Puigdemont pressured to head JxCat list in Catalan elections

Calvet takes a step forward and seeks to become effective candidate

On Monday the 48-hour timeframe for candidates to come forward to lead JxCat in the next election started. Will it be former president Carles Puigdemont? This is an unanswered question, which is why in the last few hours movements within the party for him to take the step have intensified. The MEP has made his decision known to the Junts leadership but, ARA has found out, several members of the executive have signed a letter asking him to lead the candidacy for the 14 February elections. The letter admits that he cannot be the "effective" president due to the experience of this mandate, but it does ask him to run in the elections to revalidate that he is the "legitimate" president of Catalonia.

During the weekend this text has been sent to several party leaders, but it has not been discussed in the meeting that was held this Monday. Sources from Junts clarify that it is not a request from the leadership of the party to the ex-president - it has not been approved by the executive-, but an "individual initiative" which several leaders have joined. Other manifestos have also appeared in recent days in public.

Does this mean Puigdemont will take the step to run in the primaries? Sources around him assure that the ex-president will not be the equivalent of Esquerra's candidate, Pere Aragonès, in these elections, nor will he be the one to lead an "autonomous" Generalitat. That is why they interpret the missive as a last-minute manoeuvre. The same sources insist that the primaries must be used to choose the candidate for president of the Catalan Government and that Puigdemont already has a different role reserved for him for the election. In the last few days there has been talk of several options: that he head the list symbolically and tandem with the effective candidate; that he head the Girona list; or some other type of presence that makes it clear that he is not running for president. He could even close the list.

Puigdemont already made it clear in the European elections that his priority was to be a MEP and, for this reason, he gave up his seat in Barcelona when he took office in Brussels. In fact, he stated during the campaign that in the Catalan chamber he felt "suspended and blocked" and he accused the State of vetoing the restitution. In this sense, even if he decided now to run for the elections of February 14th in Catalonia, he is not expected to give up his seat as a MEP. Yet the two posts are incompatible, and if he gave up his seat in Brussels, he would lose the immunity that allows him to travel all over Europe except Spain.

If Puigdemont were to run in the primaries to be the effective candidate, there are problems in JxCat's story: most sources assume that they cannot resort to the same discourse of the 2017 elections. They claim the most obvious thing would be to choose for the primaries the effective candidate beyond Puigdemont. They defend the "bifurcation", so that the ex-president maintains the leadership as a "legitimate president" in exile and then there is another person in Catalonia who is a candidate to lead the Generalitat.

However, this scheme also gives rise to fear among some leaders. Without Puigdemont as president, they fear that JxCat will not gather enough support to repeat its victory over Esquerra three years ago - despite being behind Ciutadans, who won the elections called after Spain imposed direct rule. However, some sources interpret this fear as reflecting "personal" interests: they believe that those who put most pressure on Puigdemont to run again rather than pick an effective candidate do so because they fear losing influence and decision-making power with respect to a new empowered leader in Catalonia.

The first to take the step

Amidst the pressure on Puigdemont and the desire to choose an effective candidate, the first to take a step forward was the Minister of Territory, Damià Calvet. This morning, he passed it on to the executive and then made it public on Twitter, with the slogan "To decide is to take sides". However, in his announcement he added a nuance: "If President Puigdemont formalises his candidacy, I will join it and it will be mine".

Calvet is the current Minister of Territory and Sustainability and right-hand man of the imprisoned former Minister Josep Rull. He counts on his support to make this step and also on that of the former Minister of the Presidency Jordi Turull. In fact, Calvet had already said some time ago that if there were primaries to JxCat he would run, as was also stated by JxCat MP in Madrid Laura Borràs. Borrás, however, has said nothing this Monday. She remained silent at the management meeting when Calvet informed of his decision, and her entourage assures that she is meditating on what to do.

The Minister of Digital Policies, Jordi Puigneró, is in the same situation. He reflected over the weekend on whether to take the step. And so did the Minister for Business, Ramon Tremosa, who, according to sources, has also been considering it in the last few hours. He would have to become a party sympathiser to take the step, as he is currently independent.

Among the effective candidates, the most popular among the bases beyond Puigdemont continues to be Borràs, despite the fact that several members of the executive are suspicious of her. Some consider that her weak point is the open case she has before the Supreme Court for alleged irregularities when she was head of the Institució de les Lletres Catalanes. They believe that this would force JxCat to have a replacement in case she was disqualified, even though they admit that she is the candidate with the most electoral pull from the start, since she allowed Junts to slightly increase support in the last Spanish elections.

At the press conference on Monday, the party's spokesperson, Elsa Artadi, opted for silence in the face of the latest movements in relation to the primary. She did not want to discuss the role of former President Carles Puigdemont or the person who has presented his candidacy for the presidency. Even so, the spokesperson did explain which members of the electoral union would be members and those who, therefore, would not be eligible to be members of Parliament in the next legislature. They are MP in Madrid Míriam Nogueras, the ex-deputy of ERC Maria Àngels Cabassés, the ex-member of CDC and businessman Joan Oliveras and the current deputy in Parliament Toni Morral, who will not be attempting to keep his seat.

Election of the territorial offices

Parallel to the definition of the candidacy to the Generalitat, JxCat advances in the internal construction of the party. This weekend the regional and vegueria coordinators have been chosen, the first step to constitute the territorial organs of the formation inaugurated on 25th of July. Among the new territorial barons of Junts are Joan Ramon Casals, former chief of staff of the president; Quim Torra, as coordinator of the regional vegueria of Barcelona; the journalist Pilar Calvo as coordinator of the federation of Barcelona city; the first secretary, Eusebi Campdepadrós, in Tarragona; Maria Àngels Planas, in charge of the Treasury at Girona City Hall, as coordinator of this vegueria; Montserrat Villaró in Alt Pirineu and Aran; Annabel Marcos, secretary of public service of the Generalitat, for Terres de l'Ebre; Montserrat Girbau in Catalunya Central, and Xènia Guàrdia for Penedès.

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