Monday, May 28, 2007

Municipal Elections 2007....Everyone's A Winner!

Suppose they held an election and nobody lost! It's normal in elections for every party involved to try and claim some kind of triumph, by focusing on whatever aspect of the results looks best for them. However, after yesterday's municipal elections in Spain it's hard to find a party that isn't claiming victory. If you're from the PP you focus on the total number of votes cast and the victories in Madrid and Valencia. The PSOE will concentrate on the significant rise in support in the Canary Islands, an overall increase in the number of councillors, and the possibility that they can form alliances to govern in Navarra or even the Balearic Islands. Meanwhile, Izquierda Unida will point to increased votes in Madrid to show that they have arrested a trend of declining shares of the vote.

The PP won the day on the sum total of votes, by over 150,000, but this seems to be mostly due to them increasing their hold on Valencia and Madrid. Elsewhere they had more mixed fortunes, and didn't show any increase in their vote. Indeed they have lost their overall majority in Navarra and the Balearic Islands. For the PSOE a very significant increase in their vote in the Canary Islands and the possibility of sharing power in Navarra has been offset by the disappointment of Madrid. Not that they really expected to win Madrid, they just didn't want to lose it so badly. Overall, the voting intentions hardly changed during the campaign, the initial opinion polls reflect the outcome quite well. Not only that, in many places the result has hardly changed since the previous round in 2003. It is hard to think of a single result that could accurately be described as a shock.

Picking a winner....

Abstention was an issue in some areas, in Cataluña the vote was significantly lower than the national average. In Madrid the PP is crowing about the record percentage of the vote at municipal and regional level, but the reality is that this is not due to a significant increase in their support. If you look at the voting figures in the city the PP has increased their vote in some areas, but in others it went down or stayed the same. The big difference is that a significant section of the PSOE vote stayed at home, and a smaller part of it switched (back?) to Izquierda Unida, who are actually the party recording the biggest proportional increase in votes in the city. The problem is that going from 7 to 8 per cent doesn't look so impressive on paper. This presents a problem for the PSOE in Madrid, whether it was due to the fiasco of the candidate selection, or just to an uninspiring campaign is hard to say. High abstention tends to affect the left more than the right in Spain, the PP support is more loyal when it comes to voting in local elections. Perhaps because they are always so angry?

Navarra is going to be interesting, it was the focus of a ridiculous and hysterical campaign by the PP based around the idea that the government had made a secret deal with ETA on the future of the region. It seems that the area where this campaign has had the least effect was Navarra itself, as the PP associated UPN lost its absolute majority; and an alliance of Basque nationalist parties gathered a significant increase in support. Now, however, the only alternative government that excludes the PP is an alliance between the nationalists and the PSOE. Should this happen we can expect an equally hysterical campaign from the right wing press as they try to convert the government of Navarra into a new version of the Catalan tripartit to try and scare the rest of the country into voting for the PP.

The PSOE needs to do some serious thinking about Madrid, the shift to the PP in an election where there has not been a national shift in that direction should be worrying. The victory of Aguirre in the regional election is of greater concern than what happened in Madrid city, as the PSOE would have expected to do better. Madrid has been used in the past as a political weathervane for the following general elections; a PSOE victory in the city preceded the national victory of Felipe Gonzalez, and a victory for the PP at regional level came just before Aznar won his first term. However, it is starting to look like a bit of a special case at the moment, although on sheer quantity of votes alone it always remains important.

What all this means for the general elections next year is an open question, the most likely outcome is something not so far away from what we have at the moment. The PP are not looking like nationwide winners, despite the solidity of their core vote. Meanwhile, it doesn't look as if the government is getting the support it needs to go for an absolute majority. On the basis of yesterday's results the most likely possibility would seem to be a repeat of what we have at the ccould be worse. The PP will of course hope for an intervention from ETA at some point that permits them to carry on with the farce of making terrorism the key issue in what will now be an almost permanent election campaign.

On a more local note, I checked this morning the results for Manzanares la Verguenza - there seems to have been some movement betwen parties but I can't yet tell if those pursuing the destruction of La Pedriza will be returning to power or not. The lords of the ladrillo have at least been set back slightly in the Toledo municipality of Seseña. An ugly campaign by a constructor who wants to build thousands of homes in an area with no water has failed to dislodge the Izquierda Unida mayor who opposed the development. It may not seem like much when you see how they still dominate in Madrid and the Mediterranean, but it is in reality a small victory worth celebrating.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Municipal Elections 2007....Getting The Voters Out

South of Watford has had exclusive access to a recording of a meeting involving two strategists from the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), lets call them Pérez and García. They were holding a meeting on how to mobilise their party's voters for Sunday's elections.

Pérez: "Things are a bit quiet with the campaign, I'm worried that we are not going to get out voters out on Sunday."

García: "Yeah, we need someone to inject a bit of life into it to motivate our supporters."

Pérez: "Something that scares them a bit."

García: "What about....what about getting that guy who used to be Prime Minister to do something."

Pérez: "What, Felipe Gonzalez?"

García: "Noooo, nobody even remembers who Gonzalez is these days. I mean the one who came after, with the moustache and the long hair."

Pérez: "Oh Aznar. But he's on the other side."

García: "Well exactly, we need to get him out to frighten our people a bit."

Pérez: "He certainly frightens me. What is he up to these days anyway?"

García: "He hangs out in that pseudo foundation they created for him to play in when he's not pretending to work for Rupert Murdoch."

Pérez: "So how do we get him to do what we want?"

García: "We need to rattle the bars of his cage a bit. Watch this."

He picks up the phone and dials a number - "Is that the FAES? Can you put me through to José Maria Aznar please".........there is a pause, then suddenly he shouts "Peace Process!" and slams the phone down.

García: "If I do that every hour for the rest of the day that should be enough to get him going"

Pérez: "Then he'll come out and say something stupid like that thing about drinking and driving the other week?"

García: "Something offensive, hopefully. If we could get him to insult our voters, by calling them all ETA supporters or something similar; that would be great."

Pérez: "Yeah, just what we need."

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.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Manzanares La Verguenza

As we followed the Manzanares river down towards El Tranco on Sunday after a fantastic walk in the mountains, the horizon was dominated by a huge crane; and I'm not talking about the living variety. La Pedriza is one of the most beautiful parts of the Sierra de Guadarrama and deserves maximum protection, but those who run the municipality of Manzanares el Real clearly hate it. They have decided to allow significant construction of new houses right into the foot of this spectacular rocky landscape. Those who buy these houses will not have a view of the mountains, they will be living in them. It's probably the most appalling piece of vandalistic construction that I have seen in the region. Of course each successive encroachment into this previously pristine space provides the pretext for the next one.

Now I do not know which party runs Manzanares el Real, and for the moment I have avoided looking it up. I can only express the desire that whoever it is gets kicked out of office in Sunday's election, even if it is too late to stop the destructive development. The curse of South of Watford on those building the houses, on those buying them, on those who approved it, and those who vote for them. May plagues of termites invade your homes. As for the poor river Manzanares, if it only knew what awaits it in Madrid it would turn around and go back up the hill.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Nearly Legal Party

The court hearings to pronounce on alleged links between candidates for the municipal elections and the illegalised political wing of ETA, Batasuna, turned out much as expected when I wrote about this issue at the beginning of the month. The Supreme Court decided to accept the recommendations of the state prosecutors and disallow all of the candidates presented under the name of Abertzale Sozialisten Batasuna, in what was a fairly open attempt by Batasuna to rebadge themselves under another name. The court also went along with the prosecutors on the candidacies presented by Acción Nacionalista Vasca (ANV), and banned around half of their candidates.

The latter decision is much less straightforward, ANV has been around since before the Spanish Civil War and is an entirely legal organisation even if it has not previously demonstrated much interest in presenting hundreds of candidates in local elections. The inconsistent nature of these decisions is evident. One obvious question that gets asked is how the party can itself be legal if half of its candidates are not? Or looking at the issue from the other side, how can you ban any candidates at all for a political party if the organisation itself is legal? The prosecutors presented a fairly arbitrary criteria for the judges to make their decision, any local list with more than three candidates judged to be linked in some way to Batasuna was said to be invalid, all others were accepted. Whilst this obviously makes the work of the judges much easier, it has to be said that it looks like a number plucked out of the air at random, and what happens if those who are judged to be linked to Batasuna no longer participate in actions organised by that party?

I have always been slightly curious about the conduct of these court hearings, at least this time the court called for their dinner to be sent in and seemed to do a long session; there are other times when I suspect they have just rubber stamped whatever is put before them by the prosecutors and then had a chat amongst themselves for an hour before announcing the decision. If you are seriously going to examine the political affiliations of thousands of election candidates in a single court hearing then you need to be prepared to stay up late; I'm not convinced that is what always happens.

The government seems quite content with the situation; it leaves the opposition PP with less strength to their argument that the government is allowing Batasuna to stand in the elections, and at the same time it leaves ETA with less justification for using the closing of the electoral door as a pretext for further armed activity. None of this hides the confusion that is the result of judges being asked to take political decisions based on an appalling piece of legislation that was only ever introduced with the intention of making Batasuna illegal, but which in theory can affect any political party. Yesterday, the farce took a new twist as another of these right wing organisations that exist solely for the purpose of taking other people to court tried to get the case taken away from judge Baltasar Garzon and handed to another judge who they felt would be more sympathetic. They failed in their attempt, but it just reaffirms what can now be called the "boric acid test" of justice; get the right judge and you get the decision you want.

Almost unnoticed in the backgound, the Ley de Partidos that is used in all these cases for banning candidates is facing a legal challenge in the European Court; the result of this challenge could be interesting as a badly drafted and almost impossible to implement law comes under what will hopefully be some close and critical inspection. Meanwhile, any Spanish speaker who takes the simplistic view that opposing this law means you are some kind of ETA sympathiser would do well to read this reply from Ricardo Royo-Villanova y Martin.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Municipal Elections 2007....There's Only One Party In The Race

Continuing on the theme of the coming local elections, my weekend away meant that I didn't get a chance to write earlier about the political storm created by Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone. Bernie turned up for a press conference in Valencia last week to announce details of a proposed Grand Prix to be held in the city. So far so boring, but things got more interesting when he decided to reveal that the race would only go ahead if the Partido Popular (PP) won the regional and city elections in Valencia.

He had done a deal with Francisco Camps, the current president of the region, and made it clear that his deal was with people rather than cities. Clearly, for Bernie just being a multi-millionaire is not sufficient; you have to be able to demonstrate the power that money brings by showing how you can manipulate opportunistic politicians, and in the process milk some public funds for putting on another race in a country which already has a Grand Prix. Camps decided not to remind Bernie about any integrity issues, and expressed his gratitude for this little piece of electoral blackmail.

If the race ever takes place it will soak up a significant public contribution, which following the best sporting traditions will be channelled through one of these private companies that always seems to be on hand when called for. The rights to Formula One in Spain are now in the hands of Alejandro Agag, whose main previous claim to fame has been to marry the daughter of José Maria Aznar in a wedding at El Escorial that saw Aznar acting more like a king than a prime minister. Agag claims he has nothing to do with the Valencia deal, which seems a bit strange just from the business point of view - without going into the clear political connections that exist.

Anyway, just in case the voters of Valencia decide to revolt against this cynical manoeuvre, and also for the benefit of those living elsewhere, South of Watford is proudly able to provide you with an exclusive do it yourself, play at home version of the Valencia Grand Prix. Any breach of property rights is entirely intentional, so here we go:

Rrrrrrrinnnnnnnn.................... rrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnn................ rrrrrrrrrriirinrinrinnnnnnnnnnnnn.......... rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrunnnnnnnnnnnnnnn......

and etc etc for the next 2-3 hours. Who has won? Bernie, of course.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Municipal Elections 2007....The Battlegrounds

It's time to take a more general look at the impact these elections on the 27th might have, now that we have had the first opinion polls of the campaign. What these polls suggest is that we cannot expect to see a very notable change with respect to the equivalent elections that were held in 2003. Based on this data, the opposition Partido Popular (PP) is not likely to make any significant gains, the only regional government not already controlled by them that they have a reasonable chance of winning is Asturias. Even this does not look very likely based on the poll figures I have seen, and assuming that this is a reasonable reflection of voting intentions.

The governing PSOE does have its eye on some significant prizes. They placed a high profile candidate in the Canary Islands, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, who was Justice minister in the government until a few months ago. The race in the Canaries is split between the PP, the regional Coalición Canaria, and the PSOE; so even being the biggest party does not guarantee that you can form the government. The election in Navarra could also be dramatic, as I have mentioned previously. There is every chance that the PP could lose their absolute majority there; and given their current inability to form alliances that means they could lose power too. The Balearic Islands, currently providing the strongest competition to Marbella as municipal corruption capital of the country, could also see the PP lose power to a coalition of opposition parties. In their strongholds of Castilla and Leon, as well as in Madrid, there are no signs of any danger for the PP.

López Aguilar....a heavyweight candidate for Canarias

Losing Navarra and the Balearics would be sufficient to make this a bad election for the PP. It is important to remember that the elections in 2003 took place at a time when the PP was still suffering the consequences of Aznar's participation in the Iraq disaster, although the PP did better at holding its vote than many observers expected and was actually quite satisfied with the results at the time. The participation level in the elections is going to be one of the most important issues, where there has not been much shift in voting intentions then it is the motivation of each party's core vote that becomes the most significant factor. It also has to be taken into account that Galicia, Cataluña, the Basque Country, and Andalucia do not vote this time around for their regional governments, so those regional contests that do occur are not giving a picture for the country as a whole.

The government would want these elections to be a platform for going on to win a national majority in next year's general election, and the poll figures do not at the moment support that ambition. Neither do they support the idea that the PP can emerge as the biggest party in a national election. If the poll data is correct then the PP emerge as the biggest losers simply because a failure to make headway against an incumbent government 3 years into its term suggests that a similar failure could occur in the general election. That prospect might be tempting enough for the government to go for early elections in the autumn, especially if there is no reason to think the outlook will change for the better before March next year. There is plenty at stake here, while the electoral cycle keeps these elections so close to the national ones, then they will always be about much more than local issues.

Municipal Elections 2007....Premature Birth

Returning refreshed from my brief stay in the low countries, I find I have a small pile of things I want to write about, mostly to do with the forthcoming elections. When I posted back in February about the fashion for inaugurating public works in election campaigns, it never occurred to me that we were going to get quite such an intense frenzy of bogus inaugurations like that which we have experienced in the last couple of weeks in Madrid.

The prize for the most fraudulent inauguration so far is not going to Madrid mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardón for opening traffic tunnels without drains, Alberto has been outdone by his party rival and regional boss; the pauper president Esperanza Aguirre. La Espe turned up a couple of weeks ago for the opening ceremony and accompanying photo fest of a newly built hospital in Parla, to the south of Madrid. She posed proudly for the photographers with her hand resting on an incubator, as evidence of how her administration was improving health services for the region.

Once the show had moved on, I suppose to yet another opening ceremony, it turns out that the incubator also had to move. It was shipped out the back door of the hospital and returned to the one from which it had been temporarily borrowed for the photo opportunity. Inside the hospital, an unsuspecting invitee tried to go to one of the shiny new bathrooms, she was informed that this was not possible because a few small but important pieces of porcelain were still missing from the, as yet, uninaugurated facility.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Happy Blogiversary To Me

This blog celebrates its first anniversary on Sunday. When I started it on May 13th last year I was just playing with the idea of having a blog more out of curiosity than anything else, and it took a while before I established what sort of content I wanted to include in it (having a go at the PP seems to be the central theme of the year - although they do make an easy and tempting target). Also, one feature of my life in Spain was that, email apart, I had almost completely stopped writing in English - and I was becoming aware that my English was getting worse (without producing any corresponding improvement in my Spanish!).

Now, over 180 posts later, it's almost taken over my life; if I didn't have to work for a living it would be even worse. I could mark the anniversary by doing a complete redesign of the blog, but I haven't even got round to changing that vague header I put at the beginning when I couldn't think of anything better. Instead it's going to be clogs not blogs; I'm off to Amsterdam for the weekend and the laptop stays at home.

Community Service

This week saw the celebration in the building where I live of the annual meeting of that very Spanish institution, the Comunidad de Propietarios. This was the meeting of all the owners of apartments in the building to discuss anything that needs doing to the building, examine the accounts, bitch about anyone who didn't turn up (especially if they owe money to the Comunidad), complain about the tenants in the rented flats and maintain 5 separate but simultaneous conversations/arguments. The presidency of the comunidad goes by strict rotation, when we moved into our apartment we found out that we were presidents for that year because it was the turn of the people we had bought from. It's not a big building and it's amazing how quickly our turn comes around again. My first ever meeting was true culture shock, I never knew that a communal rubbish bin could provoke such lengthy and strong discussion; it came up again at this weeks meeting, there are some items which are permanently on the agenda. Given the time it takes to sort things out between 8-10 people I can't imagine what it must be like in bigger buildings.

I usually play the role of the quiet foreigner in the corner in these meetings, it's a part I do quite well and I reckon that if at least one person doesn't talk very much then there is a slight possibility of the meeting being just a tiny bit shorter. My building is probably quite typical of many in the central area of Madrid, you have a dwindling number of residents who have lived there for much of their lives, a growing number of owners who live elsewhere and rent out their property, a couple of apartments whose owners have died and where ownership is still unclear, and some relative newcomers like myself. The result is a Comunidad that doesn't really want to spend much money on the upkeep of the building, those who don't live there and some who do just want to pay the minimum necessary to keep everything ticking over. It could be worse, at least we have decided to raise the monthly contributions to prevent what littlle reserves we have from dwindling away.The only real investment made during my time in the building was a new door for the front entrance, I can tell we bought a decent quality product as it more or less survived a recent and fairly determined attempt to kick it in at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

If you have not seen the excellent film La Comunidad, directed by Alex de la Iglesia, then I recommend it. Things are not really as bad as portrayed in the film, but I can't help thinking that behind the wild, comic exaggeration there is probably a small grain of truth.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Just Another Day In Espelandia

I went to Madrid airport on Friday, on my way to London for the weekend. As usual I travelled by Metro to the stop inside Terminal 2 of the airport. Everything was much the same as on many similar trips I have made in the past. The difference this time was that leaving the Metro station at the airport has become just a little bit more complicated.

The story begins with the construction of the new Terminal 4 at the airport, which has now been open for a couple of years. The new terminal was built together with a Metro station, but without that annoying little detail of the tunnel and tracks needed for it to actually form part of the network. The government decided that this was the responsibility of Madrid's regional government, led by the esteemed Esperanza Aguirre, because the line terminates in what used to be the village of Barajas, beside the airport. Esperanza disagreed, and although it hurts me deeply to say so, I think she was probably right; if you can connect both halves of the new terminal underground, then why can it not be possible to at least put some sort of transport system in place between old and new terminals? Anyway, in the end Aguirre decided to take on the job but with a little twist; the extension to the new terminal would be built by a private company who would then have the rights to operate the line during a set period. Espe is by all accounts a keen admirer of Margaret Thatcher, and it shows.

So after two years in which there was no direct public transport link to the new terminal, we finally got the new section opened last week (it got inaugurated twice, but that just seems to be standard in these pre-election times). I was curious to see what the pricing policy was going to be, as there had been strong rumours that it was going to involve a different pricing policy to that used on the rest of Madrid's Metro. Sure enough, we were informed that the journey to Terminal 4 on the new section of line would cost 1 euro extra on top of the normal ticket price. That might not seem much to many of you who live outside of Spain, but a 10 journey ticket on the rest of the network only costs €6.40. So the price you pay to go to the new terminal is a little bit over 150% more than you would pay to go to Barajas "pueblo". So far much as expected, a hefty little price increase for the one extra section of tunnel that had been built, and a nice little earner for the companies that built it. Now, going back to where I started this post, I said I was getting off at Terminal 2; and the line to Terminal 2 was built using general taxation and has been open for several years. Well that won't do, and thankfully we have Esperanza to stop that sort of cheap transport nonsense, because it turns out that they are also charging users to to the old terminal a 1 euro supplement as well. Because the line goes through some stations where the supplement applies and others where it doesn't, they can only charge it on exit. Hence the chaos when I passed through on Friday as everyone wondered why they couldn't get through the barriers. Some people are just so ungrateful, they don't realise the obvious efficiency benefits of making people pay to enter the system, and then pay to get out of it again.

and this is where we keep those who can't afford to get out....

I don't know whether the extra money from Terminal 2 goes to the consortium who did nothing at all on that section of line except change the signs. Maybe it goes into the Comunidad's coffers so that they can then fund a lavish advertising campaign telling us how well they are running the Metro. Perhaps - and I can't resist the opportunity - it goes to pay Espe's heating bills in winter and thats why she turned down the money that was collected to help her. Presumably, her solution to this bizarre, chaotic mess will be to eventually privatize the whole lot. Another day in Espelandia.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Municipal Elections 2007....I Want To Know What You Believe In

Maybe it's just coincidence, but I seem to run into them all the time recently. Wearing their distinctive red jackets with the word "quiero" written vertically in white down one side, they look like these people who get recruited by mobile phone companies, or one of the new television companies, to distribute marketing material to passers by. They have bicycles too, with flags attached to the back of the bike bearing the same slogan as the jackets. The first time I saw them I instinctively started to take that semi-circular route around them that says "I am not not the person who is going to take whatever it is you are handing out only to put it straight into the bin". They also travel with a large mobile screen which broadcasts a constant series of members of the public telling whoever cares to stop and listen what it is that they want.

These people are not hired by a private company to sell their product - they are in fact the campaign team for Miguel Sebastian, the PSOE candidate for mayor of Madrid. You wouldn't know without stopping and looking a bit closer that they even represent a political party. It is the ultimate triumph of style over content as someone has probably been paid very well to deliver a parody of the last commercial marketing campaign that they worked on. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against imaginative political campaigning but where is the difference if people confuse you with their telephone company? The illusion of participation is given by the screen and the camera team who give 5 seconds of fame to those who want to say their piece. It's an illusion because if you are going to take suggestions from ordinary people about what they want for their city then you do it before you present your electoral program, not afterwards. Letting Mr Garcia say he wants one thing, and then allowing Mrs Perez to say she wants the opposite just ends up giving the impression that you don't really stand for anything in particular.

Digging for victory?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

El Dos De Mayo

I wanted to post something about the 2nd of May, not least because it is a public holiday in Madrid; giving me the chance to do it at my leisure. So I went to English Wikipedia looking for some background, only to discover that there was no specific article on the events that happened on this day in 1808. Faced with such a situation, and having spent some time with Wikipedia for other reasons, I decided the best thing to do was to write it myself. It is still a work in progress, but has already been greatly improved by other Wiki users. So if you are inside or outside of Madrid today, and don't understand why the city is still on holiday this article will tell you why: Dos de Mayo Uprising.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Garzón Hits The Nail On The Head

"We cannot have a never-ending chain of suspensions and illegalisations if there is no unanswerable evidence". With these words the judge Baltasar Garzón has responded to the pressures to ban the tiny Basque party Acción Nacionalista Vasca (ANV). The party, which has been in existence since 1930, has become the focus of attention because it has presented a comprehensive list of candidates in the Basque provinces for the municipal elections on May 27th. Given that the organisation has a very small membership, the suspicion is that it has lent its name as a cover to ETA's political wing Batasuna, whose attempts to present themselves at the election under a new name are almost certainly going to be rejected by the courts.

The problem, as I have pointed out before, is with the law that was used to make Batasuna illegal. Any other organisation that opposes that law, as they are entitled to do, also risks being made illegal if they present candidates for election to try and offer representation to that section of the electorate that supported Batasuna. The Partido Popular (PP) has, predictably, called for the ANV to be banned by the courts. The final decision does not rest with Garzón, although the failure of the police to find a direct link between ANV and ETA coupled with Garzón´s recommendation makes it difficult to see the party being banned.

Now it is fairly clear that ANV shares similar ideological principles with Batasuna, but that is not the same as saying the two organisations are identical. ANV's statutes explicitly rule out support for violence, and the fact that the party has existed as an independent entity during many years means that it cannot simply be regarded as a creation of ETA. The PP's attempts to portray any radical nationalist organisation as being an extension of ETA would lead to a situation where no legal expression of these political positions would be possible; something which would give ETA hardliners the excuse they barely need to continue using violent methods.

What seems likely to happen now is that a percentage of ANV's candidates will be challenged in the courts, those that have had some past connection to Batasuna. This in itself is an interpretation open to question as it seems to say that once someone has been a Batasuna candidate then they cannot stand for another party. The law and the interpretations made of it end up being almost entirely political. One thing is almost certain, if ANV is allowed to present candidates for the elections we will get a demonstration in Madrid called by one of the PP's satellite organisations, and immediately backed by the PP itself who are desperate to try and introduce the issue into the election campaign as another example of the supposed "surrender" to ETA. After all, it's been over a month since the last one.