Nationalists in Spain’s autonomous northern Basque region have real reasons to celebrate these elections. The Amaiur left-wing coalition of several parties has won seven seats in the parliament in Madrid, where leftist nationalists last had a voice 15 years ago. Amaiur was launched officially this year in September.
Now, their leader Sabino Cuadra told them: “We’re back! Like people said, in Monteagudo, Navarre, Álava, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, to defend our rights and our culture.”
Basque nationalist politics suffered in 2002 when the Spanish parliament voted to ban the Basque independence party Batasuna, on grounds it had funded the armed group ETA with public money, which the Supreme Court and European Human Rights Court ruled had been proven. But the nationalists’ support base remained.
In last May’s municipal elections in the Basque region, with ETA weakened, the left-wing of the independence movement, another newly-formed coalition named Bildu overcame an abortive ban and finished second in the Basque region. The centre Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) was first.
The separatist left had been increasing pressure on ETA (listed as a terrorist organisation by the EU and the US) to end violence. Finally it announced it was definitively renouncing the armed struggle just last month.
These legislative elections are the first since democracy was restored in Spain to have been held without the threat of attacks by ETA.
A voter in the key Basque city of Bilbao said this made all the difference.
“I believe Amaiur won because of their efforts for peace, for no other reason. I think that’s why they got so many votes. I’d rather it had been the PNV, but that’s the way it is.”
PNV — now with five seats in Madrid — is the largest political party in the Basque country, though the regional president is a Socialist, through a deal made with the conservative People’s Party.
With the results of Sunday’s poll giving them a greater voice in the whole country’s affairs, the nationalists are insisting that elections for a new regional president cannot wait.