Spain's Prime Minister has said he intends to convene Catalonia's new parliament on January 17, but speculation former regional leader Carles Puigdemont could take power while in self-imposed exile is "absurd".
- The autonomous region of Catalonia held fresh parliamentary elections on December 21
- The poll was largely seen as a vote on whether to again push for independence from Spain
- Spanish PM Rajoy says former regional leader Carles Puigdemont returning to the role 'absurd'
In his end of year speech, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he hoped the restive region's next government would not renew the push for independence that fuelled a serious political crisis.
Mr Rajoy set the January date just over a week after a regional parliamentary election resulted in the separatist parties he hoped to keep out of power again winning the most seats, and in turn, a good chance to lead the next Catalan government.
At the opening session, the parliament typically chooses a house speaker, who then calls on a candidate to try to form a government in the following days.
Mr Rajoy ordered the December 21 election under constitutional powers he invoked in October to dissolve the previous parliament after it voted to declare Catalonia an independent republic.
He also removed the region's pro-independence president and his cabinet.
Governing Catalonia will remain in the hands of Spanish authorities until a new president and cabinet are chosen.
Mr Rajoy has not ruled out seizing control of the region again if necessary.
Election fails to deliver clear ruling party
While the anti-secession Ciutadans party collected the most votes of any single party, the vote gave no party a clear majority.
It remains to be seen if the secessionist parties, which won 70 of the regional parliament's 135 seats, will be able to form a government.
Eight of their deputies elected last week are either in self-imposed exile or jailed in Spain while being investigated for alleged rebellion over the independence declaration.
Mr Rajoy said it was absurd to think Mr Puigdemont would want to become president of the autonomous region while living abroad.
The former vice president of Catalonia, Oriol Junqueras, is in jail outside Madrid.
Mr Puigdemont's and Mr Junqueras' parties are negotiating which of them to put forward for the regional presidency; the selected candidate must be present at a session of parliament, which presents obvious obstacles for both men.
Unless the status of the eight elected deputies changes or they cede their seats to other party members, the bloc risks losing the opportunity to take office again and fresh elections may be called.
The three pro-independence parties were united in the previous parliament, but disagreements have arisen amid the fallout from the move to break away from Spain and the central government's takeover of Catalonia's affairs.
Mr Rajoy said 2017 saw Spain continue to thrive economically but had been a "very difficult year" because of the Catalan crisis.
He said he hoped the next Catalan government would refrain from acting outside the law and would be capable of working for all Catalans and with the rest of Spain.
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