Monday, March 02, 2009

Who Will Run The Basque Country Now?

By far the most intriguing results of the elections held yesterday in Galicia and the Basque Country are those in the latter region. In Galicia, barring an overwhelming overseas vote against the PP it looks clear that this party has recovered control from the coalition between the PSOE and the nationalist BNG. Four years the change lasted for, now the region is back in the hands of those who regard it as their personal property, albeit with a younger generation nominally in charge.

In the Basque Country things are very different. The PSE, the Basque section of the PSOE, failed to become the biggest party but the ruling nationalists of the PNV are left without any hope of repeating the three party alliance that has governed for the last four years. Even adding the seats won by Aralar, they still cannot reach a majority. 39 seats are in the hands of the PSOE, the PP, Izquierda Unida and the new party UPyD, although the last two only have one seat each. This leaves only 36 for the nationalist parties. Now the question is whether the PSE and the PP will reach an agreement to govern together, with the extra seat for a majority having to come from IU or UPyD. The change in the Basque Country that so many PSOE militants yearned for comes with a high price, if they want to head the Basque government they must do it with the PP; barring what seems the unlikely possibility of the PSE forming a minority government on their own. After all the effort to make themselves look as much a Basque party as a Spanish one they are confronted with the decision of going for an anti Basque-nationalist coalition.

Aralar have confirmed the predictions of some polls and in the process have become the fourth biggest party. It's hard to say exactly where their votes came from, the other nationalist parties have lost votes and there is the unknown factor of how many former Batasuna voters decided not to spoil their ballots in protest, and instead voted for another nationalist option. I've seen a claim that the spoilt votes would have amounted to 7 seats in the Basque parliament. The PSE result looks more impressive than it really is, their vote hasn't increased by a huge amount, but the decline in the vote of the PNV and PP means that they have risen substantially in the number of seats won. Add to that the factor that their party at national level is governing in the midst of a serious recession and it looks like a good result, but one which leaves behind it some difficult politics with implications at national level. The PNV will have their own problems following this result, the internal tensions between the different factions could now spill over into a battle for control.

Just as a footnote it's worth pointing out that the weight of a vote in the Basque Country depends significantly on which province it is cast in. In case anyone thinks that this is because nationalist parties are overrepresented, a common misconception in Spain, it's actually the least nationalist province of Alava where the fewest votes are needed to elect a representative.

No comments: