Election Resources on the Internet:
Elections to the Basque Parliament
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera

The Autonomous Community of Euskadi held an early parliamentary election on Sunday, October 21, 2012. An overview of the Basque proportional representation electoral system is presented here.

In addition, autonomous community- and historical territory (provincial)-level results are available here (and also in CSV format) for the following Basque autonomic parliamentary elections:

      October 21, 2012      
      March 1st, 2009      
      April 17, 2005      
      May 13, 2001      
      October 25, 1998      
      October 23, 1994      
      October 28, 1990      
      November 30, 1986      
      February 26, 1984      
      March 9, 1980      

The election statistics presented in this space come from results published by the Basque Government's Interior Department.

Spanish legislative election results for the Basque Country are available in Elections to the Spanish Congress of Deputies.

For information about the electoral system of the Autonomous Community of Galicia, which also held an autonomic election on Sunday, October 21, 2012, visit Elections to the Galician Parliament.

General Aspects of the Electoral System

The Basque Parliament consists of a single house, composed of 75 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a four-year term of office. Each one of the Basque Country's three provinces or historical territories - Araba (Álava), Gipuzkoa (Guipúzcoa) and Bizkaia (Vizcaya) - is a constituency that elects 25 deputies. Otherwise, the Basque electoral system is identical to the system used to choose members of the Spanish Congress of Deputies. As such, parties, federations, coalitions and agrupaciones de electores (electors' groups) present closed lists of candidates; electors then cast a ballot for a single list; and seats in each constituency are apportioned according to the largest average method of proportional representation (PR) - the d'Hondt rule - among lists receiving at least three percent of all valid votes cast in the constituency (five percent before 2001), including blank ballots.

It should be pointed out that the Basque electoral system favors the sparsely populated province of Álava at the expense of Vizcaya. For example, in the 2005 parliamentary election, the smallest quotient used to allocate seats was 6,173 votes in Álava, but in Vizcaya the same figure rose to 22,969 votes. It should be noted as well that in all three provinces the d'Hondt rule creates a de facto representation threshold which is slightly larger than the three percent barrier set forth by law.

The Political Parties

The Basque Country party system has been characterized by the presence of not one, but several nationalist parties that compete with Spain's major statewide parties. In the 1980 and 1984 elections, three nationalist groups secured representation in the Basque Parliament: the right-of-center Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ-PNV); Herri Batasuna (HB; Popular Unity), a radical nationalist coalition that acted as the political arm of the ETA terrorist organization, which seeks independence for the Basque Country; and Euskadiko Eskerra (EE; Euskadi Left), a left-wing nationalist party opposed to ETA's terrorism. That figure increased to four in 1986, when a sizable group of PNV dissidents left the party to establish Eusko Alkartasuna (EA; Basque Solidarity), but shrunk back to three by 1994, following the merger of EE with the Socialist Party of Euskadi (PSE), the Basque counterpart of PSOE.

Under the terms of the 2002 Political Parties Act, Batasuna - the successor of Herri Batasuna and Euskal Herritarrok (EH; Basque Citizens) - was banned in 2003 due to its close links with ETA; while the bulk of its followers supported the Communist Party of the Basque Homelands (PCTV-EHAK) in the 2005 Basque Parliament election, some voted for the radical nationalist Aralar party, which supports Basque independence but condemns ETA's armed struggle. As a result, there were once more four nationalist parties represented in the Basque Parliament: EAJ-PNV, EA, PCTV-EHAK and Aralar. However, in 2008 PCTV-EHAK was banned as well, because it was considered to be an "instrument" of ETA. Likewise, in February 2009 the Supreme Court of Spain nullified the candidate lists submitted by Askatasuna and Demokrazia 3 Milioi (D3M), both regarded as a continuation of the banned Batasuna. Therefore, the 2009 Basque Parliament election was the first autonomic vote without the participation of radical nationalist parties linked to ETA.

EAJ-PNV, which has secured the largest number of seats in all but one election to the Basque Parliament, formed Euskadi's successive autonomic governments from 1980 until 2009, headed by Carlos Garaicoechea (1980-85), José Antonio Ardanza (1985-99) and Juan José Ibarretxe (1999-2009). PNV ruled alone from 1980 to 1986, when PSE won a plurality of seats in an early Basque Parliament election held that year, after EA (headed by Garaicoechea) split from PNV. Nonetheless, the latter obtained the largest number of votes, and formed a coalition government with PSE. Save for a short-lived coalition government of PNV, EA and EE in 1991, PNV and PSE (later PSE-EE) remained in coalition until 1998, when PNV and EA (which had joined the Basque government in 1994) formed a coalition government with EH support. From 2001 to 2009, the ruling coalition of PNV and EA - which fielded a joint ticket for the 2001 and 2005 Basque Parliament elections - also included the Basque United Left, Esker Batua (EB).

Generally speaking, statewide center-right parties such as the Popular Party (PP) have had a substantially smaller electoral following in Euskadi than in other parts of Spain. In part, the strong presence of PNV - which splits the right-wing vote - is responsible for this phenomenon, but the major cause has been that conservative parties in Spain have historically favored a centralized state, perceiving Basque autonomy as a halfway house to independence, and therefore as a threat to the country's unity. Nonetheless, since 1977 Spain's major center-right parties - the PP included - have accepted autonomy for Euskadi (as well as for all other nationalities), but typically with a more limited scope than that envisaged by nationalist groups or (at times) the statewide left-wing parties.

In December 2004, the Basque Parliament approved a comprehensive reform of the Basque Country autonomy statute - the so-called Ibarretxe Plan - that sought to establish a "free association" political relationship between Euskadi and the rest of Spain, which would have entailed shared sovereignity and the Basque Country's right to self-determination. However, Spain's two major parties, PSOE and PP, were firmly opposed to the proposal, which was overwhelmingly rejected by the Congress of Deputies in February 2005. Euskadi's three-party coalition government then called an election to the Basque Parliament, but it failed to obtain a clear mandate in favor of the Ibarretxe Plan. Nonetheless, in 2008 the Basque government sought to revive the issue by means of a non-binding referendum, which however could not be held, as it was rejected by the Constitutional Court of Spain.

Following the March 2009 autonomic election, in which the statewide parties - PSE-EE, PP and Union Progress and Democracy (UPyD) - secured an absolute majority in the Basque Parliament for the first time since 1980, PSE leader Patxi López formed Euskadi's first non-nationalist government, which was backed by PP and UPyD.

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Copyright © 2009-2012 Manuel Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
Last update: October 22, 2012.