The Catalan president, Quim Torra, faced a hearing before the Spanish Supreme Court on Thursday at noon over his disobedience case. Torra was convicted to one and a half years of disqualification by Catalonia’s high court in December 2019, for failing to remove signs in favor of the Catalan political prisoners on time during an election campaign some months prior.

Yet, the decision was not final and the Supreme Court will have the last word. If Spain’s top judges confirm the ruling, Quim Torra will be automatically ousted. The final ruling is expected to be known within the next few weeks, and while Torra will attend the hearing, he is not thought to be allowed to speak despite his intention to ask for taking the floor.

If the president is ousted, Catalonia would enter an interim period in which the government’s vice president, Pere Aragonès, would probably become acting president until a new leader is picked by the Parliament. If lawmakers find no consensus within two months, a new election would be automatically called two months later.

Early election option

Alternatively, Torra might still call an early election to avoid a longer interim period before being potentially barred – yet, he did not mention this possibility on Wednesday, during his annual general policies debate, which paves the way for an automatic election four months after his potential disqualification. Yet, Catalonia’s head of government also hinted that if his conviction is confirmed, he could still choose to disobey.

The president failed to comply in time with an order from Spain’s electoral board to remove symbols from the front of the Catalan government HQ building in Barcelona in the run-up to the Spanish general election at the end of April 2019. Specifically, the signs in contention were yellow ribbons, which have become the symbol showing solidarity with the Catalan leaders tried and sentenced to prison by the Supreme Court over the bid to split from Spain in 2017.

After they were arrested in the aftermath of the unilateral independence referendum in autumn 2017, people sympathetic with their cause (they spent some two years in custody before being given jail terms of between 9 and 13 years on October 14, 2019, while others are in exile and risk arrest if they return) have worn yellow ribbons or hung them from buildings, including many public buildings.

Criminal case 

President Torra did in the end get the ribbons removed as ordered, but by the time the deadline set by the electoral board had already passed. A criminal case against him was subsequently opened after unionist Ciudadanos and People’s Party’s appeals. In March 2019, the public prosecutor assessed the case and decided to press charges, accusing the president of disobedience and calling for him to be barred from holding public office for a year and eight months and to pay a fine of 30,000 euros.

Torra was prosecuted, indicted, and after a one-day trial on November 18, found guilty on disobedience charges by Catalonia’s high court. Yet the decision was not final and Torra appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

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