When still living in Sweden, one of my friends used to say that he knew of few people who took their right to vote as serious as I do. On Sunday, May 27, we will have municipal elections here in Spain and as local residents coming from another EU country, my wife and I have the right to participate, something I was determined to do. However, work has come in between and I will have to leave home for the weekend. How can I then make use of my small chance to influence the future of my adopted town?
Our rambla is currently decorated with banners expressing political messages. During the first campaign week, I approached the activists from different parties. While all of them were happy to give me their local programs, none of them asked me how I would vote. In fact, nobody asked anything at all and that is highly strange in a country where people are usually overly social. Is it far-fetched to guess that since party preferences reveal a stand point on the civil war, and since the civil war is something Spanish people prefer not to talk about, party preferences by default are more of a secret here than in, for example, my native Sweden?
This week we finally received the election documents. Being the nervous person I am, I had of course already gone to the ajuntament to double check on my rights to vote. “Just be patient”, was the answer the friendly girl there gave me. “This is Vilanova”, she added. We are currently being ruled by a three-party coalition, tripartit, of Partit Socialista de Catalunya (PSC), Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) and the Green Left (ICV-EUiA). I have not seen any poll results, but I have a feeling that they are quite confident to win again. The election material of PSC reached our mailbox only yesterday although today is the official last day of the election campaign.
Coming from the outside, I am highly amused about the number of opening ceremonies our local mayor from PSC, Joan Ignasi Elena, has carried out lately - first at our still empty high tech center Neàpolis and then at La Sala, the town’s totally unfinished exhibition hall for modern art. Although Elena makes great efforts to prove the results of the current government’s eight years in power, his party still calls their program noves idees. How impressive! Just imagine if they had come up with the "new ideas" a bit earlier and not now, right before the elections. They cannot complain that they have not had the time or mandate to act, can they?
On Thursday evening this week, Canal Blau – our local TV station – broadcast a debate between the five top parties. In general, I was positively surprised about the level of the presentations since all candidates made a good impression on me. The ruling mayor Joan Ignasi Elena was the calm, self-confident but still generous leader of the show. I have in fact received PSC’s party program handed over by him personally. Knowing that Spain has a lot of mayors who are best described as corrupt superstars, I must admit that I am very pleased with our mayor’s strive to have direct contact with his constituency. So far in my life, I have never seriously contemplated to vote for a left wing party, but this time I was thinking about maybe making an exception. Sadly enough for Elena, like many other mayor candidates he has decided to promise us a full service hospital, but his PSC comrades from the regional government do not support him. They admit that they will not allocate the money. What a miscalculation for Elena's local campaign.
Partit Popular (PP), which is the main opposition party to the governing socialists in the Spanish parliament, has some nationalistic tendencies which I have big problems to agree with. Still, their mayor candidate Santi Rodríguez and his friends would have had a chance to win my vote in Vilanova if it would not be for PP’s efforts on the Spanish level to turn the municipal elections into a barometer of the political opinion in the country. The president of PP, Mariano Rajoy, claims that he is making constructive proposals while the only thing Spain's socialist prime minister Zapatero is doing, is to attack PP. Rajoy seems to forget that the socialists happen to rule the country and therefore make and execute decisions on a daily basis. If anything, I think that it is PP which is stuck in negative rhetorics and a vote from them in Vilanova is therefore totally unthinkable from my point of view.
Ciutadans is a new party which made a surprise entry into the Catalan parliament in the latest regional elections. They are targeting the Spanish speakers of Catalunya and as not yet committed catalanists, my wife and me ought to be potential voters. But what happened to their alleged civic activism? While I have seen posters of Ciutadans all over towns like Barcelona, Castelldefels and Tarragona, here in Vilanova they are very rare. Their top candidate, Gustavo Vitriago, will have a problem to make it to the municipal council and since I have not managed to see him during the campaign work, I can not say that I regret it. I think that as a political newcomer you are supposed to work harder than the rest, not the opposite.
What I am left with is Esteve Orriols from Convergencia i Unió (CiU). Initially during the campaign I was concerned about CiU copying PP’s role on the Spanish level, that is to criticize the incumbent government and claim that you are a better alternative without specifying what you stand for. After having collected campaign material and seen the TV debate, I feel much more content with CiU. Elena from PSC might be a good mayor, but I cannot say that I am fond of his coalition partners. There are many things to improve on here in Vilanova and that is why I want to see a change. As I see it, local policies on health care, schools, security and above all the gigantesque ongoing housing projects need a revision. Since CiU is the only realistic alternative to the governing coalition, my vote would have gone to them.
Luckily enough for me, my wife is not as interested in following politics as I am. She might have decided not to vote if it would not be for me. On Sunday, I will be out travelling but there will be one representative from my family who will express our feeling about how Vilanova is to be run during the coming years. In politics, change for its own sake tends to be good since it reduces the risk of corruption. Let us go V.O.