Basque vote crucial for Spain's nationalists
15 April 2005, BILBAO-Voters go to the polls on Sunday in Spain's northern Basque region, with the ruling moderate nationalists expected to win a clear victory.
15 April 2005
BILBAO-Voters go to the polls on Sunday in Spain's northern Basque region, with the ruling moderate nationalists expected to win a clear victory.
But the nationalist vote is split, with moderates pit against pro-independence hardliners who believe that the prospect of more autonomy does not go far enough.
Looking on all from other parts of Spain will be nationalists in other regions, such as Catalonia in the north east, where there is a substantial pro-independence constituency.
How the vote goes could have important implications for their ambitions for greater devolution from Madrid.
With Spanish courts having banned hard-line pro-independence Basque parties from fielding candidates, opinion polls going into the final week of the contest showed the ruling moderate nationalist coalition heading for an absolute majority.
The banning of the pro-independence list Aukera Guztiak, on the grounds that it is deemed too close to ETA, infuriated the vocal fringe of the pro-independence electorate, already angry at the banning two years ago of Batasuna, the political wing of ETA.
A spate of recent arrests in Spain and France has in the meantime seriously weakened ETA.
The absence from the poll of both Batasuna and Aukera Guztiak initially looked set to be a boon for the ruling coalition dominated by the Nationalist Basque Party (PNV) of regional government head Juan Jose Ibarretxe.
Ibarretxe is the author of a controversial plan to upgrade existing substantial autonomy from Madrid to "free association" status, but Spain's mainstream parties have firmly rejected the plan.
Most Basques seem disillusioned with the Ibarretxe plan and he is expected to ditch it himself after the election.
Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has offered political reform in return for a "road map" disavowing violence, promising that if two thirds of the Basque parliament backed him, he would support upgraded autonomy.
He said: "I am convinced that most of Euskadi (the Basque country) wants to take this opportunity to do away with years of confrontation, to enter a new era.
"In my view, an end to violence is closer than ever,"
One wildcard on the ballot sheet is the Communist Party of Basque Lands (PCTV) which has been backed by Batasuna.
They may take hard-line votes.
Crucial now to the outcome is the strength in terms of seats of that electorate in one of Europe's richest regions.
Batasuna won seven seats in the regional assembly in Vitoria 2001, but four years earlier swept up 14 seats for its best ever score.
Significantly, ETA was at the time in the early weeks of a ceasefire.
Should the hardline constituency prove as large Sunday then the PNV and its allies, Eusko Alkartasuna (EA) and the Basque section of the ecologist and pro-communist United Left (IU-EB), could miss their absolute majority, casting doubt on their ability to execute the Ibarretxe Plan.
[Copyright EFE with Expatica]
Subject: Spanish news