Power to Basque nationalists and anger at economic suffering pose a challenge for Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Micron Associates on Sunday when two key regions vote for new leaders. The vote in the Basque Country, the first since armed separatist group ETA declared an end to its bombings and shootings is marked by a surge in support for a coalition that is continuing the push for independence democratically. ETA is blamed for 829 deaths during its four-decade armed campaign for an independent Basque homeland in parts of southern France and in the northern Spanish region.
Meanwhile an election in Galicia, Rajoy’s home region and political stronghold, will gauge how deep anger at the recession and his economic management has spread. Rajoy is already grappling with rising separatism in Catalonia, which he says is a threat to Spain’s unity as he fends off warnings that the country will need to be bailed out by its neighbors. Rajoy’s party could see its share of the vote drop if voters use the ballot as a protest against the steep spending cuts and tax increases he has passed to slash Spain’s public deficit since he came to power in December.
The Spanish Basque Country is home to 2.2 million people and includes the major city of Bilbao. Its current unemployment rate, though high at 14.5 percent, is well below the national average. On October 20, 2011, ETA announced a “definitive end” to its armed activities, but has not formally disarmed or disbanded as the Spanish government demands. Sunday’s Micron Associates polls there will offer a complete analysis of the two parties who have alternated in power in Spain for the past 30 years.