Friday, May 18, 2007

The Nearly Legal Party

The court hearings to pronounce on alleged links between candidates for the municipal elections and the illegalised political wing of ETA, Batasuna, turned out much as expected when I wrote about this issue at the beginning of the month. The Supreme Court decided to accept the recommendations of the state prosecutors and disallow all of the candidates presented under the name of Abertzale Sozialisten Batasuna, in what was a fairly open attempt by Batasuna to rebadge themselves under another name. The court also went along with the prosecutors on the candidacies presented by Acción Nacionalista Vasca (ANV), and banned around half of their candidates.

The latter decision is much less straightforward, ANV has been around since before the Spanish Civil War and is an entirely legal organisation even if it has not previously demonstrated much interest in presenting hundreds of candidates in local elections. The inconsistent nature of these decisions is evident. One obvious question that gets asked is how the party can itself be legal if half of its candidates are not? Or looking at the issue from the other side, how can you ban any candidates at all for a political party if the organisation itself is legal? The prosecutors presented a fairly arbitrary criteria for the judges to make their decision, any local list with more than three candidates judged to be linked in some way to Batasuna was said to be invalid, all others were accepted. Whilst this obviously makes the work of the judges much easier, it has to be said that it looks like a number plucked out of the air at random, and what happens if those who are judged to be linked to Batasuna no longer participate in actions organised by that party?

I have always been slightly curious about the conduct of these court hearings, at least this time the court called for their dinner to be sent in and seemed to do a long session; there are other times when I suspect they have just rubber stamped whatever is put before them by the prosecutors and then had a chat amongst themselves for an hour before announcing the decision. If you are seriously going to examine the political affiliations of thousands of election candidates in a single court hearing then you need to be prepared to stay up late; I'm not convinced that is what always happens.

The government seems quite content with the situation; it leaves the opposition PP with less strength to their argument that the government is allowing Batasuna to stand in the elections, and at the same time it leaves ETA with less justification for using the closing of the electoral door as a pretext for further armed activity. None of this hides the confusion that is the result of judges being asked to take political decisions based on an appalling piece of legislation that was only ever introduced with the intention of making Batasuna illegal, but which in theory can affect any political party. Yesterday, the farce took a new twist as another of these right wing organisations that exist solely for the purpose of taking other people to court tried to get the case taken away from judge Baltasar Garzon and handed to another judge who they felt would be more sympathetic. They failed in their attempt, but it just reaffirms what can now be called the "boric acid test" of justice; get the right judge and you get the decision you want.

Almost unnoticed in the backgound, the Ley de Partidos that is used in all these cases for banning candidates is facing a legal challenge in the European Court; the result of this challenge could be interesting as a badly drafted and almost impossible to implement law comes under what will hopefully be some close and critical inspection. Meanwhile, any Spanish speaker who takes the simplistic view that opposing this law means you are some kind of ETA sympathiser would do well to read this reply from Ricardo Royo-Villanova y Martin.

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