Basque elections


THE LEADER of the Basque section of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), Patxi López, can take pride in winning his party’s best results in last Sunday’s Basque elections, with 24 seats in the 75-seat autonomous parliament. On paper, this puts him in place, by just one vote, to become the next Lehendakari, or first minister, with the backing – already promised – of the conservative Partido Popular (PP) and another party. This position has been held by the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) since 1980 when autonomous institutions were re-established.

However, the current PNV leader and outgoing Lehendakari, Juan José Ibarretxe, can also feel vindicated by Sunday’s results, in that his party remains the biggest in the parliament, with 30 seats. It is the collapse in support for Ibarretxe’s former coalition allies, two small nationalist and left parties, which leaves him one seat short of a fourth term in office.

There is another factor in his newly vulnerable position. The Spanish Political Parties’ law has excluded from this election for the first time all groups which fail to condemn acts of terrorism by Eta. Previously, parties like Batasuna – now banned – propped up Ibarretxe’s administrations.

The banning of political parties, of whatever stripe, casts a shadow on Spanish democracy over which a UN rapporteur recently expressed concern. The counter argument, that cheerleaders for a terrorist group have no place in a parliament, carries considerable weight. But the cost to legitimacy incurred by disenfranchising many thousands of voters may well be heavier still.

If circumstances were different in the Basque Country, a full change of government would be refreshing. But, the prospect of López as first minister, with support from a PP which shows little or no empathy with Basque culture and identity, is deeply unpopular with the electorate, according to opinion polls.

A much more stable option would be a coalition between the PNV and PSOE, in which Ibarretxe would probably take the top job. López’s party, which includes people with strong senses of both Basque and Spanish identity, could curb the PNV’s disturbing tendency to identify Basque nationality with support for its ideology.

Such a bridge-building administration would avoid the “train crash” which many fear might result from a Basque government with no Basque nationalist partners. By including Aralar, a small but growing pro-independence party which rejects terrorism, it would offer channels for more radicals to come in from the cold.