Thursday, May 24, 2007

Municipal Elections 2007....It's Nothing Personal

The gloves came off last week in the election for mayor of Madrid. In one of the televised debates held for the elections, the PSOE's candidate, Miguel Sebastian, brandished a photograph of a woman accused of involvement in Marbella's massive corruption scandal and demanded that current mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardón explain his involvement with her. The reaction was interesting, not least because it exposed a significant difference in the treatment of politicians between Spain and the UK. The photograph in question was of Montserrat Corulla, who is accused of having run front companies for one of the main people behind the scandal in Marbella. Now, for reasons that will become clearer, it is difficult to be precise about the relationship between her and Gallardón. In the debate itself Gallardón denied that he had ever had any kind of "professional" relationship with Corulla and following the debate his party, the Partido Popular, loudly accused Sebastian of trying to introduce the mayor's personal life into the campaign.

By raising the issue in the way he did, Sebastian did seem to put the focus on the nature of this relationship and allowed his opponent to brush it aside on the grounds that it is a personal matter. In Spain the mainstream press does not touch the personal lives of politicians; whereas if this was the UK we would by now know more than we ever wanted to know about Corulla and Gallardón. In this particular case there are grounds for thinking that the British approach might be the better one, not because I have any interest in Gallardon's private life, but because there is actually a serious issue involved. Corulla was fronting projects in Madrid to turn protected buildings into luxury hotels, and seems to have made numerous visits to the department in the city administration dealing with planning proposals. She also seems to have had easy access to the most senior officials and councillors. The issues involved are explained in a bit more detail in this post from Periodismo Incendiario.

The issue at stake is whether a person involved in one of the biggest corruption scandals the country has ever known was able to use her relationship with the mayor of Madrid to obtain favourable treatment for projects that may well have involved the laundering of money from Marbella. By any standards it is an issue of public interest, but the general lack of transparency in the administration here makes it difficult to know what really happened. Couple this with being able to get rid of an issue by claiming that it is interference in your "personal" affairs, and we are none the wiser about what has been going on; the additional noise of it being raised during the election campaign doesn't help. So perhaps what we need to do is get the News of the World onto the case?

Meanwhile Gallardón is on course for a comfortable victory in Sunday's election, according to the latest opinion polls. Esperanza Aguirre also looks set to be returned as president of the regional government, and many observers are already focusing on the rivalry between the two and what might happen in the next few years if the PP fails to win the general election in 2008.

1 comment:

madrid teacher said...

It is a fine line between press intrusion into private personal life and private life that has an impact of performance of public duties. It may seem a cleaner form of journalism when private life remains private, but the worry is what dirt does it cover up? I am all for calling in the news of the World