Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Vota Terrazas! Sí o no

The campaign's in full swing. Can we expect a televised debate? Will posters be hanging from every lamppost? "Vota terrazas!" A citizen of Palma might stare at this poster and wonder who he or she is. "Terrazas? I don't remember there being a Terrazas running for Congress."

This isn't an election campaign. Not for Congress or Senate. It is to elect terraces staying or terraces going. To terrace or not to terrace? That is the question. More or less. Terraces on the Born. Some say Borne. There are doubtless those who don't inhabit the micro-universe of central Palma who may well never have heard of the Born or Borne. Who may not know that it is both Passeig and Paseo. It has trees, so it would be better if it were an Avinguda or Avenida: avenues by definition of cliché must always be tree-lined. But no, it is Passeig and Paseo, and herein lies a clue to the campaign. Literally, either of these means a promenade, a word more associated with the seaside. It comes, variously, from Middle French (to go for a walk) or Latin (to drive animals onward). There are no animals being driven onward on the Born. Animals are not the debate. Walking is. Walking along the prom, tiddly-om-pom-pom.

Except they can't walk. Not with one, two, three, four terraces in the way. The citizens of Palma are enduring terrace terrorism. "Oh my, where can I promenade? How can I promenade when there are four terraces in the way?" The laments reached the ears of the town hall. Under a previous guise, one removed from the present administration, it allowed terraces. The current administration has heard the cries of the citizens. "Vota no!" And be sure to do so with the use of your citizen's card, as it's the only way that you will be able to. As of today and for the next seven days.

Not long in the post, the not-the-Podemos deputy mayor for public services, Som Palma's Aurora Jhardi, took it upon herself to make the terraces of the Born a battleground over a gentle stroll or a relaxing cup of café con leche. Aurora was digging trenches for the strolling citizenry. Relaxing cups of café con leche, right down the middle of the Born at any rate, were for Partido Popular-ists, Ana Botella having famously (or infamously) uttered the fateful café con leche line apropos Madrid's failed Olympic bid. But it was not only promenaders being denied their citizen birthright as a consequence of terrace invasion, there were also events traditionally held on the Born. There was the book fair, for instance, when vast stalls weighed down with mighty tomes expounding Catalan Marxist dialectic blocked the way of promenaders.

Aurora, to the chagrin of the bar owners, announced that the terraces would be no more, once what had been a trial period (of several years) ended in February next year. Little did anyone suspect, certainly not the bar owners, that a few months later, the citizens of Palma would be voting on their terraces. But that is exactly what they are doing, and Aurora and the town hall are delighted. Why? Because even if the vote doesn't go their way (it won't be legally binding in any event), the terrace referendum will have been a triumph for the new age of online democratic participation, albeit that, with some reluctance, the town hall had to accept that not all citizens are umbilically wired up to the internet: those who are not will be able to go to community centres and shown how to do it on a laptop brought in for the occasion.

Is it granting the town hall too much Machiavellianism to suggest that they might have had this in mind from the outset? Whip up a frenzy of publicity and then call a referendum, thus heralding the new age. Terraces may cause controversy, but they are hardly life or death (though they may be job or no job). They are a useful test project.

But test for what? Participation in the political process is an admirable, nay laudable aim, but there are limits and boundaries, and the terrace vote is not decisive as it has no legal authority. In a similar way, popular legislative proposals, such as the one which did for bullfighting in Catalonia, do not oblige parliamentary approval. The will of the people, sorry citizens, can be denied.

They are having their terraces' referendum, but if they can have one for these, then why not, say, one for the monument in Feixina park? Is a controversy that drags in old Nationalist-Republican feuding too hot a theme for the new age of participation, consensus and citizen proximity?

The consultative process cannot be selective, unless, that is, you hold a referendum to decide on whether to have a referendum.

No comments: