Saturday, April 02, 2011

Our Honourable Friends: Mallorca's mayors

How many are likely to mourn the decision of Pollensa's mayor, Joan Cerdà, not to seek re-selection? He himself is probably not mourning the decision. On Thursday, he walked past me, talking into his mobile. He was actually smiling, rather than wearing his usual care-worn expression. The burden has been lifted. You wonder why he ever subjected himself to the post and to the vilification that has been directed towards him and which has characterised his term in office.

The chances of Cerdà's party, newly named with the mouthful that is the Convergènica i Unió de Pollença, securing a further term must, you would think, be low. Transformed it may have been by name, it remains tarnished by its previous incarnation as the discredited Unió Mallorquina. From the less than good ship that was the UM has jumped the odd defector, such as the mayoral candidate for Jaume Font's La Lliga, the not unappealing Malena Estrany. If the selection of Pollensa's mayor were simply a beauty parade, then Estrany would cat-walk it. But it isn't, as Joan Cerdà proved.

Who would be a mayor in Mallorca? Why would anyone wish to be? The honourable view is that it is an expression of civic duty, of doing the right thing. The honourable view is not one that is widely held; among the citizenship, at any rate. There may well be paragons of public virtue in Mallorca, but for every one that there is, there is also an Hidalgo or a Perelló, respectively former mayors of Andratx and Muro, and both languishing at the citizens' pleasure.

The theory of very local democracy is one that should be unquestioned because of the closeness of the people to the people in authority. It is a fine theory, but the very closeness is what makes the mayoral office both difficult and open to abuse. Difficult because of the endless criticism that is likely to arise and which can rarely be avoided in the day-to-day of such small communities. Open to abuse because. Well, because you know why.

The politics of Mallorca's towns, the positions of mayors in these towns, are reflections not of politics so much as of tribalism. Of networks, of families, of business association, of old scores that can go back to schooldays. Those who used once to fight in the playground now fight in plenary sessions, and the level of sophistication is not always greatly advanced from the days of the playground.

The political parties in the towns and villages are more social and tribal clubs than they are necessarily ideological. Mayors become mayors partly because of who they know, and their selection still owes something to the old system of the "cacique", the local political chiefs, the fixers of the towns and villages of the nineteenth century. It is a current-day system that, for all the good intentions and of what is honour among some, retains the suspicion of favours.

Why is it that in many Mallorcan towns there are local variants of the main parties or simply "other" parties? Are these an expression of dissatisfaction, or is there another reason? The party political clubs have more than a hint of the self-serving.

The people who most matter when it comes to the election of parties and the selection of mayors are the Mallorcan people themselves, the majority of whom, of those to whom I have spoken about the elections, damn each and every party equally. It is not the recent corruption that colours their views and releases their damnation, it is the unspoken body language of a raised eyebrow or a shrug of a shoulder. It matters not which party is elected, nor which mayor is selected. Favours will arise, and everyone knows it, or suspects it.

But can anything other than this be expected? It should be expected, but how difficult must it be to refuse an uncle or cousin, to be immune to a parent's longstanding friendship with someone who was the one who did, after all, give the old man the job that paid for the family finca? How difficult must it be to not be influenced by your wife's suggestion that her brother's business might be an excellent choice for such or such a contract?

Added to these conflicts of interest, mayors and councillors have to contend also with the demands of those largely disbarred from the grace and favour of the network - the foreigners. Those such as the British with their own agendas. Candidates may smile and say the right words, but what are they really thinking? Do they honestly care about whether someone has or hasn't got a residency card? About whether someone has or has not to hold a piece of paper instead? Why should they? It doesn't matter. Sorry, but it doesn't matter. Inconvenience is not or should not be a political issue. Discrimination is, but it goes a lot deeper than a piece of paper.

Ultimately, what does matter is that a mayor presides over what his or her town or village is meant to be responsible for. Nothing more and nothing less. Waste collection, street lighting and cleaning, police. The stuff of the everyday plus the less than everyday, such as the fiestas. Should it really matter that just because someone is a relative that his business secures the contract for certain services? Of course it should matter, but until now it has been the unwritten rule. What is changing, though, is the impulse towards greater transparency, something which the island's town halls have preferred to obscure. The impulse is also towards citizen participation and involvement, a movement that should assist in this transparency. The problem then, though, is who has the loudest and most important voices among the participating citizens.

Being a mayor in Mallorca. Who on earth would want to be one? Even for the honourable.

Any comments to please.

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