Text messages reveal climbdown by Puigdemont in Catalan presidential bid

The image was caught by chance during a news broadcast.
The image was caught by chance during a news broadcast. / ANA ROSA, TELECINCO
  • The regional parliament's speaker had postponed a vote on the new leader of the Catalan government after a ruling by the Constitutional Court

The ongoing saga of whether the ex-president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, will be voted in as president again by regional MPs, even through he is in self-imposed exile in Brussels, took an unexpected turn on Wednesday morning with revelations on a television show.

The programme on Telecinco published details of private mobile phone messages sent on Tuesday evening by Puigdemont to one of the other Catalan MPs 'exiled' in Belgium with him. A TV camera had inadvertently picked them up when the MP, Toni Comín, was scanning his phone in the audience at an event in Leuven, near Brussels. The images revealed the supposed frustration of Puigdemont and his willingness to give in his fight to be sworn in as president again.

Debate postponed

The mobile phone texts from Puigdemont to Comín in Belgium came soon after the speaker of the Catalan parliament had postponed Tuesday's planned debate in Barcelona over who should be the next regional president.

As reported last week, Carles Puigdemont, as leader of the largest separatist party, had been proposed as the only candidate to head the Catalan government but his exile in Brussels complicated the situation. Up to the last moment nobody was sure if he would try to return to Spain, and face certain arrest in ongoing investigations over the illegal declaration of independence in Catalonia last October, or if regional MPs would try to vote him in by video conference link from Brussels.

In the end, neither scenario happened as speaker, Roger Torrent, decided to postpone the investiture debate in reaction to a declaration from Spain's constitutional court that Puigdemont couldn't be voted in remotely and had to appear in the Barcelona chamber in person.

This would only be possible, the ruling said, if the Supreme Court judge investigating Puigdemont and other separatist leaders gave permission. The resolution, which was sought by central government, in effect cut off Puigdemont's options.

The speaker said that the debate would be reconvened once “the proper guarantees” were in place for Puigdemont to attend, without specifying how that would happen.

In the private mobile phone texts broadcast across Spain, Puigdemont said, “This is over. Our followers have sacrificed us” and the Spanish government's plan had won.

There was delight among pro-Spain politicians and central government, seeing Puigdemont's private thoughts as proof that their strategy to remove him from front- line politics had succeeded. Some said that the texts exposed in public a view about the impossibility of investing Puigdemont that the independence parties had held in private for some time.

Possible legal action

Both Puigdemont and Comín complained on social media about the publication of the texts and legal action may follow, according to their lawyers. However the immediate effect of the publication was to open up more division between the separatist parties that together hold a majority in the Catalan parliament after December's election. Some separatist supporters told reporters that another pro-independence candidate for president should be proposed to regional MPs as soon as possible so the Catalan government can return to normal and Madrid's temporary suspension of some devolved powers can end, amid an emerging consensus that declaring independence unilaterally wasn't working.

At the time of going to press, the speaker of the regional parliament, Roger Torrent, maintained that Puigdemont was still the only candidate to be Catalan president and no new date had as yet been fixed to summon MPs for the debate on his investiture.