MADRID (Reuters) - Spain will continue to rule the regional administration of Catalonia directly from Madrid in the event that its self-exiled former leader Carles Puigdemont is chosen as president by the Catalan parliament, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Monday.
Puigdemont fled to Brussels in October after Rajoy fired him as Catalonia's leader when he declared an independent republic following an illegal referendum. He faces arrest and possibly decades in jail if he returns to Spain.
With only days before Catalonia's parliament convenes to elect a new regional government, separatists said Puigdemont was their candidate to lead the region again. They are exploring the possibility he could do so by video link from Brussels.
But Rajoy on Monday poured scorn on the idea.
"It's absurd that someone aspires to be president of the Catalan regional government as a fugitive in Brussels - it's a case of common sense," he said in a speech at his center-right People's Party (PP) Madrid headquarters.
If Puigdemont tried to attend the parliamentary vote for a new head of region from Brussels, the Spanish government would challenge his appearance immediately in the courts, he said.
Rajoy said if Puigdemont was re-elected, constitutional powers invoked by the government in October to impose direct rule on the region would continue to apply.
Rajoy had called regional elections in December to try and resolve the political crisis that led to an exodus of companies from the region.
However, the election returned a slim majority to parties favoring independence, raising the possibility of a renewed push for a split from Spain this year.
The parliament will meet for the first time on Jan. 17 to choose the committee that rules its day-to-day activities. A new leader could be voted in by parliament as early as Jan. 31.
(Reporting by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Richard Balmforth)