Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Anyone For A Game Of Basque Poker?

Today sees yet another meeting between Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and the Basque President Juan José Ibarretxe. In theory the objective of the meeting is to try and find a solution to the problems created by Ibarrretxe’s plan to hold a referendum on moves towards greater sovereignty in the region. In reality, today’s encounter is likely to see the opening shots fired in a lengthy run up to the next elections in the Basque Country. There is virtually no expectation of the two men finding any sort of middle ground. Zapatero rejects any idea of the Basque government being able to hold their own referendums, and Ibarretxe is not going to back down unless he is offered a succulent consolation prize. The Basque nationalists of the PNV are themselves split down the middle between the Ibarretxe wing that favours the plan, and those who prefer a closer relationship with the central government in Madrid. After the general election in March there was even an expectation that Zapatero might help those inside the PNV who aren’t happy with Ibarretxe’s plan by proposing an alternative reform of the Basque autonomy statute.

The big problem for such a solution is that the general election results saw Zapatero’s PSOE doing better in the Basque Country than the PNV. This has created the idea within the PSOE that they might also be able to win the regional elections there, which have to be held by spring 2009 at the latest. With that prize in mind, Zapatero might not see any benefit in doing deals, whilst Ibarretxe will see confrontation with the national government as being more likely to bring him electoral success. Another factor affecting Zapatero’s calculations is that he doesn’t want this parliament to be dominated by the issue of reform of autonomy statutes in the way that the issue became so prominent during the last one. That would be giving the Partido Popular (PP) too much ammunition, providing them with an issue they could unite around.

It’s dangerous in any case to compare the general election results with those for the regional government. Many nationalist voters abstain in general elections, and some may even have voted for the PSOE in order to try and keep the PP out of power. In a regional election many of these people will turn out to vote for the PNV. The PNV will also be fishing for the support of those who previously voted for ETA’s political wing, Batasuna. These voters are unlikely to have any other party to vote for given the effective illegalisation of ANV and EHAK, who had filled the space left by Batasuna’s absence. Even if the PSOE were to emerge as the largest party the nationalists would almost certainly go into opposition and force the PSOE to look for an alliance with the PP. Nothing would do more to revive nationalist fortunes than a fresh alliance between the two major national parties; the last time it happened the PNV got their biggest ever vote. In the end an autonomy statute reform would be the way out for all parties, but circumstances are conspiring against it happening.

1 comment:

moscow said...

Now we have a clearer picture of what's happening within the PP. Two fronts are forming, a moderate centrist amalgamation with Rajoy+Gallardon in front versus Aznar's cabinet of freaks. I still believe Rajoy should step aside, but my sympathy goes to him and his (new) allies.