Monday, April 18, 2005

Basque nationalists win narrow victory in regional elections

Regional elections in Spain.

The Basque nationalist PNV-EA alliance won the elections held in the Basque Region yesterday, but only by a small margin, losing their overall majority. PNV-EA won 29 seats (4 less than in the previous elections), the Socialists came second with 18 seats (an increase of 5 seats), the Popular Party third with 15 seats (compared to 19 in the last elections). The controversial PCTV won an unprecedented 9 seats.

Although Ibarretxe was defiant in his victory speach yesterday, the results are a blow to his party and to his plan for greater autonomy in the Basque region. The regional president repeatedly insinuated that if the Basques gave him their vote in these elections, they would in effect be endorsing Ibarretxe Plan. But what has infact happend is that the PNV-EA have lost 4 seats in the Basque parliament and for the first time in democratic history, the Socialist and Popular Parties have more seats together than the nationalist party and, in theory, could form a minority government together although, given the profound distance and mistrust which exists between them in national politics at the moment, this is unlikely.

Last night both PNV and the Basque socialists claimed victory, but the real surprise of these elections was the low turnout (Basques usually turn out in large numbers to vote in the regional elections, but participation yesterday dropped from 79 percent in 2001 to 69 percent) and the performance of the new Basque Communist Party. The Batasuna party, outlawed because of its ties with ETA, urged its supporters to back the PCTV and yesterday, the communist nationalists outperformed Batasuna's results of 2001 when ETA's political wing won 7 seats.

Prior to the Basque elections, another new policital party, Aukera Guztiak, was banned from participating because of alleged links to Batasuna. When the banned party and Batasuna then encouraged their voters to vote for PCTV, the PP urged Rodriguez Zapatero to force a ban on the communist party, but after holding an investigation, Spain's state lawyers and Fiscal ruled that it was impossible to prove links between the communists and outlawed Batasuna. Spain's Vice President said that in a democratic state, political parties could not be banned from participating in democratic elections on the basis of suspicion. Last night the Popular Party, following its first major setback in Basque elections in recent years, launched a furious attack at the Socialist government, claiming that thanks to the Socialists, ETA were the real winners of these elections.

Ibarretxe could decide to form a minority government, or could even ask the communist party to join him. It is not clear at this stage which option he will pursue. Either way he is going to have to rely on the votes of the PCTV in order to push his policies through regional parliament, and even he will have to admit that his presidency of the Basque government is weaker as a result of these elections. The Basques have not given the Plan Ibarretxe the endorsement he needed to press ahead with his plan.

Basque elections in Spain
Basque independence, parliamentary debate

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