Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Basque Nationalist Right and Spanish Nationalists already flirting to "stop Bildu"

From outside one might think that municipal and provincial elections are not that important. But for a nation deprived of any other political institutions since many centuries ago, these are truly important elections, much more than those for the Western Basque autonomous parliament and government and a zillion times more important than sending representatives to Madrid or Strasbourg.

Local governments are the ones directly administering urbanism and many matters relevant to daily life. Local governments also provide room or attempt to suffocate grassroots initiatives more than any other institution.

Provinces as semi-sovereign states

But maybe even more important are the provincial parliaments and governments. These institutions have very deep roots, as they were created by invading Castile to appease the conquered Basques by allowing them to retain most of the liberties and laws enjoyed under Navarre. Therefore since the 13th century the provincial governments took upon them taxation, boundaries, territorial militias, civil law and a long etcetera. Only very major issues were competence of Castile (later Spain) and every new monarch at Madrid came here to take oath of respecting Basque freedoms. 

Even if many of the self-rule of the Basque provinces was curtailed in the 19th century, key matters like taxation and civil law remain in provincial hands. Only in the four Basque provinces Spain does not collect taxes: the provinces do instead and then pay a negotiated amount to Madrid, known as cupo. Similarly the Western Basque autonomous government has no taxation power of its own and depends on what the provinces agree to provide. 

Even the Carlist Wars, Basque uprisings under a dynastic pretext, could only take place because the Basque provinces financed them in their capacity as semi-sovereign states. 

For that reason who rules the provinces is particularly important: the government of Vitoria-Gasteiz would not last a year without the active support of the provinces, of which it is a confederative emanation, much as the European Union is of its member states. 

Who will rule Gipuzkoa?

Gipuzkoan Provincial Government
And, by simple majority, the left wing independentist coalition Bildu is poised to rule in Gipuzkoa, one of the three Western provinces. Bildu has 22 seats out of 51, 23 if we add the one of Aralar: not enough to grant them automatically the government. But they'd need only three votes more for such absolute majority.

Yet those three extra votes may be hard to come: 4 belong to the Spanish Nationalist ultra-conservative PP (flat chance), 10 to the Spanish Nationalist center-left PSOE and 14 to the Basque Nationalist conservative PNV. In naive theory a lefty coalition would hold a comfortable majority but that the unionist PSOE would even consider a coalition with separatist Bildu is simply unthinkable: the PSOE in the Basque Country is a quasi-fascist force at the service of the Spanish oligarchies, even if they still pretend to be left-wing for the gallery. They are much like Labor Zionism in Palestine: a force of evil and imperialism under a class pretext. 

So the only chances that Bildu has to rule in Gipuzkoa, where it has a clear popular mandate, come from the Basque Nationalist Right: the PNV. But these are already showing signs of paying attention to the siren songs of the Unionist bloc. 

Something that they have already argued is that they cannot agree with the progressive fiscal and social policies promoted by Bildu in their electoral program. The president of the party, I. Urkullu, has already dismissed the idea that the simple majority list should vote and is asking something in return for their support. In the case of Bildu, they ask for watering down their socialist program.

Actually, with the extreme polarization of Basque politics, the not-so-strong Basque Nationalist Party is, as usual, in the strongest possible position: they may have only won in Biscay (where they still need some support however) but, barring the most unlikely Bildu-PSOE coalition, they hold the key to the governments of all three Western Provinces. 

López asked for wall against Bildu
And considering how in agreement both unionist parties are about preventing Bildu from ruling, in spite of the strong popular mandate, the PNV can even hope for all three provincial governments, with just minor concessions. However it needs to be an ample front: in the past the PNV has ruled with the PSOE more than once but it has never done so with the Spanish Tories of the PP, typically considered the heirs of Franco and most hostile to Basque demands, not in the provinces at least. 

The one time it did in municipal governments they triggered a major fracture of the party. It is for that kind of treachery that the PNV is so weak in Gipuzkoa and almost non-existent in Navarre.

But this time they can really take it all, save for the dignity: they can simply tell PP and PSOE: we want the three provincial governments and a return to the government in Vitoria-Gasteiz, (possibly via early elections). Else, we'll support Bildu in Gipuzkoa in exchange for their support in Araba.

Whatever the case, as the PSOE is not (and has never been) true to its alleged class identity, the negotiating position of the PNV is terribly strong. 

What about Navarre?

Bildu announced support for government of the Left in Pamplona
I know the answer because it has happened before: the PSOE could easily get the support of Bildu and Aralar and displace the unionist conservative Right from the government at Pamplona. But they won't: they will support UPN for state reasons and that's all.

But it would be interesting for a change that the Spanish Unionist Left prioritized their class identity and not their ethnic loyalties. If so, we could expect left-wing governments in both Navarre and Gipuzkoa and even a good chance of grabbing the Western Basque autonomous government after due democratic elections. 

However, as Zaldi Eroa puts it today at Berria, making Social-Democrat leader and irregular Lehendakari, López: How cold it is... within the Spanish Constitution!

Time for some cozy lefty warmth? Hope so but doubt it too.

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