Spain’s ban on radical nationalist Basque parties adds unpredictability to March election Commentary
Spain’s ban on radical nationalist Basque parties adds unpredictability to March election
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Manuel Alvarez-Rivera [Election Resources on the Internet]: "When voters in Spain's Basque Country go to the polls next March 1st to elect members of the self-governing community's 75-seat regional parliament, they will have a choice of fifteen parties taking part in the contest. However, for the first time since the region regained its devolved government in 1979-80, following the restoration of democracy in Spain, radical nationalist parties will not be among those choices: last Thursday the Constitutional Court of Spain confirmed an earlier Supreme Court ruling which nullified the candidate lists submitted by Askatasuna and Demokrazia 3 Milioi (D3M).

Under the terms of Section 44 of Spain's electoral law [PDF file], as amended by the 2002 Political Parties Law, "no candidates can be presented by groupings of electors who can be deemed practically a continuation of or succession to the activity of a political party that has been judicially pronounced illegal and dissolved or suspended," and both parties were banned on the grounds of being the successors of Batasuna, previously banned in 2003 because of its close links to the ETA terrorist group, which seeks independence for the Basque Country. Nonetheless, the Political Parties Law's provisions remain controversial, especially in the Basque Country – where five radical nationalist parties have already been banned – and a report [PDF file] issued by the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms raises concerns that the broadly worded provisions of the law could be used against parties that peacefully pursue the same goals as a terrorist organization. Amnesty International expressed similar concerns when the law was enacted seven years ago.

The Basque Country's party system has been characterized by the presence of several sizable nationalist parties in competition with Spain's nationwide parties. Since the re-establishment of democracy in 1977, the conservative Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ-PNV) has been the region's dominant political force, and the party – which wants the Basque Country to become a quasi-independent "free associated state" of Spain – has presided over every Basque government since 1980. However, while Basque nationalist parties have won an overall majority of seats in every regional election over the course of the last three decades, PNV has never held an absolute majority in the Basque Parliament (elected by proportional representation), and the party has usually ruled in coalition with other parties. Since 2001, the Basque Nationalist Party-led ruling alliance includes Basque Solidarity (EA; a 1986 PNV offshoot) and Ezker Batua (EB), the Basque counterpart of Spain's Communist-led United Left (IU). Meanwhile, successive radical nationalist parties have captured on average about 15% of the vote in Basque parliamentary elections, and the radical deputies' absence from or abstention in the Basque legislature has often proved to be crucial, allowing the Basque Nationalist Party and its allies to secure a parliamentary majority.

In response to the court ruling, D3M is calling on its followers to spoil their ballots, rather than support any of the other Basque nationalist parties taking part in the election. While some radical nationalists may turn to the small, left-wing Aralar party (which also advocates Basque independence but condemns ETA's violent methods), the nationalist parties could nonetheless fall short of a joint majority in the Basque Parliament for the first time since self-government was re-established three decades ago. A recent opinion poll [PDF file] carried out by Spain's Sociological Research Center (CIS) indicates that the region's main non-nationalist parties, the Basque Socialist Party-Basque Left (PSE-EE) – the Basque branch of Spain's ruling, center-left Socialist Party (PSOE) – and the right-of-center People's Party (PP; Spain's largest opposition party) may just win an overall parliamentary majority in the upcoming election; the poll also has PSE-EE just one to two seats behind PNV.

That said, a coalition government of PSE-EE and PP is favored by few Basque voters, and regarded as rather unlikely because the two parties remain bitter rivals at the national level. According to the CIS poll, a narrow plurality of voters prefers a coalition of the Basque Socialists with the Basque Nationalist Party; the two parties previously formed coalition governments in the region from 1986 to 1990, and again from 1991 to 1998. Nonetheless, the poll indicates that as much as 43% of the Basque electorate remains undecided, and with as many as seven parties likely to attain parliamentary representation – EAJ-PNV, PSE-EE/PSOE, PP, EA, IU-EB, Aralar and (possibly) the non-nationalist, left-of-center Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD) – it remains difficult to predict what kind of government will emerge from the upcoming vote."

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