Puigdemont throws in the towel for Catalan presidency

Leader living in exile in Belgium

By ANGELA DEWAN, CNN
David Ramos/Getty Images

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his wife Marcela Topor leave the hall after the news that the Catalan Parliament voted in favor of independence from Spain on October 27, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.

(CNN) - Catalonia's former separatist leader, Carles Puigdemont, has withdrawn his candidacy for president of the Spanish region after months of political deadlock with Madrid.

Puigdemont was the only candidate put forward by Catalonia's parliament in Barcelona and lawmakers were expected to vote him in for another term as president.

But Puigdemont has been unable to overcome Madrid, which continues to seek the arrest of the separatist over his aggressive push to break Catalonia away from Spain. The independence drive plunged the country into its worst political crises in decades.

In a video posted to his Twitter account on Thursday, Puigdemont said he informed the President of the Parliament of Catalonia "to start as quickly as possible the round of contacts with the different parliamentary groups to proceed with the election of a new candidate to be invested as president of the regional government."

Puigdemont said his decision "does not fully guarantee the restoration of our autonomy ... But it will give us the freedom to undertake the next phase of the road toward independence" from Spain.

Puigdemont said his party would propose a pro-secession campaigner, Jordi Sanchez -- currently in remand in a Madrid prison on charges of sedition -- as an alternative candidate, Reuters reported.

The nomination of Sanchez is likely to be just as fraught with difficulty, given that he is in detention, according to Reuters.

Self-imposed exile

Puigdemont has lived in self-imposed exile in Belgium since October last year and has fought a war or words with Madrid from afar. But Madrid, which has maintained it has the law on its side, has waited out the crisis, refusing to allow Puigdemont to rule from abroad.

If Puigdemont returns to Spain, he will no doubt be arrested, making his return to the presidency problematic.

Spanish authorities accuse Puigdemont of rebellion, sedition and misuse of funds over his role in an illegal referendum to secede from Spain and parliament's declaration of unilateral independence in October last year.

Other members of his political entourage have been jailed in Madrid, awaiting trail over their roles in the independence push.

Madrid imposed direct rule on Catalonia after the independence declaration, stripping the autonomous region of many of its administrative powers.

It has shown no sign that it plans to withdraw from Catalonia, though it is likely to if a candidate it regards as legitimate is anointed president.

Madrid called a snap election for December last year in hope of having a more moderate Catalan government to deal with, but its plan backfired when the region voted a majority of pro-independence MPs into parliament, maintaining the status quo. The region has been without an official leader since Puigdemont fled to Belgium in October last year.

His future appeared in doubt around a month ago, when one of his advisers was caught on camera receiving text messages from the downtrodden politician who seemed to have lost the support of Catalonia's pro-independence alliance.

"It's over," Puigdemont was alleged to have written. Madrid "has won," he wrote.

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