The speaker of the separatist-controlled regional parliament, Roger Torrent, formally proposed Jordi Sanchez, 53, as a candidate, the body said in a statement.
Sanchez is considered to have little chance of taking up the post since he is remanded in custody pending accusations of sedition over last year's Catalan independence crisis.
Sanchez's name was put forward after the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who is in exile in Belgium, pulled out last week in an attempt to unblock the political impasse.
In Puigdemont's absence, the parliament said Sanchez was the candidate “who has the most support”.
Sanchez is the former head of the Catalan National Assembly, a powerful pro-independence civil group.
The separatists' push for independence plunged Spain into political crisis last year.
The Spanish government imposed direct rule over the region on October 27th after the Catalan parliament unilaterally declared independence.
Direct rule is due to last until the region elects a new president. Madrid has vowed to resist any bid to break the region away from Spain.