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INTERVIEW

"There must be political and social consensus for a Basque referendum"

The EH Bildu candidate for 'lehendakari,' Laura Mintegi, discusses her pro-sovereignty stance

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Laura Mintegi is running for regional premier for the newly formed EH Bildu coalition. EL PAÍS

As voters gear up to go to the polls in the Basque Country this coming Sunday, the latest surveys show that the newly formed EH Bildu coalition, with Laura Mintegi at the head of its list of candidates, could become the second-largest political force in the region, overtaking the Socialists and the Popular Party.

The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) stands to win up to 27 seats in the 75-member parliament while Mintegi's radical left coalition could make its debut in the regional legislature with anywhere from 21 to 25 seats, according to four different polls, including one taken by the Basque government.

To defeat any attempts by the Socialists and the PP from trying to form another partnership government - even though the one they formed in 2009 fell apart earlier this year - the best scenario that could come out of Sunday's race may be an eventual EH Bildu-PNV joint administration for the region.

But while many in the radical abertzale left are keen to jump-start the drive for independence, Mintegi wants voters to know that she isn't planning on taking a radical route similar to the one taking shape in Catalonia, where Artur Mas' Catalan nationalist CiU bloc insists on holding a referendum as early as next year, much to Madrid's dismay. The 57-year-old Navarre native and lehendakari candidate wants to ensure that any such process is backed by international law and has the support of the Spanish government.

There are different formulas one can use to organize a referendum"

"There are different formulas one can use to organize a referendum on sovereignty," she said in a recent EL PAÍS interview. "What I would like to see is the international right we have put into practice, which is recognized under the UN Human Rights charter and that is also supported by the Spanish state. I want to see that possibility being put into action."

Mintegi said that to reach that stage there must be consensus among all the political parties and sectors.

"This is more of a technical question than it is a political one. It will be necessary to seek broad agreements that cover an ample majority. Rather than surrounding myself with strict and limited mathematics, what we have to look for is the support of all forces - not just political ones, but the social, labor and economic sectors as well as all the citizens."

In recent days, the Popular Party (PP) candidate for regional premier, Antonio Basagoiti, has been warning voters about the rise of nationalism and an alleged "secret" plan by PNV leader Iñigo Urkullu to push through a referendum, such as the one being proposed in Catalonia, once he reaches office. Basagoiti said that the independence drive will have serious political and economic consequences, not only for the Basque County, but for Spain as a whole.

In my campaign, I am addressing all the consequences of the ETA conflict"

The Socialists, meanwhile, have been taking a tepid position, trying not to draw parallels between Urkullu and Mas, who appears to be angering central government more each day by insisting on holding a sovereignty vote in his northeastern region - with or without Madrid's authorization. Spain's Constitution does not allow a region to stage such a plebiscite.

The EH Bildu platform does not mention whether or not it supports holding a referendum next term, but it does address the right to self-determination without offering any specific timeframe. Nevertheless, Mintegi, who describes her EH Bildu coalition as a "pro-sovereignty and leftist force," said that a recent Euskobarómetro poll shows that 48 percent of Basque Country residents support "working toward" holding a referendum. Most of those who favor it describe themselves as pro-independence advocates, while others support greater autonomy for the region.

She is also confident EH Bildu will be able to work with the PNV and "come up with sufficient alliances [with the nationalists] at all levels to form a majority" government. "We are going to be in the middle of all the majority formations in this region," she said, adding that it is not incompatible to support nationalist and leftist platforms at the same time.

On the issue of terrorism, Mintegi has insisted throughout this campaign that ETA will no longer launch attacks. It has been nearly a year since the Basque terrorist group declared a cease in hostilities.

She supports the framework that came out of the of the international peace conference last October held in San Sebastián, which included, among other things, a call for ETA to abandon violence, and agreements between ETA and Spain and France that address the handing over of weapons and prison transfer or amnesty for some inmates.

The EH Bildu platform addresses the release of "political prisoners" but Mintegi insists that her coalition has not forgotten about ETA victims. "In my campaign, I am addressing all the consequences of the conflict. I am speaking about the inmates, the victims and the need to arrive at that moment in which all the consequences of the armed conflict are done with, including the turning over of weapons. And I am addressing all of these issues at the same time without excluding any one of them.

"The abertzale left is not directly responsible for the political conflict in this country. In a conflict where there are two sides that have doled out great doses of violence, responsibility must be shared," she said.