Nearly 37,000 cast votes in first wave of Basque independence non-binding referendums

Gure Esku Dago platform says initiative heralds future decision making on Basque Country political status

Voting in Debagoiena.
Voting in Debagoiena. Author: Erain Debagoiena
The first wave of non-binding, self-organized referendums on the independence of the Basque Country saw yesterday 36,884 people casting their votes in 34 municipalities -32 of them in Gipuzkoa. This equals roughly to 30% of people eligible to vote. Some 95% of the polls were in favour of the creation of a Basque state.

The unofficial referendums are a popular initiative of local committees under the Gure Esku Dago umbrella. The group said yesterday's votes signaled the beginning of a period of decision making regarding the future status of the Basque Country.

The pro-sovereignty group described Sunday's vote as a "big qualitative step" for the Basque Country to decide its own future democratically.

Yesterday's 34 referendums were not the first self-organized votes on independence -the municipalities of Etxarri-Aranatz and Arrankudiaga-Zollo had already organized theirs in 2014- but it was the first time that a number of municipalities agreed on one day to hold their votes, with some 125,000 people being called upon to participate.

Referendums in two further municipalities are planned for autumn 2016, before a second wave of votes is held in spring 2017. According to Gure Esku Dago, votes are expected to take place in more than 60 municipalities.

Pro-independence, left-wing Euskal Herria Bildu alliance had encouraged citizens to take part in yesterday's unofficial votes, and had explicitly asked them to vote "yes" to independence. The alliance argues the popular referendums show that "broad public support" exists in the Basque Country for the "right to decide".

Centre-right, pro-sovereignty Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) has kept a lower profile than EH Bildu's vis-a-vis the non-binding votes. Nevertheless, in a vote in Gipuzkoa's General Assembly, PNV voted in favour of a motion on the unofficial referendums alongside EH Bildu. Left-wing Podemos, which says it is committed to the right to decide, abstained in the vote as it argued that the "social concept" was not being taken into account in Gure Esku Dago's votes and furthermore it claimed that PNV is not a "valid companion". Conservative PP and social democratic PSOE voted against.