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Patxi López calls early elections

Unable to obtain passage of the regional budget, Basque premier schedules October polls

Patxi López, who is the Basque regional premier, or lehendakari, has acquiesced to those who were urging him to announce the dissolution of the Basque regional parliament as soon as possible.

The law sets a term of 54 days between dissolution and elections. López, of the Socialist Party, announced the dissolution on Tuesday, and set the elections for October 21, the day after the first anniversary of the cessation of ETA violence.

This is a prudent decision. Had it been further delayed, if only by a month, he would have had to chair the yearly debate on general policy in September — which, in the feverish pre-electoral climate, would only have served to unite the opposition in the call for elections.

It is a responsible decision, too, leaving as it does a margin of time for the new majority, whichever it be, to prepare the budget with which it proposes to govern. And it is a decision that highlights the principal event of his mandate: the end of ETA.

When a government cannot put together a parliamentary majority, it must normally call elections. This was what the Basque Socialists demanded of the former premier Ibarretxe, of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), when, after the breakdown of his pact with the Basque radical left, he was left in a minority.

The pact with Antonio Basagoiti’s Popular Party (PP) could not withstand the stresses deriving from the PP’s national policy of cutbacks. López saw opposition to this policy as a way for the left to take a stand. Against the rhetoric of total austerity, he called for a “Basque model,” allowing for continuing social expenditure and exploiting the advantages inherent in the Basque region’s special system of sharing taxes with the national government, while rousing Basque sentiment with appeals against national cutback decisions, on the grounds that they violate regional self-government.

The polls showed an erosion of voter support for the PP, but not an upturn for the Socialists. The fall in revenues, the rise in indebtedness and the impossibility of fiscal reforms (which would require a deal with the councils, governed by another party) seem to have influenced Tuesday’s decision. They made it impossible to obtain passage of the 2013 budgets, which would necessarily lead to dissolution. López had perhaps already decided on it, but wished to avoid a repetition of what happened to Zapatero for announcing early elections too soon, with four months to go.

The choice of date reminds us that the central objective of the inter-party pact that gave López the Basque premiership was attained with the end of ETA; and that the policy of his regional government — the first non-PNV administration — of firmness against ETA and the threatening gangs of its milieu propitiated a social climate that helped lead to this outcome. And this objective should mean that, whatever the composition of the new government, its priority will be to quench the embers of violent, anti-democratic ways, still stirred up by ETA’s heirs.

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