Spain's Basque and Galicia regions to vote

27th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Basque and Galicia regions will hold elections Sunday amid rising unemployment, dip in GDP and increasingly ETA violence.

MADRID – Spain's Basque and Galicia regions hold elections Sunday in which the Madrid government is seeking to gauge its support as the country reels from an economic crisis and Basque separatist violence.

The polls will be the first since national elections in March 2008, in which the Socialist Party of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was re-elected for a second four-year term.

In his first term, Zapatero had made resolving the Basque problem one of his priorities.

But negotiations with the armed Basque separatist organisation ETA failed, and the group resumed its attacks.

It has now killed eight people since the tentative peace process ended with a deadly ETA bombing at Madrid's airport in December 2006, and regularly explodes bombs in the Basque region.

Spain's Supreme Court early this month barred two pro-independence parties from participating in the elections, accusing them of having links to ETA and its banned political arm Batasuna.

ETA responded hours later with its first attack in the Spanish capital since December 2006, setting off a van packed with explosives in the business district. The blast caused extensive damage but no injuries.

Early Monday, another ETA bomb exploded outside the headquarters of the Basque Socialist Party in the town of Lazkao, causing major damage but no injuries.

The bombings raised fears that the regional elections could be marred by further attacks by ETA, which has killed 825 people in its 40-year campaign for an independent Basque homeland.

The polls, in which more than four million people are eligible to take part in the two regions, will also be the first since Spain's once-booming economy officially entered recession last year.

The unemployment rate also soared to 13.9 percent in the last quarter of 2008, the highest in the 27-nation European Union, as the global financial crisis accelerated the end of a decade-long real estate boom.

In Sunday's elections, Zapatero will be seeking to measure the degree of support he has to handle the crisis.

Conservative opposition leader Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party (PP), himself a native of Galicia, will be looking to the polls to gauge his popularity amid party infighting following two consecutive election defeats. A poor showing could lead to renewed calls for his resignation.

Rajoy has focused his criticism of the government on attacks on its "disastrous" economic policies.

But the party may suffer from a corruption scandal involving businessmen with ties to the PP legislators.

In the Basque Country, polls show the moderate centre-right Basque Nationalist Party is at risk of losing its nearly 30-year hold on power in the region to the Basque Socialist Party.

In the rugged northwestern Galicia region, polls indicate the ruling Socialists could be re-elected with a slightly increased majority over the PP.

Main parties contesting Basque elections
Around 1.78 million people are eligible to vote in Sunday's elections to the 75-seat regional parliament in Spain's semi-autonomous northern Basque Country.

Three main parties are taking part, while two pro-independence parties were banned by the Supreme Court for their links to the armed separatist group ETA and its banned political wing Batasuna.
  • The moderate centre-right Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which has led the region since 1980, will be contesting the polls without its traditional ally, the centre-left Eusko Alkartasuna, which is running an independent campaign. The party is led by the head of the regional government, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, whose plans for referendums on self-determination were rejected by the Madrid government. The PNV won 22 seats in the last elections in 2005, and is now neck-and-neck with the Socialists in opinion polls.
  • The Basque Socialist Party, which currently holds 18 seats, hopes to oust the PNV and hold power for the first time since the region achieved its semi-autonomous status in 1979.
  • The centre-right Popular Party, currently the main opposition party in Spain's national parliament in Madrid, risks losing some of its 15 seats. Its leader, Antonio Basagoiti, is running a staunchly anti-nationalist campaign.

Main parties in elections in Spain's Galicia region
Some 2.6 million people, including 335,000 overseas residents, are eligible to vote in elections to the 75-seat regional parliament in Spain's northwestern Galicia region:

Three main parties are contesting the polls:
  • The Socialist Party has led the regional government since 2005 in coalition with the Galician Nationalist Bloc. It is led by Emilio Perez Tourino, who in 2005 became the first Socialist to lead the Galician government in 24 years. Opinion polls indicate the party could improve on its 25 seats and continue to govern.
  • The Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) is expected to hold on to its 13 seats and resume its coalition with the Socialists. Its leader is Anxo Quintana.
  • The centre-right Popular Party, which has 37 seats, held power in the region from 1981 to 2005. Its leader, Alberto Nunez Feijoo, is hoping that Spain's economic crisis will bring it support. Just one more seat will allow it to oust the Socialists and govern the region.
AFP / Expatica

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