Constitutional Court legalizes radical Basque party Sortu by one vote

Decision to permit 'abertzale' leftist grouping divides judges Result identical to ruling on Bildu last year

Spain’s Constitutional Court has decided to legalize the Basque abertzale nationalist leftist party Sortu by just one vote.

The debate over the party’s appeal against its banning by the Supreme Court divided Spain’s highest judicial body in two: six progressive judges voted in favor of its legalization with four conservatives and one progressive voting against, according to court sources. Three of the five judges who were “directly opposed” to overturning the Supreme Court’s decision will release personal statements explaining their reasons.

Wednesday’s decision reverses the March 2011 Supreme Court ruling that prevented Sortu from enrolling on the Political Parties Register. The court considered the party part of a plan devised by Basque terrorist group ETA to succeed Batasuna, its banned political wing, in order to contest local elections in the Basque Country on May 22, 2011.

It was over a year ago that Sortu presented its appeal against the decision to the Constitutional Court, arguing it was a “preventive banning that puts the constitutional state itself at risk.”

The Constitutional Court began its weekly session on Monday with the Sortu appeal, which it had begun debating two weeks ago, high up on its agenda. Wednesday’s vote was undertaken with a new draft of the ruling, in favor of its legalization, presented by Judge Elisa Pérez Vera, which included amendments introduced in the previous debates.

The debate over the appeal had been scheduled for May 22, 2012, but was put on hold after the Constitutional Court issued a statement threatening Congress with “drastic measures” if it did not finally proceed with the long-delayed renewal of the mandate of three of its judges that had been pending since November 2010 and fill the vacancy left by the death of Judge Roberto García-Calvo.

The ruling follows the Constitutional Court’s decision last May to legalize the Bildu coalition of abertzale parties that allowed it to contest the May 22, 2011 local elections. That was a similarly split decision with six members also voting in favor and five against.

In those 2011 elections Bildu won over 70 mayoral offices, including that of San Sebastián. A few months later ETA announced a “definitive” end to violent attacks.

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