By Sam Edwards
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Catalan secessionist parties are likely to fail for a third time to elect a new regional head on Thursday after the far-left group CUP said it would abstain in a vote of confidence.
But if even Jordi Turull does not get enough support, the act of holding the vote - if it does take place after several false starts - begins a two month countdown on installing a new regional president or failing that a new Catalan election should be held.
The parties seeking a split from Spain decided on Wednesday night to put forward Turull, a member of the previous regional administration, for the position. The confidence vote is due to be held on Thursday night.
The abstention of CUP means Turull cannot win an absolute majority. He could still be elected in a second vote within 48 hours when only a simple majority of votes - more yes than no - is needed but it is unclear whether this will happen.
Catalonia has been in political limbo since an election called by Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in December in an attempt to derail an independence movement. The plan backfired as parties favoring a split with Spain won the vote.
Madrid invoked special powers to take over the regional government after the Catalan administration declared independence in October. The wealthy, populous region has been ruled directly by Madrid ever since.
Turull was briefly held in custody on charges of rebellion and sedition after his involvement in the independence push in October. He was released on bail after accepting the central government's control over the region but still faces the prospect of a trial.
He and other secessionist leaders are due to appear before the Supreme Court on Friday morning for the opening of a new phase in the investigation which leads to a trial.
The judge could declare him ineligible or even send him back to jail if he concludes that there is enough early evidence that he committed those crimes.
The central government has also made it clear it would stop any candidate who has taken part to the secessionist drive from taking office.
Former regional head Carles Puigdemont, who is in self-imposed exile in Brussels, and Jordi Sanchez, a leader of a prominent grassroots group who is in jail over his role in the illegal campaign to split from Spain, have both withdrawn their bids because they could not attend a swearing-in session.
(Writing by Julien Toyer; Editing by Alison Williams)