The speaker of the Catalan parliament postponed the vote, but said that self-exiled former president Carles Puigdemont was the only viable candidate to lead the restive Spanish region.

People watch a live broadcast of a speech by ousted Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, Belgium, January 30, 2018.
People watch a live broadcast of a speech by ousted Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, Belgium, January 30, 2018. (AFP)

Catalonia postponed the election of a new regional president on Tuesday until further notice after Spain's highest court said the sole nominee, separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, was ineligible while he remains a fugitive from justice in Belgium.

"On January 22, we proposed President Carles Puigdemont i Casamajo as candidate to be sworn-in as Catalonia's president. It wasn't a random decision, neither personal one," said Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent, announcing the delay.

"It was the result of the will expressed by a majority from this parliament. In order to maintain this will, I will not propose any other candidate to be sworn-in."

The industrial northeastern region's drive for a split from Spain has led it to clash with the central government in Madrid and the judiciary, which say a declaration of independence is against the country's 39-year-old constitution.

TRT World's Sarah Morice reports.

Puigdemont disappointed 

Puigdemont, speaking from Belgium late on Tuesday, said he was disappointed at the postponed vote. "No other candidate is possible," he said.

Earlier, hundreds of pro-independence protesters, many wearing Puigdemont masks, broke through a police cordon and climbed over a fence to reach the grounds of the regional parliament in Barcelona chanting "Puigdemont, our president" and "Where are the politicians we voted for?"

The decision to stick with Puigdemont suggests continued support for secession, giving the national government in Madrid no reason to end the direct control that it imposed to block the independence drive. 

Judge's permission

Court rulings have hampered Puigdemont's efforts to return to power since pro-independence parties won a slim majority in a December regional election.

The constitutional court said on Saturday the former journalist could not be elected unless he was physically present in the parliament, with a judge's permission to attend.

These conditions make it hard for Puigdemont to stand, as he is likely to be arrested and tried on charges including sedition and rebellion if he returns to Spain. They carry a potential prison sentence of decades.

Police on Tuesday searched border crossings and the entrance to the parliament itself to ensure the former leader did not return to Barcelona, the Catalan capital.

He has said he could lead Catalonia from abroad, and on Monday ruled out seeking a judge's permission to attend the parliament in person.

A referendum on secession last October was ruled illegal by the constitutional court. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy fired the region's administration when it declared independence, and five cabinet members including Puigdemont fled to Belgium.

The crisis has shaken the confidence of companies in Catalonia, causing thousands to move their registered headquarters elsewhere in Spain, and has deeply divided Catalan society.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies