Basque politics set for shake-up after regional vote

2nd March 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Basque Country may have its first non-nationalist leader after the PNV failed to secure an outright majority.

MADRID – Spain's separatist-minded Basque Country faced Monday the possibility of having its first non-nationalist government leader since it gained its own assembly 30 years ago after a weekend vote.

The incumbent Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) gained a seat in Sunday's regional vote to win 30 in the 75-seat assembly, but the three non-nationalist parties in the race claimed a combined majority of 38 seats.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist Party won 24 seats, up from 18, while the conservative Popular Party (PP) captured 13 seats and the UPD party won one seat in the polls in the wealthy region bordering France.

Basque Socialist leader Patxi Lopez refused to concede defeat, and said he hoped to be the new leader of the Basque government.

"We have received the best results in (Basque) elections in our history. I don't renounce presenting my candidature and gathering the necessary support to be the next head of the regional government," he told a cheering crowd of his supporters after the results were announced late on Sunday.

The vice president of the Socialist Party at the national level, Jose Blanco, said the party would seek to form a minority government in the Basque Country.

"This is the scenario that appeals to me most," he told Spanish radio.

While the PP and the Socialists are bitter rivals at the national level, they both opposed the PNV's attempts to hold a referendum on self-determination for the region and they could join forces with the UPD to oust the nationalists.

Lopez could also seek an alliance with the PNV, which often supports the Socialists at the national level where Zapatero is seven seats short of an absolute majority.

But Lopez has clashed with the outgoing head of the Basque government, PNV's Juan Jose Ibarretxe, over his pet project of staging self-determination referendums and an alliance is seen as unlikely unless Ibarretxe were to agree to have no role in the new government.

"The results are a point of inflexion after decades of PNV governments," centre-right daily newspaper El Mundo wrote, adding the election outcome was a "great setback" for Ibarretxe, who has headed the regional government for the past decade.

The parliament that will be formed after Sunday's elections will be the first one where the Basque radical parties linked to the armed separatist group ETA will not be represented.

In February, Spain's Supreme Court banned two pro-independence parties from participating in Sunday's election due to their links to ETA.

In another election in Galicia in the northwest on Sunday, the PP won a governing majority of 39 seats in the 75-seat regional assembly, ousting the incumbent Socialists and their coalition partners, the BNG, from office.

The Socialists won 24 seats and the BNG claimed 12 seats. The two had been in power since 2005.

AFP / Expatica

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