Monday, April 18, 2005

THE BASQUE ELECTIONS were held yesterday, and the results will make the political life there even more 'interesting': on one hand, the region PM Ibarretxe -for whom the elections were almost a kind of referendum on his secessionist plan- got fewer seats than expected, and is even further from an absolute majority (50% + 1 seat). The good news is that since he won't have an absolute mayority he will have to negotiate; the bad news is that he'll probably will, but with the party to which it seems his more ultra-nationalist went to: the Communist Party of the Basque Lands, a ultra-leftist, pro-independence party who got endorsed by Batasuna, the party which had been banned for its ties to ETA terrorism.

More comment over at Spain Herald:
With their 29 seats, the PNV-EA coalition won. The Basque Socialists (PSE-EE) were second with 18, and the People's Party was third with 15. Then came the PCTV with 9, EB (non-ETA traditional Communists) with 3, and Aralar 1. The PNV-EA-EB troika which has governed the Basque region over the last four years did not reach an absolute majority, with 32 seats of the 38 necessary to govern; a hypothetical constitutionalist PP-Socialist coalition would have 33 seats. Also, a possible PNV-Socialist coalition would be able to govern comfortably, with 47 seats.

The PNV lost four seats over the last election, the PSE gained 5, the PP lost 4, Batasuna-PCTV gained two, EB stayed the same, Aralar (a split off Batasuna-PCTV) gained one, as it had never been represented before. Unidad Alavesa lost its seat. Voter turnout was 69%, ten points lower than four years ago.
The Financial Times sees trouble ahead for Zapatero:
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's long honeymoon with Spain may have come to an end yesterday, the anniversary of his first year in power and the day Basques voted for a new regional government.

The Socialist premier intervened late in the campaign, asking Spain's 1.8m Basque voters to oust the nationalist coalition that has ruled the turbulent region for the past 25 years.

This is the first election in which the Basque Nationalist party has openly campaigned for independence, an issue that has divided Basque society and which has sewn mistrust between Basque leaders and the rest of Spain.

Up to now, Mr Zapatero has adopted a conciliatory stance, rejecting secession but offering talks on more self-government.

Basque nationalists, however, have turned the regional election into a plebiscite on an independence plan, named after Juan José Ibarretxe, the regional president. "The future of the Basque country will be decided here," Mr Ibarretxe promised at the close of the campaign, as supporters chanted: "Independence, independence."

If Mr Ibarretxe's nationalists retain control of the regional parliament, it will be difficult for Mr Zapatero to remain Spain's Mr Nice Guy, says Gabriel Elorriaga, spokesman for the opposition Popular party.

"Zapatero remains hugely popular, but only because he has avoided all the tough issues, at home and abroad," Mr Elorriaga says.

The toughest issue is how he will hold Spain together.

"Spaniards see problems looming in the Basque country and in Catalonia and they are confused by Zapatero's stance," says Victor Pérez Díaz, a sociologist. "Does he want to appease nationalists because the Socialist party does not have a majority in parliament and needs their support to govern in Madrid? Where will he draw the line? There is a danger that the Basque question will become a huge black hole, consuming public energy to the detriment of all other problems." The Basque elections, Mr Pérez Díaz says, may be Mr Zapatero's moment of truth.

If that is so, the 44-year-old premier, who was catapulted to office three days after the March 11 train bombings in Madrid, does not appear to be unduly troubled.

"I thought this business of governing would be complicated," Mr Zapatero was overheard telling a friend, "but really, I've got it licked."
Sad thing, I don't think he was joking; it's very like him to genuinely believe things like these, which is a problem when what he says is so deeply disconnected with reality: people hadn't been so emotionally divided in this country since the restoration of democracy after Franco dictatorship (no relation! my "Franco" is not a surname): during the transition, everybody put their differences behind (both the poeple coming from Franco regime and Socialists communists in opposition or exile) in order to reduce the risk that the still frail process would not succeed. Not that democracy, or at least formal democracy, is consolidated, Zapatero and his guys want to do something that his predecessors (namely, former PM Socialist Felipe Gonzalez) never did: to take revenge for the past. He like to say that he's for dialogue and tolerance, but the truth is that he only listens and tolerates people who already agree with him. He has never tried to reach a wide range consensus with the opposition in crucial matters as the devolution, security or important legislative reforms which he has been pushing through, disregarding the voices of official consulting bodies whose oppinion, though not mandatory, had always been listened to in the past, both by conservative and socialist governments.

But at least when he speaks, Zapatero almost sounds as these naive religious people who ventured into Africa saying, "don't worry, we'll be fine; they'll never do us anything bad, after all we're only trying to convert them to Christianity". Yes, the guys who invariably ended up beeing roosted and eaten by natives. The bad thing is that he's not only gambling himself; he's playing with fire on behalf of the whole country.