Pro-secession parties losing time to pick Catalonia's leader

Separatist lawmaker Quim Torra, candidate for regional president, speaks during a parliamentary session in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, May 12, 2018. The Catalan parliament said Friday that separatist lawmaker Quim Torra is set to be put forward for election in a vote Saturday. Separatist parties in Catalonia aim to elect one of their own as regional president by early next week, ending five months of political deadlock amid the restive region's attempts to secede from Spain. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

BARCELONA, Spain - Catalonia's separatists failed to elect a new leader for the restive Spanish region Saturday, likely leaving them with one more chance to form a government before a new election is called.

Candidate Quim Torra fell short of the absolute majority of 68 votes needed to be elected in the first round. Torra, a fervent secessionist with strong anti-Spanish views, will have another chance during a second round on Monday, when only a simple majority of more "yes" than "no" votes is required.

In-fighting among separatist parties left Quim two votes short. Four members of the radical far-left CUP party abstained.

The party plans to decide Sunday how its lawmakers will vote during the second round.

Catalonia's pro-independence parties risk an election being automatically triggered if they don't form a government by May 22.

Spanish courts blocked three previous candidates from being considered during investiture votes. Two were in jail for their roles in organizing an illegal referendum on independence for Catalonia in October.

The third blocked candidate was the region's fugitive former-president, Carles Puigdemont, who is awaiting extradition from Germany on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds.

Puigdemont announced Torra as the next candidate on Thursday.

Torra spoke with defiance to Spanish authorities during his investiture speech Saturday, promising to continue the push for secession. He called Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after he was removed from office by Spain's prime minister, the "legitimate president of Catalonia."

Spain's central government has been running the region's affair since its ineffective declaration of independence following last year's illegal referendum. Those powers are supposed to be returned to regional authorities once a new government is formed.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, speaking Saturday at a rally of his conservative Popular Party in southern Spain, said about Torra's speech that "we don't like what we have seen and heard very much, because we believe it doesn't represent what Catalonia needs."

Until now, CUP has demanded that Puigdemont be re-elected even if from abroad, an option Spanish courts have prohibited. The radical party also wants a new government that will continue Spain's worst political conflict in decades in the belief that it is the only path to a new Catalan state.

"Whatever the chosen option is, it will be an option for independence and the republic," CUP lawmaker Carles Riera said.


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