Spain's government on Wednesday stepped in to block Carles Puigdemont from being re-appointed president of Catalonia, pressuring the separatist camp to pick another candidate and form a regional government after months of limbo.
Madrid successfully requested the Constitutional Court to cancel a reform voted for last week by Catalonia's majority separatist parliament that would allow Puigdemont -- currently in self-exile abroad -- to be appointed president without having to be present.
The court announced on Wednesday evening it had ruled "admissible the appeal of the government" and suspended the reform, which had been temporarily blocked while the court deliberated.
Government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said earlier the Catalan parliament would not be able to call a session to appoint Puigdemont "at the risk of committing the offence of disobedience".
Puigdemont's allies had announced Saturday they would try and have him appointed by May 14.
But they also recognised that if they couldn't, they would pick an alternative candidate to unblock the political impasse in Catalonia, which was put under direct rule by Madrid on October 27 after a failed secession bid.
That day, Rajoy also sacked Puigdemont and all his ministers after the regional parliament declared independence following a referendum that wasn't sanctioned by Madrid and was banned by the courts.
He also called snap regional elections for December 21, which separatist parties went on to win, once again getting an absolute majority in parliament.
By then, Puigdemont had already left for Belgium in self-imposed exile.
But since then, all candidates proposed by the separatist camp to lead Catalonia have fallen flat, as they are either abroad and wanted by Spain, or already in prison, charged with rebellion.
Critics of the independence camp have charged they are merely dragging the process out to try and garner sympathy.
Speaking in the Senate on Tuesday, Rajoy slammed the separatists' attempts to have Puigdemont re-appointed.
He accused them of "having put Catalan politics in an absurd loop in which the personal interests of one person -- just one -- are placed before the collective project of an entire society".
Catalan separatists, however, say Puigdemont is their legitimate leader as his Together for Catalonia grouping received the most votes out of all separatist parties in the December elections.
They also say the rebellion charge against him and others is disproportionate, and describe those already in jail in Spain -- like former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras -- as "political prisoners".
Puigdemont is currently in Germany after being detained there in March on a European arrest warrant against him issued by Spain. He was later released on bail.
Catalonia's ousted leader Carles Puigdemont attends a meeting with members of the Catalan political platform "Junts per Catalunya" in Berlin on April 18, 2018