Catalan MPs have elected a fervent separatist as the new chief of the region, ending a leadership vacuum of more than six months and setting the scene for more confrontations with the Spanish government.
Quim Torra, 55, a former corporate lawyer who went on to lead a prominent pro-secession group, vowed to build an independent Catalan republic by working under the leadership of his fugitive predecessor, Carles Puigdemont.
Mr Puigdemont is in Germany fighting extradition to Spain, where he is wanted for allegedly using public funds and orchestrating an “insurrection” to get the wealthy north-eastern region around Barcelona to break away from Spain.
Mr Torra was elected 66-65 in a second round vote after he failed to secure an absolute majority in the 135-strong Catalan parliament over the weekend. Four MPs with the far-left anti-establishment CUP party abstained.
Immediately after his election, Mr Torra said one of the goals of his new government would be to reinstate Mr Puigdemont as “the legitimate president” of Catalonia. The Spanish government removed Mr Puigdemont and his Cabinet from office after the regional parliament passed an illegal declaration of independence in October.
“Our president is Carles Puigdemont, and we will be faithful to the mandate of October… to build an independent state in the form of a republic,” Mr Torra told the chamber in Barcelona.
Mr Torra also has promised to create a “state council in exile” and vowed to establish a constituent assembly to write the constitution for a new Catalan republic.
“Everybody will win rights with the republic,” Mr Torra told fellow MPs in a speech before the vote.
“Nobody will lose rights. The republic is for everybody, no matter what they vote.”
The Catalan separatist movement has caused the worst political and institutional crisis in Spain in decades.
Central authorities have been ruling Catalonia directly from Madrid since the regional government led by Mr Puigdemont relied on the results of an outlawed October 1 referendum to declare unilateral independence from Spain.
The national government has sacked dozens of civil servants and closed a network of overseas offices that sought investments in Catalonia but also functioned as “diplomatic delegations” to bolster support for independence.
The unprecedented Spanish takeover is set to end when Mr Torra is sworn in along with a new Catalan cabinet. But Spanish authorities have warned that the national government could reassert its authority if the new regional government breaks the law again.
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said he did not like what he had heard during Monday’s investiture debate in the Catalan assembly. He said his judgment on Mr Torra’s appointment will depend on his actions.
Polls show that Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents are evenly divided on whether the region should secede from Spain. A great majority wants to settle the issue in a referendum, which under current law only the central government can set.