BARCELONA/MADRID (Reuters) – Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is set to call a snap regional election, political allies said, a move that could help break a one-month deadlock between the Madrid government and separatists seeking a split from Spain.
The uncertainty remained high however as Puigdemont who had announced he would deliver an address at 1.30 p.m. (1130 GMT), first delayed it by one hour and then canceled it, triggering speculation he could still change his mind.
Barcelona-based La Vanguardia said he would call the vote for Dec. 20 and was taking the decision in a bid to persuade the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy not to enforce direct rule in the region, which he might do as soon as Friday.
The Catalan secessionist drive is Spain’s worst political crisis since the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco ended in 1975. It has fractured society and hundreds of companies have left the region.
It is also the most serious challenge to the integrity of a Western European country since an independence referendum in Scotland in 2014, when voters in the end chose to stay part of the United Kingdom.
European leaders fear it could spur secessionist ambitions in other parts of the continent.
Within minutes of Thursday’s developments, several pro-secession lawmakers and mayors announced they were stepping down.
“I don’t share the decision to call an election. I am resigning as a lawmaker and a member of PdeCat (Puigdemont’s Catalan Democratic Party),” said Jordi Cuminal on Twitter.
Several hundred people also took to the streets and gathered on Placa Sant Jaume, in front of the Catalan government’s headquarters in central Barcelona.
Protestors hold up a sign reading “Republic Now” outside the Generalitat Palace, the regional government headquarters, in Barcelona, Spain, October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
“Puigdemont traitor,” a big banner read.
Far-left party CUP, a key support for Puigdemont’s minority government, said it would oppose a vote.
“Until now, pro-independence supporters had one problem: the Spanish state. If elections are called, they will have two,” it said on twitter.
Demand for Spanish debt and shares jumped when it emerged Puigdemont could call an election.
Spain’s 10-year government bond yield – which moves inversely to price – fell 6 basis points to 1.58 percent on the news. The stock index IBEX rose 1.9 percent to a four-week high.
“This news is positive for Spain because it looks like Puigdemont is looking for ways other than declaring independence,” said ING strategist Martin van Vliet.
“It sounds like he is calling these elections so that Madrid does not have to invoke article 155,” that would allow central government to suspend the wealthy region’s autonomy.