Less than a year after winning elections in Spain's turbulent Basque region, the powerful Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) has turned against itself, forcing the popular president of the regional government, Carlos Garaicoetxea, to hand in his resignation.
The Basque Nationalist Party's vote of no-confidence yesterday brings to the boil a simmering institutional crisis - not, this time, between the regional Basque government and the central administration in Madrid, but between the Basque government and the three tiny provinces that make up the region.
The crisis threatens to undermine the foundations of Basque home-rule. It pits ''modernizers'' like Mr. Garaicoetxea who are seeking to consolidate autonomy for the whole ''Euskadi'' region against traditionalists who interpret autonomy as more power for the individual provinces.
An autonomy statute enacted in 1979 enables the region to collect and spend its own taxes, run its own schools, and set up its own police force. But the Basque police have little say in the continuing fight against terrorism.
Mr. Garaicoetxea became the region's first lendakari or president when the PNV won elections to the new Basque Parliament.
Although his leadership was reconfirmed earlier this year, the Basque Nationalist Party's struggle to build up the degree of independence in the region has masked deep internal divisions.
The party, which was formed in the 19th century with strong Roman Catholic roots, was originally based on the idea of independence for all the Basque provinces - the three now called ''Euskadi,'' Navarre, and three ancient French Basque provinces. The party itself is organized along federal lines.
The fight against the Madrid government and the Franco dictatorship led to a pact with the left, which was also seeking autonomy. Radical left-wingers fighting for complete independence for the region broke off to form the armed Euzkadi ta Azkatasuna organization 25 years ago.
This split reinforced the conservative orientation of the PNV, and the coming of democracy in the mid-1970s brought a traditionalist revival in the party.
Basque Nationalist rank and file, now upset by Mr. Garaicoetxea's resignation , have voiced strong opposition to the hard-liners in the party leadership. But it is unclear whether popular support could bring Garaicoetxea back. A successor is due to be named within four days.
Meanwhile, the row raises the question of what is to happen to the proposals of Madrid's Socialist government for a legislative pact with the PNV in the Basque parliament, a key part of Socialist efforts to pacify the region.