SPAIN’s Constitutional Court has put further obstacles in the path of Carles Puigdemont and his attempt to be installed as president of Catalonia tomorrow by ruling that he must appear in person and only with permission from a judge.

The deposed president has been in exile in Brussels since October following the Catalan Parliament’s declaration of independence, and faces arrest in connection with charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds should he re-enter Spain.

It is a setback for pro-independence politicians who wanted to try to re-elect Puigdemont without him being physically present, perhaps addressing the chamber via video or Skype. The court said his investiture would be suspended without prior authorisation from a judge “even if he is physically in the chamber”.

However, Josep Rull, one of his colleagues from Together for Catalonia (JxCat), said yesterday that Puigdemont would request permission from a judge within 24 hours. Rull told Catalunya Radio the court ruling was a “slap in the face” to Spanish vice president Soraya Saenz of Santamaria, who announced the appeal against Puigdemont’s candidacy. He said: “The problem, more than ever, is ... not the Catalan independentists, it is not Carles Puigdemont, it is not the people of Catalonia.

“The serious problem is Spanish democracy. The serious problem, at this time, is with this demolition of the rule of law in Spain.

“The Spanish government’s claim was that it would not have been filled in any way, that Carles Puigdemont could not be invested, that what the people of Catalonia voted for could not be specified. And yet, the Constitutional Court allows it to continue moving forward.”

He added: “When we say, ‘either Puigdemont or Puigdemont’, what we’re saying is ‘either democracy or democracy’.”

While JxCat insists Puigdemont is the only candidate for the presidency, one of their pro-independence allies has said he could be “sacrificed” to allow a government to be formed.

Joan Tarda, from the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) said that while they preferred to see Puigdemont returned to power, their supreme goal was to have a pro-independence government in place by Wednesday to avoid a new election.

He told La Vanguardia newspaper: “If we have to sacrifice Puigdemont, then we will have to sacrifice him.”

However, ERC spokesperson Sergi Sabrià insisted that following the court’s decision, the party’s position was “clearer than at any other time” and that Puigdemont had to be the presidential candidate.

While acknowledging that the weekend’s events “are important”, he said: “Now that the stake is more fierce than ever, Puigdemont has to be our candidate.”

The Catalan impasse is Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades, following the independence referendum, which Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy branded as illegal; the Guardia Civil brutality that marred the poll; Rajoy’s sacking of the entire state government; his dissolution of Catalonia’s Parliament; his calling a new regional election in December.

When the poll results backfired on Rajoy and pro-indy parties won enough seats to form a government, he refused to back down in the face of critics who had accused him of returning Spain to the “dark days” of the Franco dictatorship. The Constitutional Court – Spain’s highest legal authority on constitutional matters – said it would make a decision on the Spanish government’s challenge to Puigdemont’s legitimacy as presidential candidate once it had spoken to all parties concerned. They said they would need six days to consider the Spanish government’s request to annul his candidacy.

Under Spanish law, once the court officially accepts the government’s challenge for consideration, Puigdemont’s candidacy had to be suspended while the court decides on it.

A major operation was launched by the Spanish government last week to ensure that Puigdemont does not make a surprise arrival or try to sneak into the Catalan Parliament.

At one point Guardia Civil officers were filmed checking sewers around the buildings.

Border patrols have been increased and Spanish Home Affairs minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido has said the man who would be president wold not be able to enter the country, even inside the boot of a car.

But Catalan Parliament Speaker, Roger Torrent, has expressed his “discomfort” to Zoido for the “unusual operation”, complaining that he had no prior notification.He said in a letter to the minister: “No communication has been received informing of these measures, nor the reasons to justify this unprecedented display.”