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29 October 1998 Edition

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Highest ever vote for Basque nationalists

"Today Euskal Herria is more nationalist and more left-wing"




Soledad Galiana reports from the Basque Country on last weekend's historic elections

The election results in the Basque Country have highlighted the support of Basque society for the new political scenario created by the Lizarra-Garazi peace agreement.

Euskal Herritarrok (EH) - the new electoral coalition created by Herri Batasuna to fight this elections - has increased its vote since the last autonomous elections in 1994 by 2.1%, getting 14 seats in the 75-seat autonomous parliament in Gazteiz. "Today is a great, happy night for Euskal Herria [the Basque Country]," said Arnaldo Otegi, EH candidate for Gipuzkoa, one of the three provinces that together with Araba and Bizkaia form the Basque Autonomous Community. "Today Euskal Herria is more nationalist and more left-wing".

EH, with 223,264 votes, 17.9% of the total, registered the biggest increase among the nationalist parties, and the greatest electoral support in the history of the independence movement. 70.7% of the Basque electorate voted in a day marked by the news of a BBC interview with two ETA members, which was broadcast on Wednesday by Basque Television in the Basque Country (and by the BBC last Saturday). The increased turnout was seen by the political analysts as a threat to the nationalist parties, as it would boost the vote for the Spanish Socialist Party (PSE-EE) and the right-wing Popular Party (PP). PP's vote did indeed increase -as did the PSE-EE's by a small margin - to reach 20.1%, becoming the second political force in the Basque Autonomous parliament, taking advantage of other right-wing parties' losses. But the total sum of seats in the Parliament of the nationalist parties remains the same, with an increase in the number of votes.

United Left (IU), the only non-nationalist party that signed the Lizarra-Garazi peace Agreement, suffered a major defeat, losing 4 seats. Days ago, Proinsias Da Rossa, leader of Democratic Left, met Julio Anguita, the leader of IU. Today, IU has lost 4 deputies in the Basque parliament. The curse of Proinsias, perhaps? The leadership of IU has maintained that the bad results will not change their attitude and commitment to the new political debate opened by the Basque Peace Process.

The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) maintained its position as the largest party, with 21 seats in the Parliament, though they lost one seat in spite of the vote increase. The leader of PNV, Xabier Arzalluz, highlighted that the nationalist parties maintain the same number of seats, although distributed in a different way. The nationalist parties now hold 41 seats, against 34 for the non-nationalists. "We, the nationalists, have the same number of seats, but we have won 120,000 [more] votes. They have lost, they should learn from it", Arzalluz said in reference to PSE-EE and PP.

Despite maintaining their number of votes Eusko Alkartasuna (EA) suffered the loss of two seats as they did not benefit from the increased turnout. EA president, Carlos Garaicoetxea, admited the possibility that some of their potential votes went to EH. "A new expectatiion has been generated within the Nationalist movement. Maybe Euskal Herritarrok has capitalized from it," he said.

Coalition government


The distribution of seats in the Basque Autonomous Parliament means that at least three parties must form an alliance in order to create a coalition government. After the elections in 1994, the PNV formed a coalition with the other nationalist party, EA, and the Spanish Socialist Party (PSE-EE). It was, at best, a fragile alliance and the agreement within the coalition was broken last summer, just before the elections. During the elections campaign, PSE-EE kept attacking PNV because of its support for the Lizarra-Garazi Agreement, but they also tried to keep an open door for another possible approach to form the new autonomous government.

Another possibility for PNV could be an alliance with the PP, but in this case they would need a third party. Although both parties have antagonistic positions on key issues such as the peace process, Basque language and development of the Autonomous law for the Basque Country, all is possible in politics - after all, PNV supports PP's minority government in the Spanish State Parliament.

Arnaldo Otegi, a leading member of Euskal Herritarrok, stated that the position of the independentist coalition is not to take part in the Basque government, although he explained there would be a possibility of EH collaborating with the institutions. This would mean that two of the nationalist parties PNV and EA could form the Basque government with the support of EH on some key issues. "There will be institutional collaboration if that means we can open a new political scenario. There would be collaboration but to achieve that there should be inclusive negotiations," he said

Three prisoners elected


Three of EH's newly elected members to the Basque Parliament are Jose Antonio Etxeberria, Juan Antonio Urritikoetxea ("Josu Ternera") and Pablo Goroztiaga, who are currently awaiting trial in Spanish prisons. Etxeberria was arrested on charges related to ETA's financial structure. Josu Ternera, who has already served time in France after being accused of ETA membership, was deported by the French government to Spain. Goroztiaga, who was the mayor of Laudio, was arrested in relation to the closure of the Basque newspaper EGIN. On Monday, just after being elected deputy to the Basque Parliament, he was released on bail of £75,000. Because of their election as representatives, the trial of the three Basque political prisoners will not take place in Madrid. They will be judged by the Basque Supreme Court.

On Monday, just after being elected deputy to the Basque Parliament, he was released on bail of £75,000. Because of their election as representatives, the trial of the three Basque political prisoners will not take place in Madrid. They will be judged by the Basque Supreme Court.
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