Wednesday, February 02, 2005

THE BASQUE SECESSIONIST "Ibarretxe Plan" was discussed, and defeated 313-29 in Madrid's parliament yesterday:
Spain's parliament overwhelmingly rejected a plan early Wednesday to give near total independence to the Basque region, following a lengthy floor debate in which the president of the restive region made the case for the step.

Juan Jose Ibarretxe, the Basque leader, watched as the legislators, including Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, rejected the plan 313 to 29 as unconstitutional and contrary to the will of most Spaniards. There were two abstentions.

"If we live together, we should decide together," Zapatero told Ibarretxe during the 7 1/2-hour session in parliament, which was conducted under tight security at a time of heightened public interest in the issue.

Ibarretxe, the first regional president to be allowed to take part in a national parliament debate, calls the plan the only way to end more than three decades of bombings and assassinations by the separatist group ETA.
To fully comprehend this you have to know that the plan was supported by Ibarretxe's party AND Batasuna, a party outlawed, and in both EU and US official lists of terrorist organizations, for its ties to terrorist group ETA (the assemblymen still keep their seats until the next election because they won them while they were still legal, and cannot be stripped from them). Therefore yes, one can assume that if the plan were passed, violence would end. Just as if you pay a big enough sum to that misterious gentleman with an Italian accent sporting a dark suit, your little restaurant might be safe, if you know what I mean.

Next step? Well, for starters:
Ahead of the crushing no-vote Mr Ibarretxe said in reply to speeches by mainstream party leaders he would press ahead with plans for a referendum in the Basque country on his autonomy scheme, regardless of whether parliament in Madrid rejected it.
But before that,
Ibarretxe called an emergency meeting of the Basque government on Wednesday to discuss the rejection of his plan, amid speculation he would bring forward elections due for May.

"In the coming hours and days many things will be clarified and important decisions will be taken," Juan Maria Atutxa, president of the Basque parliament, told regional radio. "This has only just begun and we have a lot of stages before us."

A referendum would only be held after the regional poll if Ibarretxe is re-elected, nationalist politicians say.

Zapatero is counting on winning that regional election, so the whole thing would be de-activated. However, what he did was to hand Ibarretxe a great campaigning platform, which he will use if he calls for elections today. This is why I wrote that it was a bad decision by Zapatero to choose the parliament to reject the plan. It would have been much wiser to take the issue to the Constitutional court, being as it is -Zap himself says it- a blatantly unconstitutional plan. So the rejection would have been 'technical', legal rather than a politicial one that handles Ibarretxe the possibility of playing victim ("see? the Spaniards crush our ambitions"). Besides, it's a bit of a corruption of the Parliamentary system: since when do parliaments discuss patently illegal issues, even if it's clear they will say no? What's next, discussing the merits of a proposal about the separation of whites and blacks? Zapatero boasts he's tolerant and likes to discuss things rather than saying no on the spot, but dialog over illegal things, especially in parliament, means giving some issues the legitimacy they don't deserve.

Some explanation of this is that, as Reuters says in the previous link, "Zapatero cannot afford to alienate regional allies in wealthy Catalonia, who support the Socialists in power there but are also pressing for far more autonomy from Madrid." So he's really walking the tightrope.

More information: CNN, San Francisco Chronicle (make sure you don't miss this one, because it describes the atmosphere of violence in which any opponent of the Ibarretxe plan has to live in; no vote, no referendum would be really free, it's like a small Sunni triangle!), BBC and the Associated Press.

UPDATE. Rumours confirmed; Ibarretxe has called for early elections, on April 17 (no link yet).