The parliament in Catalonia has scheduled a Thursday vote to elect as the Spanish region’s next president a former separatist minister who could be indicted on rebellion charges hours later. Jordi Turull, the former chief of staff and spokesman for the ousted Catalan government, is the third candidate proposed by pro-independence lawmakers since a December election.
Turull is among the ex-officials facing possible rebellion charges punishable by up to 30 years in prison over the regional parliament’s attempt last year to secede Catalonia from Spain.
The Spain Supreme Court judge overseeing the investigation announced Wednesday he planned to issue indictments on Friday morning. The separatist faction in the Catalan parliament quickly scheduled the vote on Turull for Thursday afternoon.
If Judge Pablo Llarena charges Turull with rebellion, he also could ban the politician from holding office and even send him to jail until a trial is held.
By choosing a candidate with such poor immediate prospects, the pro-independence Catalan parties are stepping up a confrontation with Spain and the opposition.
In a hastily convened announcement on Wednesday evening, Speaker Roger Torrent said his goal was to defend the assembly’s role as Catalonia’s legislative body and to preserve the right of regional lawmakers to elect the president of their choice.
The decision came amid “the interference to the Parliament that we are seeing these days and weeks,” he said.
Spanish authorities reacted by saying Torrent had acted “with precipitation and lacking transparency” that “undermines the dignity” of the regional parliament.
The move “only seeks the separatists’ political interest of keeping alive the confrontation with the democratic state,” Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government said in a statement.
The Spanish government vowed to keep control over the region until a new legal government is in place.
Turull is the third candidate to be proposed by supporters of Catalan independence. Attempts to re-elect ex-leader Carles Puigdemont, who is evading a Spanish judicial probe in self-imposed exile, were foiled.
The second choice, jailed pro-independence activist Jordi Sanchez, relinquished his parliament seat and withdrew from consideration earlier Wednesday.
“It is the best service I can do now for the country,” Sanchez wrote in a letter sent from a prison near Madrid.
Rulings by Spain’s top court prevented both Sanchez and Puigdemont from being elected because neither of them could attend the votes in person.
The semi-autonomous region has been without a president for nearly five months after central authorities removed Puigdemont’s government and took direct control of Catalonia’s affairs.
Separatist parties obtained a narrow victory in the regional elections called by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. They have grappled since then with internal discord on how to proceed and with mounting judicial challenges.
Polls show Catalans are equally divided on the secession issue, although a vast majority supports holding a legal referendum with approval from central authorities.