ROGER Torrent, who has been a Catalan MP since 2012 and mayor of Sarrià de Ter since 2007, has been elected President of the Catalan Parliament.

His appointment, which maintains the pro-independence parties’ parliamentary majority, came as Catalonia’s new parliament convened amid looming questions about the role that exiled and jailed politicians will play in it as well as the future regional government. Torrent, 40, is widely considered a rising star of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC). He replaces Carme Forcadell, who resigned to fight charges of rebellion and sedition she faces over the parliament’s declaration of independence in October.

Torrent won 65 votes against José María Espejo-Saavedra, from the Ciutadans (Citizens) Party, who picked up 56.

Pro-independence MPs who are in prison without trial for their role in the independence declaration voted by proxy. Oriol Junqueras, who was previously deputy to ousted President Carles Puigdemont, entrusted his vote to Marta Rovira (ERC), while Jordi Turull (Together for Catalonia) voted for Joaquim Forn and Jordi Sànchez.

The interim bureau nominated to oversee today’s procedures accepted the proxy votes, after Spain’s Supreme Court opened the door to that possibility last week. Although unionist parties asked the bureau to reconsider the decision, it dismissed their request.

Puigdemont and four other MPs in exile in Brussels did not ask to vote by proxy, not wanting to risk a challenge from Spain’s central government after Madrid said it would challenge in the courts any vote that allowed the MPs in Belgium to take part remotely.

He faces arrest should he return to Spain, as well as a number of legal hurdles if he wants to be voted in from abroad by the Catalan Parliament.

However, Puigdemont said on social media: “They only understand fear, violence and imposition. We will teach them that there is nothing that can bend the spirit of a free, peaceful and democratic people. We recover our institutions. We fight for the country. We exercise dignity. Live the land, and live Catalonia free!”

Other former Cabinet members and parliamentary officials have been released from jail, but remain under investigation.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took direct control of the wealthy north-eastern state following the independence declaration on October 27, sacked Puigdemont’s government, dissolved parliament and forced a new regional election on December 21 in the hope of halting the secession drive. But contrary to Madrid’s hopes, pro-independence MPs regained their parliamentary majority.

In the inaugural session, yellow ribbons symbolising the protest against the judicial process were placed in the seats of the absent MPs, while hundreds of people rallied outside the parliament, waving pro-independence flags.

Ernest Maragall, chairman of the last chamber, opened its constitutive session yesterday expressing “outrage” that eight deputies could not be present because they were either in jail or exile.

“I would say, ‘Good day president of the Generalitat and advisors’, but... Some are in prison and others in exile,” he said.

“I feel indignation over the aggressions that we live every day, and many reasons that make this Catalonia greater, that it does not surrender or resign, and wants to continue building a free and just country.”

Maragall said the state did not want to discuss reconciliation or “shared sovereignty”, adding: “It does not know how to win, it only knows how to defeat, impose, humiliate and punish. We will continue. We have learned. We know our forces well. This country will always be ours.”

In his acceptance speech, Torrent called for the restoration of all Catalan institutions as soon as possible to recover “necessary institutional normality”.

“Let us meet to recover the institutions and put them into the hands of the citizens,” he said.

“I will work for this legislature to return to politics again… so that our institutions are again at the service of the country and respond to the needs of the citizens.”

He went on to defend his predecessor, Forcadell, adding: “In Parliament, we must be able to speak of what the deputies want… Those who believe in democracy should never be afraid and we must never give up the debate and the word.”