In the electoral failure manual, there is nothing worse in parties than blaming voters. Strictly speaking, it is a no-brainer. It is the voters who decide with their ballots how seats are allocated in Parliament. On a deeper plane, it is painful to walk that path. It elevates not knowing how to lose to an even greater category of blindness. The advantage is that it allows you to pretend that nothing has happened, nothing that forces you to change not your ideology, but your message or strategy.
That has been the reaction of the Popular Party after its poor results in the Basque elections, which have the category of collapse if you observe the evolution of the votes received in the last twenty years. The PP is irrelevant even in areas where long ago it disputed the first position, as was the case with Álava. It is the Basque voters of the PP who have abandoned the party, not those who never voted for it. That’s pretty obvious, and maybe it should provoke some hint of self-criticism. Absolutely. The fault lies with all Spaniards, even those who have never set foot in the Basque Country. “Something will be wrong Spanish society and of course we should not start doing something that we are in this act, because if not, it would be better to dedicate ourselves to something else, “said Pablo Casado on Monday in a tribute to Miguel Ángel Blanco in Madrid.
That would be the sober version of the PP’s response. To look for comments that require a great effort from the brain to interpret, one must turn to the words of Isabel Díaz Ayuso. “Today they have managed to get what they previously achieved by killing by stopping killing,” he said in the same act. Seats have never been granted in Euskadi based on the number of deaths. “Those who shot the back of the neck in defense of a totalitarian project in the Basque Country never thought that today they would achieve so much.” Beyond spreading terror, ETA did not achieve its political goals for decades. The leaders of the terrorist organization were not exactly thinking of autonomous institutions included in the constitutional state and dominated by the PNV as their great dream. Its objective was the independence and expulsion of the institutions of the Spanish State, two issues that even the President of Madrid should know have not occurred.
In the campaign, the PP and Ciudadanos accused Pedro Sánchez of laundering EH Bildu, which would explain his good results. It is an interpretation that is constantly repeated in various conservative media. “Bildu pays off Sánchez’s money laundering,” La Razón titled. “Pedro Sánchez’s whitening drives Otegui (sic) at the ballot box,” wrote ABC. If Sánchez is so influential in the Basque Country – a very debatable point of view – what is not understood is how he made Bildu reach 22 seats, but he did not manage to get his own party to exceed ten. What is certain is that Sánchez asked for the vote for the PSE in the campaign. Of that, even the PP leaders must be aware. And if Bildu were so ‘bleached’, to use that terminology, the PSE would have no problem agreeing with them and removing the PNV from Ajuria Enea. And that, to this day, is not going to happen.
The Big Ear doctrine
The confusion is not new and part of a process of self-suggestion in which the Basque PP has been immersed for a long time. It arose from a theory by Jaime Mayor Oreja, according to which the nationalist left existed in the Basque Country because ETA existed. It was not supported by any sociological study or survey. For the same reason, the end of violence would serve to propel the PP electorally. Not many party leaders dared in public with the second premise, but some did. “If we can end ETA, which I hope to achieve, the Basque PP will rise like foam, because with freedom in the towns and on the streets of the Basque Country, to see what happens to the people who until now have not dared to vote for us, “he said Antonio Basagoiti, then president of the Basque PP, in 2011. In the following decade, reality denied him.
The PP already had serious problems then in understanding the political and sociological reality of the Basque Country. Terrorist violence contributed to contaminating everything, including the activity of campaigning parties. But that is a mistake that is already very difficult to accept in 2020 (note: ETA announced the definitive end to violence in October 2011).
There was at least one precedent indicating the contrary to the premise of Mayor Oreja. In the middle of the ETA truce brought about by the Lizarra agreements between the nationalist forces, Euskal Herritarrok, led by Arnaldo Otegi, exceeded the percentage of previous elections by 34% in the Basque elections of 1998 (it was in that truce when Carlos Iturgaiz asked to the widows of the people murdered by ETA “a little more sacrifice for peace”). In the following, in 2001, after ETA resumed the attacks and the nationalist vote gathered around the PNV de Ibarretxe, the vote on the Abertzale left sank to 10% and lost half of its seats in the worst result of its history.
The evolution of the PP votes in the last twenty years leaves little room for interpretation. 251,743 votes in 1998, 326,933 in 2001, 210,614 in 2005, 146,148 in 2009, 130,584 in 2012, 107,771 in 2016, 60,299 in 2020. Anyone would say that there is a pattern in these figures. The end of ETA only contributed to accelerate a very evident trend. The media right in Madrid accused Antonio Basagoiti and Alfonso Alonso of being soft in the fight against Basque nationalism – ignoring that María San Gil had already lost more than 100,000 votes compared to 2001 – and hence their poor results. To confirm the Aznarian thesis that anything other than maximum aggressiveness against nationalism contributes to strengthening it, Pablo Casado recovered Iturgaiz, candidate in 1998, and the blow was from the era.
The most paradoxical of all this is the most obvious. The PP insists on believing that it can influence the votes that Bildu receives, but it has no chance. It is obvious that their constituencies are very different. The candidacy led by Maddalen Iriarte has obtained the best numbers in the history of the Abertzale left precisely when it has emphasized its program on the first word without completely abandoning the second. Iriarte has spoken more about social policies, workers’ rights and feminism than about independence. The decline of Podemos in the Basque Country and the stagnation of the PSOE have helped Bildu to dominate the left-wing vote, especially among young people. The loyalty of its electorate has favored it in elections that have had the highest percentage of abstention in the Basque Country.
In the last decade, many Basque voters of the PP have been very clear in the regional elections, especially in Álava. The main brake on the nationalist left is the PNV. Only Bildu can jeopardize in the future the hegemony of the Urkullu party in Basque politics. And those PP voters may not have a degree in Political Science, but they have clear priorities and know how to vote.
In Madrid, the national leadership of the PP continues to talk about ETA, proetarras and batasunos. Perhaps for that reason and for other reasons, it has lost 81% of its votes in the Basque Country since 2001 and half of them since the end of ETA. When you don’t know your voters, you often pay the consequences.