Spain's Health Minister quits in order to run for regional Catalan elections

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Spain's Health Minister quits in order to run for regional Catalan elections
Photo: AFP

Spain's Health Minister Salvador Illa will leave his job on Tuesday to run for the regional Catalan elections scheduled on February 14th, the Prime Minister’s office confirmed on Monday.


“Salvador Illa starts today his last 24 hours at the helm of the ministry,” the statement said. “Tomorrow Tuesday will be his last cabinet meeting and his replacement will be disclosed.”

Illa has been the face of Spain's battle against coronavirus after being appointed health minister in the government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, which came into power a year ago. 

He gained visibility for coordinating the fight against the virus, with near-daily TV appearances to update the nation on the situation.

The 54-year-old, who hails from the northeastern Catalonia region, will run at the head of the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC), the local branch of Sanchez's Socialist party, when regional elections take place on February 14th.

There was no official word on who would replace Illa, but media reports point to Carolina Darias, who is currently minister for territorial policy and civil service as a strong contendor.   

Darias has worked closely with Illa and the regions, which are responsible for managing their own health policy, throughout the pandemic.   


In a statement, the Socialist Party hailed Illa's "tireless and crucial

Illa's candidature came as a surprise when it was announced in December after Miquel Iceta, who headed the
list in Catalonia, decided to step back.

The vote, Catalonia's fifth election in 10 years, is being held a year ahead of schedule because the region's separatist leader Quim Torra was barred last year by the courts from holding public office.

Bitter divide

The Socialists are hoping Illa will improve their showing in the elections after only securing 17 of the regional parliament's 135 seats during the last poll three years ago.

They are also hoping to take advantage of the bitter divide between the region's ruling separatist parties, which have been at loggerheads over strategy since the failed independence bid of October 2017.

Catalonia's 7.5 million people are split over independence, with the latest opinion poll by a Catalan polling firm showing 49.9 percent against and 45.1 percent in favour.

Polls predict the separatist parties will once again win a majority in the Catalan parliament.

But they suggest a close fight between the two ruling parties: Torra's "Together for Catalonia," which has adopted a more hardline stance, and the leftist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), which has erred on the side of moderation and dialogue with Madrid.

With a serious demeanour and trademark black-framed glasses, Illa previously served as mayor of La Roca del Valles, his hometown, between 1995 and 2005, before going on to hold various posts in the regional government.

He holds a degree in philosophy and since 2016, has served as number two within the Socialist Party of Catalonia.




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