The Catalan Parliament may meet later Thursday but then vote on a declaration of independence on Friday, just as the Spanish Senate approves emergency measures to impose Madrid’s direct rule on Catalonia.
Mr. Puigdemont leads a fragile coalition of separatist parties that control 72 of the 135 seats in the Catalan Parliament.
Last Saturday, Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister of Spain, announced that, using Article 155, he was preparing to take full control over Catalonia’s administration and to replace Mr. Puigdemont, along with Catalonia’s entire separatist leadership, in order to stop the region’s secessionism in its tracks.
The mounting pressures on both men were evident throughout a day of confusion in a crisis that has presented Spain with one of its gravest tests since embracing democracy in 1978.
Mr. Puigdemont clearly hoped that a pre-emptive call for elections would hold off Madrid’s intervention. Earlier on Thursday, the separatist leader scheduled, delayed and then finally canceled a televised address in which he had been expected to take such a move.
His delay was apparently designed to secure a firm pledge from Mr. Rajoy that Madrid would not impose the emergency measures, in return for Mr. Puigdemont’s calling off a unilateral declaration of independence.
But in the time leading up to Mr. Puigdemont’s scheduled lunchtime news conference, with no guarantee forthcoming and word leaking out of his expected move, separatists started gathering outside the Catalan government building to protest the prospect of a U-turn.
Without a guarantee from Madrid, Mr. Puigdemont faced instead broadening descent in his own ranks, with some members of his conservative party announcing that they would quit if the Catalan leaders opted for new elections rather than secession.
That raised the prospect of an internal revolt that could tear apart Mr. Puigdemont’s independence movement.
For more than two weeks, Mr. Puigdemont and Mr. Rajoy had engaged in a game of chicken over whether the Catalan leader was ready to secede unilaterally, following a confusing address to the Catalan Parliament on Oct. 10 in which Mr. Puigdemont appeared to declare independence — only to suspend it a moment later.
The pressures on both leaders have by now become formidable. Mr. Puigdemont risks decades in prison for rebellion should he push ahead with his secessionist plan.
In Madrid, Mr. Rajoy has been under severe pressure from hard-liners in his conservative party not to relent in the effort to snuff out the Catalan rebellion.
Last week, Mr. Puigdemont warned in a letter to Mr. Rajoy that Catalan lawmakers would vote for a declaration of independence if Mr. Rajoy imposed direct rule on their region.
Mr. Rajoy’s call for Article 155 measures — never used before — would allow him to to impose direct rule and to take control of the autonomous region’s police force and broadcaster.
Even before Mr. Puigdemont’s news conference, some were calling him a traitor.
Gabriel Rufián, a Catalan separatist member of the Spanish Parliament, wrote “155 pieces of silver” in a tweet, a reference to Judas’s payment for betraying Jesus in the Bible.
Mr. Puigdemont’s government has been flouting Spain’s Constitution since early September, when separatist lawmakers voted on legislation to hold a binding referendum on independence on Oct. 1 as a key step toward statehood.
An alliance of separatist parties has controlled the Catalan Parliament since 2015, after winning elections, but with only 48 percent of the votes.
After the October vote, Mr. Puigdemont was under intense pressure to declare independence, since Catalans voted for secession in the highly controversial referendum, which was marred by clashes between the Spanish police and Catalan citizens.
The vote, however, took place without legal guarantees and with most Catalan opponents of independence staying away in protest. The referendum was declared illegal by Spain’s government and courts.
This month, a judge from Spain’s national court ordered prison without bail for two leaders of the Catalan independence movement, pending a trial for sedition.
Last weekend, Mr. Rajoy insisted that using Article 155 “was neither our desire nor our intention,” but instead the only way to to return Catalonia to legality and normality and to maintain a Spanish economic recovery “which is now under clear danger because of the capricious and unilateral decisions” of the Catalan separatist government.