The Day in Spain #11



Basque elections: Attorney says Otegi inelegible for Lehendakari

The Head Attorney at the National Audience, Javier Zaragoza, has allegedly referred a statement to the court, arguing that Arnaldo Otegi, Lehendakari (Basque PM) candidate for EH Bildu (left, anti-capitalist, Basque separatist) is inelegible to run. The document says that Otegi is suspended to run for office until 2021, after being sentenced to a jail term for trying to re-organize the illegalised pro-independence party Batasuna.

However, Arnaldo Otegi argues that the sentence doesn’t specify which positions he’s suspended from, and so he’s not barred from running for Lehendakari. Otegi bases his case in favourable jurisprudence.

Reactions to the Attorney’s document have been prompt. The temporary Justice Minister, Francesc Catalá (PP, right, conservative, centralist), has stated that “Otegi’s name won’t be on the ballots”. He has said that, even if the Electoral Board approves his candidature, the attorney’s office would immediately appeal against that decision.

On the other hand, San Sebastian’s mayor, PNV’s (right, conservative, Basque nationalist) Eneko Goia, said that the Attorney’s report is “shameful” and that “some don’t want to understand the new reality of the Basque Country”. He has defended that Otegi didn’t deserve to be imprisoned in the first place.


Arnaldo Otegi is a very divisive figure both in the Basque Country and the rest of Spain. Hailed by many as the main leaderhead of the Basque pro-independence movement, his past relationship with ETA makes him the target of outright hate from conservative sectors of society, which at the same time improves his image among left-wing voters. Otegi was freed in March 2016, after spending six years in prison for allegedly trying to rebuild the illegalised party Batasuna and “glorifying ETA” in a rally in San Sebastian in 2010. His imprisonment is seen by many as politically motivated.

One must understand that ETA’s terrorism is heavily instrumentalised in the Spanish political sphere, so the ability of Arnaldo Otegi to run for office goes beyond a legal issue. Insisting in his inability to run would increase polarization in the Basque Country and Catalonia, where the Spanish establishment would be perceived as authoritarian.

PNV’s position is clear. The Basque conservatives need to keep Otegi a “regular” opponent, trying to minimise galvanization of the nationalist voters around the left-wing leader. The same goes for Podemos, which compete with EH Bildu for the left-wing electorate.

The Electoral Board of the Guipuzcoa province will decide whether Otegi is elegible for Lehendakari or not at the end of August. Whatever the decision of the Board is, an appeal is expected, so the situation will be solved by the Constitutional Court before the electoral campaign kicks off on 9 September.

Galician elections: Podemos and En Marea won’t run together

The two main left-wing, anti-austerity parties in Galicia, Podemos and En Marea, will not share a single ballot in the elections of 25 Septmber. The leader of En Marea, Luis Villares, has pointed to a lack of agreement about the technical formula to use. En Marea wanted Podemos to be an integral part of its group, while Podemos preferred to be in an independent coalition and keep the use of its brand.


The breakdown is relevant, because it means the first big crisis of Podemos’ model of “confluence” with regional forces. The anti-austerity party had so far successfully used this method to present single left-wing anti-austerity ballots in regional and national elections.

Spain’s electoral system has 52 electoral districts, which correspond to  50 provinces and 2 autonomous cities. Because of the system used, vote concentration in a provincial basis benefits parties. In addition to that, cultural differences are often huge between regions in Spain, so running with local grassroots organisations to adapt to local features is also an important part of the strategy. This tactic has led Podemos to very good results, particularly in periferal regions such as Galicia, Catalonia and Valencia.

The system has allowed Podemos access to the mayoralty of Madrid, Barcelona, Santiago de Compostela and A Coruña, among others. It has become the most voted option in Catalonia in the last two general elections.

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