The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) will rule Euskadi once again after a four-year hiatus that saw the Socialists in power. Regional elections held on Sunday gave the moderate nationalists 27 out of the 75 seats in the Basque assembly, and the top post of lehendakari to Iñigo Urkullu, whose party has governed the Basque Country throughout most of Spain’s democratic history.
Also celebrating on Sunday night were the radicals of EH Bildu, a broad coalition of separatist parties and members of the former Batasuna, ETA’s outlawed political wing. The group picked up 21 seats, making it the second-largest force in Basque politics.
The big loser of the day was the outgoing lehendakari, Patxi López, whose Socialist Party lost nine seats to the nationalist forces and will have to make do with just 16 representatives in the regional parliament.
The EH Bildu candidate said her party will “support the right to choose”
The conservative Popular Party (PP) also lost ground, taking 10 seats compared with the 13 it won in 2009. The middle-of-the-road, non-nationalist UPyD held on to its solitary seat.
It was precisely the unlikely partnership of the Socialists and the Popular Party, aimed at keeping nationalism at bay during the last term, that experts feel hurt López the most at the polls. Voters also failed to fully appreciate how the outgoing premier had taken a firm stand against the central government’s austerity cuts and had instead maintained the welfare state in the northern region. Sunday’s vote was otherwise significant because these were the first regional elections without the threat of ETA violence — the terrorist group has not disbanded yet, but has pledged not to kill again — and with radical pro-sovereignty parties also in the running.
Until now, Bildu had only been allowed to run in local elections, which saw it do extremely well last year. It should be noted, however, that the group’s year in government in cities such as San Sebastián has resulted in noticeably worse results for Bildu in these locations.
EH Bildu’s top candidate, Laura Mintegi, said that this new political term will require “broad consensus” among all political groups, but stressed that the party’s goal will be to “support the right to choose,” in contrast with parties that “follow impositions from Madrid.” Although the PNV celebrated its 27-seat victory, it is also keenly aware that results were slightly worse than in 2009, when it won 30 seats (it was the joint 38 seats of the PP-Socialist partnership that prevented it from gaining power). This means that some of their voters have instead turned to EH Bildu, which is now its main competitor.
Urkullu, who won these elections on the strength of a nationalist discourse that had been toned down compared with the rhetoric of his predecessor, Juan José Ibarretxe, is expected to make consensus-seeking the linchpin of his program over the next four years. However, nobody at party headquarters expressed any desire to reach a partnership with EH Bildu, which is already viewed as an enemy. Instead, agreements with the Socialists on specific issues could well be an option.