The Basques Voted Again

by Iñaki Galdos Irazabal

Every four years, on the fourth Sunday of May, the Basques of the four provinces of Hegoalde (The Southern Basque Country) are called to vote to elect their city council members and the provincial parliaments in the case of the three provinces of the Basque Autonomous Country (BAC). In the Foral Community of Navarre (FCN), they vote for their city council members and the Navarrese Foral Parliament. They are, according to the law, the only elections with a fixed date, since the rest of the elections (Basque Parliament and Spanish Parliament) can be called when the respective presidents consider it appropriate. So, on May 28, thousands of Basques participated in an election day in which some of the trends that the polls were predicting were confirmed, but perhaps with greater intensity than expected by most analysts.

PNV will once again govern Bilbao and the province of Bizkaia. Borja Guerrero

Significant Wear and Tear for PNV in the BAC

The PNV (Basque National Party) feared that abstention would rise a lot in these elections compared to 2019 and would affect results. The party that leads the Basque Government with Iñigo Urkullu as Lehendakari (president), had until now held the mayor seats of the three capitals of the Basque Autonomous Country as well as the three presidencies of the parliaments and provincial governments. But now, this will no longer be the case.

Indeed, much of the abstention, which was significant, has done a lot of damage to the party presided over by Andoni Ortuzar, with many of their habitual voters staying home. The wear and tear of the day-to-day management, the disagreement with some of its policies in the institutions and a certain climate of social tension has punished this party, which until now had been governing with quite a bit of ease.

But despite its decline, the results will allow the party to continue holding the mayor seats of Bilbao and San Sebastian, as well as the governments of the provinces of Bizkaia and Araba. The one that is already lost for them is the seat of the mayor of Vitoria-Gasteiz, since their candidacy has gone to fourth place, after having been the winner four years ago. It also maintains the majority in many municipalities of the BAC, although they have lost another important amount, mainly from the hand of the coalition that has risen the most: EH Bildu.

EH Bildu won overwhelmingly in Gipuzkoa. Iker Azurmendi

EH Bildu‘s Breakthrough

The big news of election night for the BAC was undoubtedly the great advance of the coalition of the pro-independence left. An increase in its results compared to 2019 was expected, but not to this extent. They came close to PNV in the Bizkaia parliament and its capital Bilbao; they won the parliament of Gipuzkoa overwhelmingly and city council of Gasteiz (capital of Araba), although in this case with a tighter margin. They came in second (very close to first) in San Sebastián (capital of Gipuzkoa) and in Araba’s parliament. The number of mayors obtained has also been extraordinary, maintaining almost all the ones it had and stealing many others from the other parties.

Representatives of the coalition led by Arnaldo Otegi already speak of a historic change of cycle and see themselves also even unseating PNV shortly from the Basque Government. But from this party they remind EH Bildu that in 2011 they also predicted a change of cycle after a great wave of the pro-independence left, but this prediction faded in the following elections with a sharp decrease in the votes received.

Uncertainty about Mayors and Presidencies

Under the current electoral system, neither mayors nor presidents of the governments of the three provinces are directly elected: elected city council members and parliamentarians are the ones responsible for this task. During previous legislatures it has been customary for PNV to ally with the Socialists of PSE to unseat EH Bildu from some mayor seats, despite being the most popular ballot; but EH Bildu also allied with the left, represented by Elkarrekin-Podemos or other local candidacies to do the same with PNV. Until Sunday night, it was assumed that this would happen again, and the citizens would accept it willingly. This will happen in many municipalities. However, the results obtained by PSE and PNV have added much uncertainty to the issue elsewhere.

Ramiro González (PNV) will continue to preside over the government of the province of Araba. Josu Chavarri

The problem of these two parties is that their strength is not enough to win the seat for mayor of Vitoria-Gasteiz (which would pass into the hands of PSE) and the government of the province of Gipuzkoa (which would continue to be led by PNV). With their poor results they need a third party, which is none other than the right-wing PP party, a big winner this election night in Spain, although with little presence in the BAC. PP has already been quick to say that it will gladly put up its votes to prevent EH Bildu from governing, a coalition which PP is still relating to ETA, many years after the disappearance of the armed organization. But such a circumstance bothers the party’s possible beneficiaries of such support, aware that even many of their voters would not understand such a circumstance. It’s a complicated dilemma.

The Winds of Spain Affecting the Other Policial Parties

The rest of the BAC candidacies have been formed by the Basque branches of the Spanish parties. And, as usual, their results typically depend on how they fare in Spain. Therefore, although it remains a small party in the three provinces, the Spanish right of PP has seen how it has benefited from great results obtained in the Spanish elections, just the opposite that has happened to the federalist left of Elkarrekin-Podemos, dragged down by the failure of its core in the rest of the cities and autonomies of Spain. Finally, the Basque Socialists of PSE have also obtained similar results to the Spanish PSOE party of President Pedro Sánchez.

News in Navarre, Which Won’t Amount to Much

The most important novelty in the elections of the Foral Community of Navarre (FCN) was the rupture of the coalition of the Spanish right, Navarra Suma (NA+). It was broken up and its two main parties (the Navarrese UPN and the Navarre branch of the Spanish PP) had decided to each run independently. That opened some expectations for change, but in the end, UPN was the force most voted on, both in the capital, Pamplona, and in the elections for the provincial parliament. The reason: the majority of the vote for that coalition has moved to UPN, it has not been divided into two similar portions.

Because of the results, however, the current socialist government of María Chivite, who came in second, will continue to govern in coalition with the Basque coalition Geroa Bai and the left-wing coalition Zurekin-Contigo. She will also count on external agreements to be reached with EH Bildu, a coalition that has also seen its electoral support increase in Navarre, with a significant increase in institutional representation.

However, as in 2019, such support was not reciprocated by the Socialists in the capital’s city council. The former mayor of EH Bildu (from 2015-2019) Joseba Asiron, the second most voted after the right, needs the support of the Socialists to reach the mayor’s office, support that Geroa Bai and Zurekin-Podemos will surely grant him. But the Socialists have already said no. They are happy that EH Bildu supports them to unseat the right, but they are not willing to do otherwise in Pamplona and other municipalities, probably because they have received orders again from Madrid to do so. Navarre, once again, becomes a Spanish national matter.

UPN won in Navarre and its capital Pamplona, but will not be sufficient to form a majority and govern in Navarre. Javier Bergasa

Back to Vote in July

While all this happened in the southern Basque provinces, in Spain the triumph of the Spanish right was resounding against the left, winning in most of the autonomies where elections were held and the vast majority of provincial capitals. Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s reaction the next day was unequivocal. He dissolved the courts and called elections for July 23. In the opinion of some analysts, the decision was wise, because it short-circuits the euphoria of the right and motivates the left to turn the situation around. For others, however, it is a decision taken in desperation and for mere personal interest, to shorten a legislature a few months (elections were to be held in December) a length of time he was not willing to suffer after his defeat on May 28.

Be that as it may, without time to rest, the Basque parties have already started working again. And naturally so, given May’s results, that EH Bildu has greater optimism than PNV. But both parties are aware of an issue: there are many Basques who in local, provincial, or Basque elections vote for them, yet in general elections they vote for parties of Spanish scope, even more so in elections like this coming July, which will be quite polarized.


Author’s Note (1): To make reading easier, I have consciously avoided filling the article with names and surnames, as well as giving percentages of votes and representatives obtained. If the reader wants to know these, here are the links: Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Navarre

Author’s Note (2): When the election of mayors and presidents of the provincial governments of the BAC and president of the FCN takes place, I will complete this article with the new information.

About the Author

Iñaki Galdos Irazabal
Iñaki Galdos Irazabal is editor at Basque Tribune. E-Mail | @inakigaldosira

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