Monday, September 08, 2014

Likability: Isern versus Bauzá

Palma is a big city. 407,648 inhabitants, according to 2012 figures, getting on for half the population of the island and over a third of the total Balearics population. It is Spain's eighth largest city, but its bigness is magnified because of the smallness of the rest of the population and so confers on it a status that is disproportionately large for its size. And a way this status reveals itself is through the public administration of the city - it is a virtual government within a government.

When you preside over a city of such status, your role as mayor is unlike that of any other town in the Balearics. It carries a very much greater responsibility and it brings with it recognition. You are the one mayor in Mallorca who people will have heard of (though there can't be many who now also haven't heard of Manu Onieva). It is a recognition which affords you a certain power if you so wish to exercise this power. You command over 400,000 people. Popular, and you are a force to be reckoned with.

Mateo Isern will not be liked by all, but he has a public profile of likability. Being liked is not a pre-requisite for public office, but it doesn't harm a politician if he or she has a well of goodwill that likability generates. Such likability can be turned to one's advantage, especially if there are others around who are liked less or very little.

Isern's likability factor has been such that it might have been forecast that he would, despite the plummeting likability of his party - the PP - hang on to his role as head of the Palma government within a government. But when there is a government within a government, there comes an additional pressure - that of party wars: in Isern's case, his own party. He will not be mayor come next spring, not because his party wouldn't have received sufficient votes but because his party won't let him. Or rather, the "Rodríguez" faction in Palma in alliance with President Bauzá won't let him.

Isern has been a dead man walking for months. José María Rodríguez, the PP's political chief in Palma, never exactly well-disposed to Isern, has, it would appear, been working with Bauzá on the plan to get rid of Isern since the spring. His alliance with Bauzá seems a little odd. Rodríguez is of the Matas era, someone who was forced to resign as the government delegate for the Balearics - a job he got, one always fancied, with less some fulsome support from Bauzá - when the spectre of corruption surrounded him; he was implicated as part of the investigations into Matas. What swung Bauzá around to the side of the so-called "rodriguistas" in Palma was the massive fallout he had with Isern.

This was partly caused by the spat between the two over where the second casino in Palma should be located. Three months after it, Isern offered to resign. Bauzá wouldn't let him, though the more likely reason for him not going was that Madrid got very agitated about the prospect of a popular mayor walking off the job. The bad blood because of that spat back in November last year has never been cured. Isern has, since then, appeared to be a possible challenger to Bauzá. He has seemed less than enthusiastic about certain government policies - language, for example - and in April he was the star turn at a lunch held in Muro where there was talk of a convention being called to seek drastic changes to the direction of the Bauzá administration. That lunch was probably the tipping-point and what took Bauzá into the arms of the "rodriguistas". Isern's number was going to be up, and a way of ensuring that he didn't decide to stand again as mayor or to make life very difficult for him was to load the "list" of Palma PP candidates with "rodriguistas".

Isern has seemingly enjoyed the support of certain PP prominenti in Madrid, notably María Dolores Cospedal, the party's secretary-general, and there is some thought that Madrid will get involved in the whole affair, especially now as the local PP party machine is intending to use a system of primaries to select the mayoral candidate in Palma, despite Isern saying that the party statutes don't recognise such a system.

Behind all of this affair, one suspects that there is another dynamic. There has been a personality clash and it has been one between a liked and a disliked politician. Bauzá has made so many enemies that he was bound to have become disliked. Maybe he is jealous of Isern's likability, but depriving him of the mayor's job might just backfire on him. When you are head of a government within a government, it is not too big a leap to become head of the government.

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