MADRID - Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned Monday that the government will keep control of Catalonia if the former regional leader who was ousted for pushing independence tries to resume office from Belgium, where he is eluding Spanish justice.
Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont wants to present his candidacy for his old job to Catalonia's parliament by video or through a delegate to avoid returning to Spain and being arrested. Puigdemont was re-elected during a parliamentary election last month after campaigning from Brussels.
The Catalan assembly's regulations are not clear on whether a candidate can be considered in absentia. The region's anti-independence opposition and Rajoy's government have said they would take the matter to the Constitutional Court of Spain if lawmakers vote on the fugitive Puigdemont.
The new parliament is set to meet for the first time Thursday. An initial vote to pick Catalonia's next president is likely to take place by the end of the month.
Rajoy said Monday that the new president would have to be sworn into office in person. He added that the Spanish government would continue invoking constitutional authority to run Catalonia until that happens.
Much to Rajoy's ire, secessionist parties again won the most seats in the December 21 election the prime minister called under the temporary takeover powers after removing Puigdemont's government and dissolving the regional parliament.
Eight of their lawmakers, including Puigdemont, have fled Spain or are in jail facing possible charges of rebellion or sedition. Other former Cabinet members and parliamentary officials have been released from jail, but remain under investigation.
The parties that promote Catalan independence jointly hold 66 of the regional chamber's 135 seats and also have support from four pro-independence, anti-establishment lawmakers.
The Catalan crisis, Spain's worst political trouble decades, came to a head when separatist lawmakers declared independence October 27 based on the results from an October 1 voter referendum that Spanish courts had suspended.
Puigdemont remains adamant about pushing ahead with forming a Catalan republic that is separate from Spain. However, nearly all of the elected lawmakers under investigation have pledged to act within the law from now on.
Polls consistently show that most Catalans want the right to decide the region's future but are evenly divided over splitting from Spain.