Carles Puigdemont could be re-elected as Catalonia's president

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Consequently Puigdemont faces arrest and nearly certain imprisonment if he returns to Spain and as in the case of his former deputy leader, Oriol Junqueras (who has spent over two months in prison), it would be unlikely the Spanish Supreme Court would grant him bail.

JpC won 34 seats in the December 21 regional elections, while ERC won 32 with the radical separatists CUP claiming 4 seats to give pro-Catalan independence forces a majority in the 150 seats Catalan Assembly.

Market-friendly Ciudadanos, which wants Catalonia to remain part of Spain and is led by Ines Arrimadas, gained the largest share of the popular vote but unionist parties did not win enough seats to govern by majority.

Mr Puigdemont said on Tuesday at a videoconference that "it is not possible to return to Catalonia" because of the current legal situation.

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Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called for the Catalan parliament to be formed on January 17.

A spokesman from his Together for Catalonia political platform said that Puigdemont has gained the support of ERC separatists as well.

Separatist parties have an absolute majority of 70 seats out of 135, but eight of their elected officials are either in self-imposed exile in Belgium or in jail in Spain. Puigdemont became the independence movement's leader but is now a fugitive in Belgium.

Junts per Catalunya representative Jordi Xucla told Spanish national radio: "The December 21 result gave us the mandate to reflect the majority". He is likely to be arrested if he returns to Spain, where he faces charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds.

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The other main potential candidate to represent the pro-independence parties would be ERC leader Oriol Junqueras, who is serving a custodial sentence in a Madrid jail.

Many of the Catalan political leaders were arrested on charges of sedition and rebellion after the independence declaration, with three still behind bars pending a trial, while Puigdemont, with four of his cabinet members, fled to Brussels.

Forcadell was a key figure among Catalan leaders who attempted to break away from Spain, a process that culminated with the regional parliament declaring unilateral independence on October 27.

While the anti-secession Ciutadans (Citizens) collected the most votes of any single party, the prime minister's hope that the separatists would suffer a stinging rebuke at the polls went unfulfilled.

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