With Europe expected to face its most tense times yet this autumn in its three-year-running eurozone crisis, and with Spain expected to seek a bailout from the European Union in the coming months, the Basque Country — a key autonomous region in Spain — is headed to the polls in October.
The election for the 75-member Eusko Legebiltzarra (or Basque parliament) will be held on October 21.
So what’s likely to happen? And what will it mean for Spain?
Essentially, the fight will come down to a four-way fight: (1) López’s federalist Basque socialists, (2) the federalist conservatives, (3) the traditional Basque nationalists and (4) a new leftist coalition of Basque nationalists. For now, at least, the chances that López will continue as lehendakari of the Basque Country currently seem slim.
López became lehendakari after the 2009 regional elections, when his party, the Partido Socialista de Euskadi – Euskadiko Ezkerra (the PSE-EE, or the Socialist Party of the Basque Country) joined in a coalition with the Partido Popular (the PP, or the People’s Party). The López-led coalition marked the first time in the three decades of democratic elections in the Basque Country that the region had not been governed by the Partido Nacionalista Vasco (the Basque Nationalist Party or the EAJ-PNV — in Basque, the Euzko Alderdi Jeltzalea).
That coalition unraveled after the PP won the Spanish general election in November 2011 — the local PP leader Antonio Basagoiti demanded that López not use his position to oppose newly-installed prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who has accelerated budget cuts at the federal level. López, however, has opposed Rajoy’s planned cutbacks, especially as regards health and education. Without PP support, López’s government commands just one-third of the seats in the Basque regional parliament.
The election will be held the day after the anniversary of the permanent ceasefire agreed with the ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), an armed Basque nationalist group that had engaged in many shootings, bombings and kidnappings. That ceasefire, agreed by then-prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, a political ally of López, was one of the final landmarks of the Zapatero government before the Rajoy government replaced it. López is certainly hoping that voters will have that ceasefire on their minds on voting day, and that they will give his regional government credit for greater security and stability.
In 1978, the Basque Country — like Catalonia and Galicia — was granted the status of a nationality within Spain, as Spain wrote its new constitution, lurched toward democracy and began to emerge from the brutal and federalist four-decade dictatorship of Francisco Franco. But sentiment for autonomy and/or independence runs strong in the Basque Country, and that sentiment has all too often turned violent in the past, even after 1978. Continue reading Snap Basque elections may return nationalists back to regional government→
So this clip of Irish president Michael D. Higgins from a call on conservative Michael Graham’s radio show taking down the “tea party” movement in the United States has gone viral in the last 24 hours.
The first thing to realize is that it’s from May 2010. Three things follow from that:
It’s the height of the “tea party” movement in the United States.
It’s the height of the U.S. right’s opposition to the health care bill in the United States proposed by President Barack Obama, when many on the U.S. right were calling out every country from Ireland to Canada to Switzerland to Great Britain as having “socialist” health care schemes.
It’s before the October 2011 presidential election in Ireland, so it’s from before the time when Michael Higgins became the Irish head of state.
In his time as president, Higgins hasn’t picked any fights, in Ireland or abroad, however. As head of state, he does not direct policy — that job falls to the taoiseach (Ireland’s prime minister) Enda Kenny.
In the clip, Higgins comes across as passionately defending a strong role for government, but seems a little unhinged (or passionate, depending on your viewpoint) when it comes to disparaging the tea party movement, the American right and former Alaska governor and former U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, in particular:
The tactic is to get a large crowd, to whip them up, try and discover what is the greatest fear, work on that and feed it right back and you get a frenzy. This tea party ignorance that is being brought all around the United States is regularly insulting people who have been democratically elected.
Higgins proceeded to call Graham “just a wanker whipping up fear.”
To the extent Higgins seems frustrated and perplexed by the tea party movement and the American right generally, in the clip above, it’s because that strain of particularly American laissez-faire, anti-government politics is so foreign to his own social democratic tradition.
Higgins comes from the Labour Party in Ireland, which is the major leftist force in Irish politics and which has a strong social democratic tradition (in terms of comparison, it would be closer to the New Democratic Party in Canada than to the Liberal Party).
Ireland’s two main parties, historically, have been centrist (Fianna Fáil) and center-right / vaguely Christian democratic (Fine Gail).
Before his presidential election, Higgins had long served in the Dáil (Ireland’s parliament) for the Labour Party, and during the Fine Gail-led government of 1994 to 1997, Higgins served as minister for arts, culture and the Gaeltacht (i.e., the predominantly Irish-speaking regions of Ireland), where he established an Irish-language television station and notably, scrapped Section 31 of Ireland’s Broadcasting Authority Act, which actually forbade the Irish media from broadcasting the voice of any Sinn Féin member.
The 2011 election was a bit odd, given that Fine Gail’s candidate never really connected with voters and Fianna Fáil didn’t really offer up a candidate. The election followed a period of “two Marys” — Mary McAleese, who served from 1997 to 2011 and Mary Robinson before her, who served from 1990 to 1997, both of whom were independent candidates and both of whom changed the Irish presidential concept into something even more abstract and apolitical than the line of Fianna Fáil politicians who preceded them.
For much of the campaign leading up to the election, another independent, Irish senator David Norris (and a Joyce scholar!) was the frontrunner for the presidency, and would have become the world’s first openly gay head of state, but fell behind after being implicated in a scandal.
Accordingly, the race came down to Higgins, independent Seán Gallagher (essentially a placeholder for Fianna Fáil-minded voters) and Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Féin candidate. Higgins ultimately defeated Gallagher by 39.6% to 28.5%, although the race seemed a lot closer than the final tally indicates — Gallagher’s last-minute admission of collecting campaign funds from a Fianna Fáil fundraiser led to a fall-off in his support.