Basque elections in Spain: All you need to know as separatist descendants from ETA lead the polls in potential headache for PM Pedro Sanchez

THE Basque Country will head to the polls this Sunday for a crucial regional election that could prove to be a political headache for incumbent Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Opinion polls ahead of this weekend’s ballot show the left-wing separatist EH Bildu party, partly descended from the political wing of the now-defunct terrorist group ETA, with a narrow lead over the ruling centrist Basque Nationalist Party (PNV).

The PNV, which has ruled one of Spain’s northernmost and wealthiest regions since the 1980s, governs in coalition with the PSE-EE, the Basque branch of Pedro Sanchez’s PSOE Socialist party.

However, any prospect of another coalition – which experts deem likely – could be hampered by Sanchez’s reliance on the backing of EH Bildu to prop up his unstable government.

Both EH Bildu and PNV, alongside Catalan separatist parties, helped to secure Sanchez’s government in a November investiture vote which came four months after an inconclusive snap election.

Sunday’s election could prove to be a political headache for PM Pedro Sanchez. Credit: Cordon Press

The Basque Country has one of the highest regional GDPs per capita in Europe thanks to a strong manufacturing sector. 

Many Basques believe their region – which has its own language, euskera, the oldest living language in Europe – would benefit from being independent from Spain. 

All 75 seats in the Basque regional parliament will be up for grabs on Sunday with 38 seats needed to secure an absolute majority.

A poll jointly commissioned last week by El País and Cadena Ser put EH Bildu on 35.4% and 30 seats; the PNV on 34.5% and 28 seats; the PSE-EE ON 13.4% and 10 seats; the Partido Popular (PP) on 8.2% and six seats; and left-wing Podemos, Sumar and far-right Vox all with under 2.5% of the vote and no seats. 

The crunch ballot will also decide the new Basque president – or lehendakari – replacing Iñigo Urkullu who has headed the position since 2012.

The key parties

EH Bildu

EH Bildu was founded in 2011 as a broad coalition of left-wing, pro-independence Basque nationalist parties, but was initially outlawed by Spain’s Supreme Court due to its links with Batasuna, the banned political wing of the terrorist group ETA.

Between 1968 and 2010, ETA killed 829 people during a brutally violent terror campaign.

In 1987, the group, whose acronym stands for ‘Basque homeland and freedom’, killed 21 people in a supermarket bombing in Barcelona.

In 1997, Miguel Angel Blanco, a 29-year old PP councillor in Biscay was kidnapped and murdered by ETA, leading to mass protests which saw over six million Spaniards head to the streets to condemn the group’s cycle of violence.

French police seize top leaders after daring raid
EH Bildu have historic links to ETA, the Basque terrorist group which killed over 800 people.

Despite announcing a ‘definitive cessation of its armed activity’ in 2011, several former ETA members are involved in EH Bildu.

Arnaldo Otegi, EH Bildu’s leader, joined ETA as a teenager and was later imprisoned for kidnapping, whilst 44 of the party’s prospective candidates in last year’s local elections were found to be convicted members of the terrorist organisation.

Pedro Sanchez even rebuked the party earlier this week after its candidate for lehendakari, Pello Otxandiano, referred to ETA as an ‘armed group’ rather than a terrorist group during a public debate. 

Pello Otxandiano has been criticised after calling ETA an ‘armed group’. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

However, the party has achieved success in the polls thanks to a manifesto that shifts from a focus on the past to the future, with policies on health, housing and employment proving popular with the electorate. 

With only 22% of the Basque electorate reportedly in favour of independence, EH Bildu have also moved away from calling for absolute autonomy, and instead are pushing for more devolved powers from the Spanish state.

They are also expected to benefit in a decline of support from fellow left-wing party Podemos, which currently has six seats in the Basque parliament in conjunction with the Plural Left. 


The PNV, or Basque Nationalist Party, have governed the region almost uninterruptedly since 1979, three years after the death of General Franco.

Founded in 1895, the centrist PNV is Spain’s second oldest extant political party, after the PSOE.

Despite their remarkable political success, many voters are growing tired of the status quo, with several opinion polls placing EH Bildu in pole position.

However, PNV politicians have done their best to smear their arch rivals by emphasising their links with domestic terrorism, especially after Pello Otxandiano refused to label ETA as a terrorist group in a recent debate.

Basque politician Imanol Pradales after being attacked with pepper spray
PNV leader Imanol Pradales was attacked with pepper spray earlier this week. Credit: La Sexta

Current lehendakari Iñigo Urkullu has announced he is stepping down after the elections, with his former pupil Imanol Pradales chosen as the party’s new candidate. 

In a speech on Friday, Pradales referred to the departing Urkullu as his ‘teacher’, before asking voters to secure four more years of ‘progress’ and help to ‘advance the Basque nation’ with a vote for his party.

Last week, Pradales was rushed to hospital after being attacked by a man with pepper spray as he left a party rally in Vizcaya province.

Pradales said: “When I was walking to the car to go to the debate I was approached by a person I didn’t know, he mumbled something to me, I went closer to hear better and then he sprayed me with pepper spray in my left eye”.


The Basque branch of the PSOE Socialist party has supported the PNV in coalition since the 2020 regional election.

Although it is highly unlikely that the PSE-EE will come first, the party is likely to play a crucial role in the coalition-building process following the vote.

Regional officials may have to choose between building a coalition with the PNV or EH Bildu, both of whom help to prop up the national government. 

Pedro Sanchez is sworn in as prime minister
The PSE-EE are likely to play a key role in the aftermath of the election – and any decisions taken may be influenced by Pedro Sanchez’s unstable coalition government. Credit: Cordon Press

Their leader, Eibar-born Eneko Andueza, has previously been criticised by those on the left for his support of bullfighting, whilst he has also written a book called ‘Youths without Youth’ on the assassinations of members of Basque anti-separatist parties by ETA.

Pedro Sanchez described EH Bildu’s leader as ‘cowardly’ and ‘disrespectful’ after controversy erupted over the separatist party’s leader’s comments on ETA. 

Partido Popular

The Basque Partido Popular have historically underwhelmed in regional elections, securing just four seats in 2020, with the PNV traditionally holding a monopoly over the right-wing, conservative vote.

Dates revealed for parliamentary votes to make Partido Popular's Alberto Nuñez Feijoo Spain's new prime minister
Alberto Núñez Feijoo, leader of the Popular Party (PP), has criticised the PSOE for their relationship with EH Bildu. Credit: Cordon Press

Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, the leader of the PP nationally, accused the PSOE of ‘real cynicism’ for criticising EH Bildu this week having also relied on the party for support in Congress.


Polling at just 2%, far-right Vox are unlikely to make their mark on the election’s results – despite their best efforts.

On Friday, the candidate for the controversial party took part in a stunt that saw him and a group of supporters unfurl a 50-metre long Spanish flag on the beach in San Sebastian.

Vox unfurls a 50-metre Spanish flag on the beach in San Sebastian
The 50-metre long Spanish flag in San Sebastian.

Vox had launched a challenge on social media, saying that if they picked up 10,000 followers before Sunday’s election, they would unfurl the banner – a deeply unpopular symbol within the Basque Country.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *