A regional vote underway in Spain’s Basque country is set to indicate just how much support there is for Basque premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe and his plan for virtual independence. Opinion polls suggest Ibarretxe’s Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) will win, as it has done in all seven previous votes for the Basque parliament since 1980.
Spain’s governing Socialist Workers’ Party is expected to do well. It isproposing increased devolved powers for the 75-member Basque parliament. But the socialists reject Ibarretxe’s plan to hold a referendum on his idea of “free association” with Spain, or de facto independence, in defiance of Spanish legislation. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says the region’s 1.7 million voters need an parliament that “abandons the language of nationalism”. The conservative Popular Party has warned that the socialists are prepared to strike a deal with Basque nationalists. Meanwhile radical pro-independence party Batasuna is banned. Batasuna, political ally of armed separatists ETA, won 10 percent of the vote in 2001.It has thrown its support behind the tiny Communist Party of the Basque Lands.