14 April 2005 Edition

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Basque election candidates banned

A violent police assault on the leaders and supporters of Batasuna during a pro-independence rally on Basque National Day (Easter Sunday) in Iruña, the capital of the Basques, was not an isolated incident or down to overzealous police officers.

According to Batasuna, it is part of a politically-driven campaign to criminalise and silence the Basque pro-independence movement by force and to end any possibility of a negotiated solution to the conflict in the Basque Country.

That campaign has been most in evidence in the banning of candidates in elections in the Basque Country.

The Spanish socialist government announced in March last year, when they came into power, that there would be a new and more progressive approach. However, when it comes to the Basque situation, their 'new approach' is very much the same as that of the previous right-wing government. Batasuna is a banned party and is not allowed to run for elections, and the same applies to any other organisation deemed to be linked to Batasuna's pro-independence ideals.

Spanish prime minister Zapatero found that Batasuna's intention to stand candidates for elections to the Basque regional parliament on 17 April was "a challenge to democracy and legality and it will not be accepted". So his government used the Party, Act, passed by their predecessors in the Popular Party, with Socialist support, to again ban those Basque candidates from running for election.

So far, there has been little criticism of the Spanish government's anti-democratic move from Basque Nationalists and Spanish parties going for election in the Basque Country. They have little concern for Basque citizens' right to vote for whatever political party they want. What they do want is to hoover up as many of Batasuna's votes as they can.

So, when the Basque PM, Ibarretxe, announced the election, he did not even mention the fact that the third largest political force in the Basque country was not being allowed to field candidates.

And so goes the so-called democratic process in Spain.

However, this is not the end of the story, as the Socialists in Madrid have again stepped in to stop another grouping from running for the Basque parliament.

On Good Friday, 25 March, 16 judges - among them three military judges - who sit as the Special Court of the Spanish Supreme Tribunal, decided unanimously to ban the candidates of Aukera Guztiak (All Opportunities) to run for election to the Basque Parliament. Similar decisions in recent times affected other Basque pro-independence political groupings, like Batasuna; AuB, a local coalition group running for the local elections; and HZ, another popular initiative that presented a list of candidates for the European Parliament elections.

Aukera Guztiak was set up on 26 February with the stated aim of promoting civil and political rights by enabling every citizen to have the chance to register his or her choice at the ballot box. It has been promoted by a number of well-known Basque figures, representing a variety of ideologies.

The judges based their decision to ban the party's list of candidates on Spanish intelligence briefings linking Aukera Guztiak to Basque separatist guerrilla group ETA. The judges accepted as evidence what they considered the "passive attitude" of the grouping when it comes to ETA. Candidates expressed opposition to the violation of all political, civil and economic rights, but did not refer specifically to ETA.

To be able to present a list of candidates, Aukera Guztiak needed to get about 17,000 signatures to be accepted by the electoral authority. It got 30,000.

The police said they were able to link over 1,000 of the 30,000 who signed in support of the popular initiative to the pro-independence movement, and that was one of the reasons used by the Tribunal when it came to the banning.

Also mentioned was a recorded conversation during a prison visit; a meeting between two members of Batasuna and some of those involved in the creation of Aukera Guztiak; and publicity about the the initiative during a demonstration against the criminalisation of the Basque political, cultural and linguistic movements.

The Attorney General's Office claimed it was ETA who decided to present two lists of candidates at the same time: the Batasuna one, which would be suspended immediately, and a "clean list" made up of people who had no obvious links with ETA or with the outlawed organisations.

Government representatives pointed to circumstantial evidence of political links between Aukera Guztiak and either Batasuna or ETA and evidence reflecting personal connections between Aukera Guztiak and "the Basque nationalist left". This was the evidence used by the judges when building the argument around their decision.

Some of the less conservative judges' associations questioned the decision. Edmundo Rodríguez, spokesperson for Judges for Democracy, said he found it "amazing" that they could ban candidates for running for election on the basis of circumstantial evidence.

The decision was, nonetheless, expected. Separation of powers in Spain is non-existent, as judges and attorneys are promoted according to their political alliances. Nevertheless, frustration and anger were clear in the reaction of Aukera Guztiak's candidates. Ana Arbulu, the party's main candidate in the province of Araba, said she hoped the Spanish Constitutional court would take a different approach to their initiative, because "it is not possible to criminalise without reason.

"There has to be someone with a little moral and rational enlightenment who will realise this is outrageous," she said.

Arbulu, with fellow Aukera Guztiak candidate, Marije Rodríguez, said the Supreme Tribunal's decision was a blow to peace and conflict resolution.

"We fulfil all requirements", Arbulu said. "Our aim is to change the fate of this country. Our objective is peace."

Arbulu was also critical that the Tribunal based its decision on the fact that some of those who supported the initiative were close to the pro-independence movement. "So, if you, journalists, have any kind of contact with someone who is related in any way to Aukera Guztiak, you may also see yourselves linked to ETA in the future", she said.

Aukera Guztiak candidates appealed to the highest Spanish court, the Constitutional Court, which rejected their case on Thursday 31 March.

However, even as all eyes were fixed on the Constitutional Court decision, among media and political circles, another party presenting candidates for election was being targeted: the Communist Party of the Basque Lands (EHAK).

Created in 2002, it had not run for election before. However, it has now presented candidates for the Basque election. Immediately, the Spanish Socialist and Popular parties called for this group to be banned also. However, this is proving difficult, as there is no evidence linking this party to Batasuna or any of the Basque banned organisations.

EHAK has committed itself to following in the steps of Aukera Guztiak by guaranteeing that Basques can vote for a left-wing pro-independence grouping.

Last week, Batasuna held a series of meeting throughout the Basque Country and, with grassroots support, decided to ask its supporters to vote for the new party. At this stage, it seems improbable that the Spanish government and its "allies" in the opposition will manage to ban the new party before the election.


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