Monday, February 23, 2009

Bermejo A La Gallega

Today's recipe. Take one slightly charred justice minister, remove the head and throw the rest away. Slowly stew the head in its own juices for a couple of days with occasional stirring. When it’s finally overdone, stick an apple in its mouth and present to the electorate on a silver platter together with the probably vain hope that the voters will then expect a similar offering to be presented by your rivals. The decision today by Justice Minister Mariano Bermejo to resign must count as an unexpected success for the Partido Popular and their media allies. As diversionary campaigns go, that against Bermejo has exceeded expectations as it became clear that the noise over Bermejo's hunting trips could end up affecting what is already being seen by some as an unsteady PSOE campaign in Galicia. Add to that the fact that much of Bermejo’s own party doesn't feel very comfortable defending his onslaught on the wildlife of various Spanish regions. Hunting is a more popular sport in Spain than it is in the UK for example, but hunting Bermejo style was too associated with images of heavily armed landed gentry roaming their private estates.

All the opinion polls over the weekend indicate that the regional elections in both Galicia and the Basque Country are going to be very tight and March 1st promises to be a tense day. In Galicia the polls suggest that voting intentions have barely changed since the last election 4 years ago. The significance of that lies in the fact that the PP fell just one seat short of a majority last time around, so they just need to do a little bit better to regain control from the governing alliance between the PSOE and the nationalist BNG. PP leader Mariano Rajoy is campaigning in these elections as if his life depended on the result, and there was a widespread feeling that a failure to recover control in Galicia would be fatal to his chances of remaining as leader. That's not so certain now, the closing of the ranks inside a PP that tries to present itself as the victim of a political attack by Baltasar Garzón and hunting associates is paradoxically making it much harder for Rajoy's internal enemies to attack him. Confidence has risen in the PP with a couple of the polls suggesting they are on the edge of getting that majority, a nervous PSOE will be looking to hit back after the Bermejo affair but they haven't got long.

Spirits in the PSOE in the Basque Country have been much higher, although the weekend polls still suggest that the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) will emerge as the biggest party, albeit without a natural coalition majority. The PSOE are still set to increase their vote significantly, but maybe not enough to strike the important blow of getting more votes than the PNV. Whilst sections of the right wing press are getting enthusiastic about the possibility of a non-nationalist alliance between the PSOE, the PP and possibly even the new party UPyD, the PSOE don't want even to discuss such an option at the moment. This is not necessarily because it will never happen, it's just that such a prospect will be used by the PNV to mobilise their more reluctant voters. The last time there was serious talk of a PSOE-PP government in the Basque Country was in 2001, in that election the PNV ended up getting their highest ever vote. If the PSOE do emerge as the strongest party, the nationalists may just decide to try and force them into an unhappy alliance with the PP.

A key factor in the Basque Country is that this is the first regional election where no party linked to ETA's illegal political wing Batasuna has been able to overcome the hurdle of the Ley de Partidos. The arguments used to justify the continuing illegalisations become increasingly bizarre. If up to now we had the dangerous notion that a failure to pronounce on an issue is sufficient proof of guilt, this time around things got worse. One party, D3M, was illegalised on the grounds that several members of their lists had connections to Batasuna. In the case of Askatasuna the argument advanced was that the absence of such connections was evidence of the intent to deceive! That closes the circle nicely. One party with quite a variation in their poll ratings is Aralar, a break off organisation from Batasuna who have explicitly rejected the use of violence by ETA. If they can convince enough of Batasuna's natural constituency not to abstain then they could emerge from the election as the embryo of a new future for radical nationalism; as well as perhaps tipping the balance towards a nationalist coalition. Tomorrow’s recipe….stuffed Bermejo.

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