Pro-independence Basque leader’s candidacy blocked

Electoral body in Spanish region says Arnaldo Otegi cannot run due to Eta conviction

An electoral authority has ruled that Basque separatist politician Arnaldo Otegi cannot run as a candidate in an upcoming regional election due to a conviction against him for links to the terrorist group Eta.

The electoral board in the Basque province of Gipúzkoa informed the EH Bildu pro-independence coalition, which Mr Otegi heads, of its decision on Wednesday after all five of its members had voted against his eligibility.

Mr Otegi has served several prison terms related to his involvement in the Basque radical left movement. In March, he completed a six-year spell in jail for having attempted to reform Batasuna, the outlawed political wing of Eta, on the orders of the terrorist group itself.


That sentence also saw him barred from running for elected office until 2021, meaning the electoral board’s decision came as little surprise ahead of the September 25th Basque election.


“We won’t accept that the state says who can and who can’t represent the Basque people,” he said in a television interview following the ruling.

EH Bildu has been exploiting the image of the charismatic Mr Otegi in the build-up to the election campaign. One of its election posters has a large picture of the 58-year-old politician, next to the slogan: “It’s time to get back on the field and give all.”

Although the decision to bar him is not definitive, it has drawn a divisive response.

“This is very good news,” said Fernando Martínez Maíllo of the governing Popular Party, who described Mr Otegi as “a terrorist”.

But Pablo Iglesias, leader of the leftist Podemos party, tweeted: "Basques are the ones who should decide who represents them in parliament." Mr Iglesias is one of many politicians, including Desmond Tutu and Gerry Adams, who voiced opposition to Mr Otegi's most recent jail sentence, seeing it a politically motivated.


EH Bildu plans to appeal against the electoral board’s ruling, a process which could dominate the build-up to the election itself.

The Basque election will take place almost exactly five years after Eta announced a definitive ceasefire – which Mr Otegi was widely credited with encouraging. The group has not killed since then, but the Spanish government has rejected both its timid attempts to hand over weapons and calls by Basque nationalists for a formal peace process.

"Otegi's return to politics is what the Basque country most needed in order to normalise the end of violence," said Carles Campuzano of the Catalan Democratic Party.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain