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New Catalan premier ignores king and Constitution as he takes oath

Source: El Pais - Thu 14th Jan 2016
New Catalan premier ignores king and Constitution as he takes oath

Carles Puigdemont on Tuesday became the first Catalan premier to take office without swearing allegiance to the Spanish king or the Constitution.

Catalan house speaker Carme Forcadell, a nationalist like Puigdemont, bypassed the protocol and allowed the new leader to allude simply to “the will of the Catalan people, as represented in the Parlament.”

It was not the only snub to King Felipe VI at a ceremony that underscored the profound rift between Madrid and the Catalan government, in the hands of separatist forces following the September 27 election.

The monarch’s portrait, which presides the chamber, was covered by a curtain during the ceremony.

State lawyers are now analyzing whether the deliberate omission should carry any legal consequences, government sources told EL PAÍS.

A royal decree from 1979 stipulates that the oath of office must include a promise to remain loyal to the monarch and to uphold the Spanish Constitution as the fundamental law of the land.

But Puigdemont is not the first elected official to ignore that mandate. In 1990, the Constitutional Court ruled against any sanctions for deputies representing Herri Batasuna, the now-defunct political wing of Basque terrorist group ETA, who also omitted the promise when they took up their seats in Congress.

Whether legal or not, Puigdemont’s behavior on Tuesday was just another chapter in the ongoing battle of symbolic gestures between Madrid and Barcelona. In response to the snub, Felipe VI failed to meet with house speaker Forcadell following the swearing-in ceremony.

In a short speech, Puigdemont made it clear that his government’s goal is Catalan independence from a state that “humiliates and financially asphyxiates” Catalonia, one of Spain’s wealthiest and most industrialized regions.

Puigdemont promised Catalans a better life after independence, which he hopes to attain within 18 months on the basis of a separatist motion passed by the house in November.

Artur Mas will likely play a mentoring role for Carles Puigdemont, his replacement at the helm of the Catalan government.

But aware that pro-independence forces did not secure a majority of votes at the September election – even if the voting system still granted them a parliamentary superiority – Puigdemont asked for more people to join the secessionist drive.

“We need to explain ourselves better, and we need to get more people involved,” he said.

Puigdemont emerged as a surprise, last-minute candidate to the premiership on Saturday, just hours before the deadline for naming a new leader of the Generalitat. His nomination was the result of an 11th-hour deal between his own Convergence party (CDC) and the anti-capitalist CUP, whose 10 deputies were necessary to achieve a separatist majority.

Ever since the September 27 election, the CUP had refused to back incumbent Artur Mas’s bid for a new term in office. Mas, for his part, refused to step down until the last minute, and will likely remain a key player in the independence drive. Puigdemont has said that he is adopting Mas’s entire program and will turn to him for advice on the breakaway process.

Recommended Reading :

* Catalonia's acting head Mas steps down as pro-independence leader

* Catalonia to pursue split from Spain despite court block

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