Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Job-Swapping Mayors Of Mallorca

Mayors in Mallorca job share. Or rather, they job swap. Top-dog musical chairs is a game played out at many a town hall, and it's all thanks to proportional representation and the consequent need for coalition. It does depend, however. Some mayors are secure in their four-year tenure, courtesy of their parties' majorities. Others, whose parties don't have majorities, are not obliged to enter into job-swapping contracts. They form settled coalitions or pacts. They may be perceived, even by other parties, as being the right man or woman to see out the four years.

The job swaps occur because pacts aren't settled. Parties insist on having some mayoral action. Negotiations for forming administrations after municipal elections can depend for their success on agreement to hand over the mayoral wand mid-term. Good consensual democratic stuff, it is really the only way that there can ever be something resembling continuity and control. Without such an arrangement, administrations would never get off the ground. And if they did, they would soon fall back to earth because of the untenable nature of minority government.

The continuity, though, has the inherent potential to be discontinuous. This seems obvious if there is a switch from a mayor representing a particular ideology to one with a different political perspective. The right can hand over to the left, or vice versa. In Arta, there is an example of the former. The El Pi mayor, Tolo Gili, has given way to PSOE's Manolo Galán.

But there may well be continuity. If the agreements for the four years were firm, if the personalities are right, if opposition parties don't cause problems, then even a move from right to left doesn't automatically mean a different course after two years. A further factor is the nature of the municipality. Smaller ones have smaller town halls in terms of councillors and structures. They can function in a more coherent fashion because of their scale, while the self-interests of parties in maintaining their positions of ruling power prevent them from disrupting the concord.

Palma town hall highlights the potential for discontinuity more than others. Its size makes it unique. It functions more like its own government than a mere town hall. The three-way pact of PSOE, Més and Podemos has been exposed as shaky, and the knowledge that there is to be a mayoral job swap has partly contributed to this. For two years, José Hila of PSOE has been a mayor on his way out, while Antoni Noguera of Més has been the mayor-in-waiting: he now only has another month to wait.

In a similar way to the Balearic government, Palma has departments which are controlled by the different parties. There may on the face of it be accord, consensus and so on, but the reality is something else. The conflicts this party control of portfolios causes are no better demonstrated than with new bylaws for terraces and illegal street selling. PSOE have clashed with Podemos. The impending change of mayor only complicates the situation.

There is additional complication because of Noguera's implication with the Més contracts' affair. The opposition Partido Popular, in any event keen to do anything possible to disrupt the pact, has made overtures to PSOE to keep Noguera out. Although an agreement exists, when it comes to the moment for the handover, there still has to be a vote of councillors to elect the new mayor. The PP won't succeed in its attempt because Hila and PSOE would be crucified by supporters were there to be such a volte-face.

The Palma case also raises questions as to the roles of outgoing and incoming mayors over the first two years of an administration. Noguera, with his responsibility for the model of the city, positioned himself as a virtual mayor. There is nothing more important for a mayor than the vision he has for a municipality. So, Noguera has spent two years preparing for the job. Hila will take over this model of the city portfolio. Will his vision be the same and how well might he take being told by Noguera that it will be?

Alaro is clearly a much smaller town hall, but in Guillem Balboa there is a situation similar to Noguera. The opposition Junts per Alaro has openly accused Balboa of having spent the time leading up to taking over as mayor next month in dedicating himself more to being the future mayor than being the councillor for urban planning. Oppositions do of course make such observations. Balboa refutes the claim, but is it so surprising that he might have been?

Job-swapping mayors good for democracy? Possibly they are, so long as there is continuity. That can of course all disappear because of new elections, but in the meantime, consider Llucmajor. They're on to their second mayor, and there's a third yet to come.

No comments: