BARCELONA: The most radical faction of Catalonia's independence movement opted Thursday not to back Jordi Turull, the separatists' candidate for the regional presidency, severely hindering their latest effort to form a government in the Spanish region.
Just minutes before a Catalan parliamentary session kicked off to appoint Turull, the far-left CUP party, which with its four lawmakers plays a kingmaker's role in the pro-independence coalition, announced it would abstain in a vote for the candidate.
This means the 51-year-old fervent separatist will not get the absolute majority he needs in the first round of voting.
Under parliamentary regulations, the second round must take place two days later at which point the candidate only needs a simple majority -- but even that is not guaranteed for Turull.
As if this wasn't enough, it's uncertain whether the former Catalan government spokesman will even be able to attend this second session as he has been summoned before a Supreme Court judge on Friday along with five other separatist leaders.
The judge is due to notify them of the charges brought against them for their role in the independence drive, and may even remand some of them in custody pending a trial.
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Turull is the third separatist candidate to be proposed following failed bids by Catalonia's ousted president Carles Puigdemont and jailed pro-independence activist Jordi Sanchez, who withdrew Wednesday.
As such, Spanish media have dubbed him the separatists' "plan C."
News of Turull's summons by the judge prompted the Catalan parliamentary speaker to call Thursday's express assembly session faced with what he dubbed the "interference" of the Supreme Court.
Spain's Justice Minister Rafael Catala retorted that separatists were seeking "a clash with the rule of law, with institutions."
Speaking on Spanish radio, Catala said that calling an express session to appoint a candidate under investigation "shows there is no real desire to find solutions for the future, but only to continue muddying the playing field."
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, meanwhile, cancelled a weekend trip to Angola although his office refused to give the exact reason.
The anti-independence, centrist Ciudadanos party also slammed the express parliamentary session.
"No one wants him (Turull) as president, they only chose him to feed into the independence drive's victim mentality, because they don't have anything else left," Ines Arrimadas, Ciudadanos's chief in Catalonia, told Spanish radio.
Separatist parties won regional elections in December called by Madrid after they attempted to secede, retaining their absolute majority in parliament.
But they have still not been able to form a government as their two previous candidates for the presidency proved problematic.
Puigdemont went into self-exile in Belgium after separatist lawmakers declared independence in October and Sanchez is in jail pending the probe into the secession drive.
As such Catalonia remains under direct rule from Madrid, imposed after the declaration.