BARCELONA, SPAIN —
Spain’s top court said Saturday that Catalonia’s fugitive ex-president must return to the country and be present in the regional parliament to receive the authority to form a new government.
The Constitutional Court ruled that a session of Catalonia’s parliament scheduled for Tuesday would be suspended if former leader Carles Puigdemont tries to be re-elected without being physically present in the chamber.
The court also said that Puigdemont must seek judicial authorization to attend the session.
Catalonia’s separatist lawmakers have been considering voting Puigdemont back in as regional chief without him returning from Belgium, weighing options that included another parliament member standing in for him or him addressing the lawmakers via video.
The separatist leader fled Spain after the regional parliament made an unsuccessful declaration of independence on Oct. 27 in violation of Spain’s Constitution. He is wanted in Spain on possible rebellion and sedition charges and is likely to be arrested if he returns.
The court also ruled that neither Puigdemont nor the four other former members of his Cabinet who also fled to Belgium to avoid a judicial summons three months ago could delegate their vote for Tuesday’s session in another candidate.
The court included a warning to the speaker of the Catalan parliament and the other members of his board that they would be breaking the law if they disobey the rulings.
It is still unclear whether the separatist majority in Catalonia’s parliament will heed the court’s ban on voting Puigdemont back into power unless he is there.
Nor is it a sure bet that Puigdemont won’t try to avoid police and return to the parliament come Tuesday, even if it would likely lead to his arrest either before or after the debate.
The independence declaration in October brought to a head Spain’s worst political crisis in decades. Spain responded by invoking special powers allowing it to fire the regional government, dissolve Catalonia’s parliament and call fresh regional elections in December.
Contrary to the Spanish government’s wishes, separatist parties regained a slim majority, keeping the conflict alive and rallying secessionists around the call to bring back Puigdemont.
Polls consistently show that most Catalans want the right to decide the region’s future, but are evenly divided over splitting from Spain.