LONDON - Protests broke out in the city of Barcelona Tuesday after the Catalan parliament postponed a vote on who should be president of the semi-autonomous Spanish region. 

Pro-independence parties, which form a majority in the parliament, had nominated only one candidate — exiled former leader Carles Puigdemont. 

The decision to delay the vote brought protesters to the streets around the parliament building.“The confidence vote session for Carles Puigdemont is still on, and it will take place as soon as we have guarantees to celebrate an effective confidence vote session, because that is the will expressed by the parliamentary groups,” Torrent said.

“We want our president to return home," said pro-independence supporter Asuncion Jimenez. "This is not a democracy. We have a dictatorship in Spain.” 

Puigdemont fled to Brussels after he was charged with sedition and rebellion in October 2017, following his declaration of independence from Spain after a disputed referendum. The government in Madrid said he would face arrest if he returned to Spain.

Fugitive Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont addresse
Fugitive Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont addresses the media in Brussels, Belgium, Jan. 24, 2018.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dissolved the Catalan parliament and imposed direct rule under the constitution. Elections in December saw pro-independence parties regain their majority. 

Puigdemont and his supporters suggested he could rule as president-in-exile via video link from Belgium. But last week, Catalonia’s constitutional court ruled that would be illegal. Now, there is growing competition within the pro-independence movement over who should be president, according to political analyst Luis Cornago.

“There is a very interesting dynamic of competition within the independence movement, an interesting fight there, and I think it’s quite negative for an agreed result or an agreed negotiation. And they don’t have a lot of incentives, either, on the pro-unionist side,” Cornago said.

Cornago added that with both sides hardening their stance, the Madrid government is hoping the independence movement runs out of steam. 

“There was this feeling that this was just a temporary thing, that once the economic crisis was over and we restarted growing, macroeconomics is starting to be better, and all that, this whole movement that has some sort of anti-establishment side would disappear, would fade away. But I think there are roots in the movement that are probably going to stay with us for a while.”

It’s not clear when the Catalan parliament speaker plans to call a new vote. For now, the standoff between Barcelona and Madrid appears to have deepened.