Basques back pro-sovereignty parties in challenge to Madrid government

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  By a Newsnet reporter

Parties supporting Basque independence or Basque sovereignty have won a clear victory in Sunday’s elections to the Basque parliament, according to exit polls.  With 75% of the votes counted the Basque nationalist PNV (Partido Nacionalista Vasco) was set to win with 27 seats, three less than in the previous elections, compared with 21 seats for Bildu, a left wing pro-independence party, 16 seats for the Socialist Party and 10 seats for the Partido Popular, the party of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The big winners were Bildu (‘gather’ in Basque), a left-nationalist (‘abertzale’ in Basque) grouping set up in 2011.  Winning 21 seats compared to the combined total of 5 seats shared between the predecessor parties Aralar and Eusko Alkartasuna, the result was less than predicted by some opinion polls, but still represents a strong advance for parties which openly seek Basque independence.  The PNV is far more cautious in its challenges to the Spanish Constitution, which rules that no part of Spain has the right to self-determination.

Bildu is a coalition of the left wing independence supporting Eusko Alkartasuna, Aralar, Alternatiba (a splinter group of Ezker Batua) and independent individuals previously associated with the outlawed Basque leftist-nationalist Batasuna party, claimed to be the political wing of ETA.  Bildu was formed after ETA renounced violence.  

The results mean that nationalists will comprise a large absolute majority in the new Basque legislature, and gives Basque nationalists their greatest ever presence since the Parliament was established in 1980.  The Basques are closely following events in Catalonia and Scotland, and the electoral boost to the PNV and Bildu is likely to strengthen calls from the Basque Country for independence from Spain.

The big losers were the Basque branch of the Spanish Socialists, who had previously been the largest party and headed the ruling coalition.  Losing 9 of their seats and over one third of their total vote share, the party will now be only the third largest in the Basque Parliament.  The party has been in crisis since losing the Spanish General Elections to the Partido Popular in 2011.  Under their Basque leader Patxi Lopéz, the Socialists took a hard line against nationalist measures and relations with the PNV are poor.  

The Partido Popular also performed poorly, losing three of their 13 seats and being relegated to fourth place in the new parliament.

However the Spanish Government of Mr Rajoy can take some comfort from results for the Galician elections, also held on Sunday.  Although like the Basque Country and Catalonia, Galicia has its own language and culture, support for independence is far lower there.  Galicia is noted as a stronghold of Mr Rajoy’s Partido Popular.  Mr Rajoy is himself a native of Galicia.  The PP has ruled in Galicia for 24 of the past 31 years and enjoyed an absolute majority in A Xunta, the Galician Parliament.  According to exit polls, the PP looks set to retain its absolute majority and may even increase the number of seats it holds.