Monday, July 22, 2013

When Local Elections Matter: Moors and Christians

A little bit of electoral manipulation never goes amiss. Need to find a few more votes, well, make some up. Need to lose some votes for an opponent, well, slip the chap in charge of the returns a few quid. Or get him drunk, so he won't notice.

I don't know that we ever considered it to be electoral fraud. It was more a case of ensuring things went as we felt they should do. The trouble was that one of the chaps in charge of the returns proved to be incorruptible. Students weren't meant to be like that. They were meant to be only too willing to take inducements. To our horror, a line of succession was disrupted by an overly studious and serious sort who had somehow got his way onto the constitutional committee and who was immune to bribery. He didn't even drink. What sort of a student do you call that?

But, this is all in the past of course. And the elections, in truth, didn't matter; student elections never did. Rather like most elections in Mallorca don't really matter. For the sake of democratic appearances, they do matter, but decision-making powers lurk in places well removed from corridors of legislatures. So, when there is the odd touch of electoral jiggery-pokery, everyone tut-tuts but acknowledges that it doesn't make a great deal of difference. "Twas ever thus.

At the local elections in 1999, the then mayor Muro, Jaume Perelló, arranged, with the help of a statistician at the town hall, for there to be an "adjustment" in the electoral roll. This resulted in people who weren't registered as living in Muro, indeed didn't live in Muro, becoming registered. Addresses which weren't in fact residences, such as garages, became addresses for the purpose of the electoral roll. Eventually, almost twelve years after the elections took place, Sr. Perelló found himself in front of a judge. He received a year's prison sentence, having accepted that he had committed an electoral fraud that had been intended to favour his party, the now defunct Unió Mallorquina.

This same ex-party found itself caught up in another bit of electoral shenanigans a couple of years back. In fact, it was the re-emergence of some shenanigans that had occurred four years previously. The party had been accused of buying votes in the form of handing 25 grand over to leaders of gypsy communities. The case had been archived in 2007 only for it to surface again in 2011.

There are elections, however, which do matter. And one was held on Friday night. It was the annual vote to elect participants in Pollensa's grand Moors and Christians bundle; kick-off 7pm on 2 August. Surely everything would be above board with these elections?

There isn't any suggestion that there was anything that wasn't above board, but, because these elections matter, things got a tad difficult when there were some questions raised when it came to the counting of the votes for the candidates to play the local hero, Joan Mas. Mysteriously, 25 votes for one candidate were suddenly removed from the giant screen. An error had been made, according to the chief returning officer. But, and by now (one o'clock in the morning) goodly amounts of cold drink had been taken, this brought claims of irregularities and, once the victor had been declared, a sharp exchange of words and the odd punch between supporters and counters ensued.

So, there are occasions when elections do matter to people. Local elections of the political variety may be something greeted with resigned shrugs, whether there is jiggery-pokery or there isn't, but when they are local elections that go to the heart of local traditions they mean very much more.

But local traditions, where the elections for the protagonists in the Moors and Christians battle are concerned, are not particularly traditional. The voting and the count have become a pre-fiestas party in their own right but, unlike the battle itself (the re-enactment has been going for some 150 years), elections are only 25 years old. Moreover, so great had been the indifference of the people of Pollensa towards the whole Moors and Christians gig that, at the end of the 1970s, incentives had to be given in order to get people to bother turning out for it.

Electoral manipulation there wasn't. A mistake there had been. The fracas might seem a bit silly, but no. The Moors and Christians would not have become the occasion it has, had it not been for the introduction of elections. They made the difference. They matter. 

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