19 May, 2023 @ 20:00
2 mins read

Basque-t case? Ahead of local and regional elections, Madrid premier Isabel Diaz Ayuso focuses campaign on ETA

Ayuso President Of The Community Of Madrid Speaks About Accusations Of The Pp
Madrid, Spain; 17.02.2022.- Isabel Diaz Ayuso, president of the Community of Madrid, appears before the press because the leadership of her party, the Popular Party (PP), headed by Pablo Casado, is investigating whether Ayuso favored her brother in a public contract. Photo: Juan Carlos Rojas

CITIZENS who are eligible to vote in the May 28 regional and local elections would be forgiven for expecting to hear the candidates debating areas where they have powers, such as rubbish collection, healthcare and education. But instead this week has seen figures such as Madrid regional premier Isabel Diaz Ayuso focussing on the now-defunct Basque terrorist group ETA. 

On Thursday, speaking at an event organised by news agency Europa Press, the Popular Party politician launched an extraordinary attack on EH Bildu, a leftist nationalist political party that has historic links to ETA, which waged a decades-long campaign for an independent Basque Country but that was officially disbanded in 2018 after having stopped its violent attacks in 2011.

“Bildu are not the successors to ETA; they are ETA,” she said. “ETA is still alive, it is in power, it lives from our money, it undermines our institutions, it wants to destroy Spain, deprive millions of Spaniards of their constitutional rights and cause confrontation,” she continued. 

Ayuso has also called this week for the party to be outlawed altogether. 

EH Bildu hit the headlines last week after it emerged that 44 of the candidates it was running in the upcoming local elections were convicted ETA terrorists. Of these, seven had served sentences for murder. 

The revelation caused an outcry among victims and opposition politicians and also put the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, in a difficult position. 

Sanchez’s Socialist Party is governing in coalition with leftist Unidas Podemos but lacks a working majority in Congress. This means that support from smaller parties, including EH Bildu has been essential to pass legislation over the three years that the government has been in power. 

The PP and other parties such as far-right Vox have used the move by Bildu to attack the government, and it has been one of the main topics of the local and regional election campaign so far, which officially kicked off on Saturday. 

In response to the controversy, Bildu made clear that the seven convicted killers would not accept their roles as councillors even if they were to be elected and step aside.

High Court prosecutors have already shelved an attempt by a victims association this week to have EH Bildu outlawed, on the basis that there is no legal impediment for these former ETA terrorists from running given that they have served their sentences and are not barred from public office. 

This has not, however, stopped Ayuso from demanding that the possibility of a ban be examined further.  

Victims object

Her comments on Thursday prompted a reaction from ETA victims, who objected to her using the issue for political gain.

The president of the Covite association, Consuelo Ordoñez – whose brother Gregorio Ordoñez was a PP politician killed by ETA – called Ayuso’s comments ‘banalization in its purest state’.

It was Covite that raised the alarm about the inclusion of the 44 convicted ETA terrorists on the election lists. 

On Friday, however, Ayuso doubled down and not only ignored Ordoñez’s request, but also reacted with disdain to her comments. 

“It’s just that she… I don’t know if she has had personal problems with the PP for some years now,” said Ayuso in comments reported by Spanish daily El Pais

The polls suggest that Ayuso will win the upcoming regional election. Madrileños will have to wait until May 28 to see if her strategy of focusing on ETA rather than the issues of the region will have helped or hurt her aspirations to stay in power.

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Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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