elections.
No less than 16 deputies elected to the new Parliament are being accused and investigated for the attempt to proclaim independence. Eight of them will not be able to show up to the sessions: Three are in prison (the leader of the ERC, Oriol Junqueras; the former interior minister, Joaquim Forn; and Jordi Sanchez of the ANC, one of the two leaders of the separatist organizations, a candidate of Junts per Catalunya), and five are in Belgium (the former president Puigdemont, together with four former ministers).
They will be able to assume their seats because the regulations do not require being physically present (one may delegate one’s attributions), but it is unclear whether they will be able to vote. According to the rules of the Parliament, voting through a delegate is only possible for reasons such as maternity, paternity, hospitalization, serious illness or a prolonged state of incapacity that is duly documented.
It will be for this reason that the composition of the Parliament’s Bureau will play a key role, since eight parliamentary seats might be invaluable, if the eight in question do not decide to give up their seats in favor of those further down the list. The Bureau may in fact modify the criteria for allowing voting by delegate (as the regulations allow this), and a pro-independence majority on the Bureau would certainly be better disposed toward this than an anti-independence one.
However, it is possible that at least the three who are in prison would be granted special permission by a judge to at least participate in the voting, as there is a precedent for this in Basque Country, where a member of parliament has run for president while in prison for terrorism.
For instance, Junqueras could find himself in a similar situation: to be elected president, the regulations only state that one must be a deputy and must give a speech to the chamber. How manageable, in practical terms, would a government be if led by a president who is in prison is another matter entirely.