ETA terrorism was one of the main issues to dominate Spain's local elections in May 2007

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Socialists, conservatives and nationalists
all claim success in Spanish local elections

By Daniel González Herrera, Spain Correspondent

29 May 2007: Both of Spain’s main political parties, the ruling socialists and the opposition conservatives, have declared themselves satisfied with the outcome of the country’s local and regional elections held on Sunday, 27 May 2007. While the opposition People’s Party (PP) received the highest number of votes, the centre-left Socialist Party (PSOE) gained the largest number of seats on local and regional councils.

The ballots were seen by both parties as a test run for next year’s general election. Although the difference of support between the PP and the PSOE was a mere 0.7 per cent, PP leader, Mariano Rajoy, was quick to declare his party favourite for next year’s contest. He may have a point. Ever since 1983, the party, which received most votes locally, went on to win the national election the following year. However, the socialists point out that they gained 24,026 councillors against 23,347 obtained by their conservative rivals. José Blanco, from the PSOE, also stressed that, setting the results in Madrid aside – where the socialists were trounced at city and regional level – his party received 250,000 more votes across the country than the PP. “The election results leave the PSOE in a much stronger position at local and regional level than the PP,” he argued. But he also admitted that the Socialist Party had to address its electoral weakness in the Spanish capital before next year’s general election.

Voter turnout, at just below 64 per cent. was down by four percentage points compared to four years ago. The PP received 7.915 million votes, with the Socialist Party on 7.758 million, a difference of some 156,000 votes.

The defeat of the socialist candidate for mayor of Madrid, Miguel Sebastián, was a personal blow to Prime Minister Zapatero as he was his chosen candidate. However, former socialist justice minister, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, achieved the best ever result for his party in the Canary Islands by gaining 27 seats in the autonomous parliament. Nevertheless, the socialists may still be denied power on the archipelago if the PP and the regional Coalición Canaria decide to join forces. Together the two centre-right parties have 33 seats.

The May elections have not resulted in many major changes as far as the make-up of most regional autonomous parliaments are concerned. The PP has retained its absolute majorities in Madrid, Valencia, La Rioja (northern Spain), Murcia (south-eastern Spain) and the North African autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla. In Cantabria (northern Spain) the PP emerged as the strongest party but may be denied power by a coalition between the PSOE and Regional Party of Cantabria.

The Socialist party maintained its absolute majority in Extremadura (on the border with Portugal) and Castile-La Mancha (central Spain) and is likely to form pacts with other parties in Aragon (north-eastern Spain) and Asturias (north coast of Spain). Formal or informal coalitions and pacts may also allow the PSOE to take control of cities such as Vitoria, Cáceres, Jaén, Logroño, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, León, Orense, Vigo, Soria, Toledo, Tarragona, Zamora and Lérida, all of which were previously ruled by the conservatives.

In Madrid, where the incumbent PP mayor, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, was re-elected with 55 per cent of the vote and the regional president, Esperanza Aguirre, also from the PP, received 52.3 per cent, there may develop a clash between different strands of conservatism. Ruiz-Gallardón is generally regarded as a moderate conservative, while Aguirre belongs to the right wing of the PP.

Barcelona, Spain’s second city, will remain under socialist control even though the PSOE received its worst result ever. It is likely that the socialists will renew its coalition with Iniciativa per Catalunya and Esquerra Republicana. The Socialist Party did better in other provincial capitals of Catalonia - all of them remain under its control.

In the Basque Country, nationalist parties continue to be the dominant political force. While the moderate Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) remains the largest party in the region, it lost ground to more hardline nationalists. The Basque Nationalist Action - Acción Nacionalista Vasca (ANV), a party with strong historical roots but one which had been dormant for a considerable time, attracted much of the support that previously went to the outlawed Batasuna party. Batasuna is generally regarded as the political wing of ETA, which, for many years, has been conducting a campaign of violence across Spain in its aim to achieve independence for the Basque Country. Depending on post-election deals, the ANV may eventually control 30 municipalities. In 1999, some 63 mayors in the Basque Country and neighbouring Navarre belonged to Batasuna.

In the 2007 election, the biggest electoral upheaval occurred in Navarre, where the UPN, the PP’s regional sister party, lost its absolute majority and is trying to establish a pact with the socialists, However, the PSOE may decide to form a coalition the nationalist party Nafarroa Bai, which, taking part in an election for the first time, gained 12 seats in the regional parliament. Nafarroa Bai was set up by former supporters of Batasuna, who reject ETA’s violence, and other Basque nationalist parties that favour closer co-operation between the two neighbouring regions. Navarre’s outgoing conservative administration tried to keep any contacts with the Basque Country at a low level.

Marbella, the city that has become a by-word for local corruption in Spain, will in future be governed by Ángelez Muñoz of the People’s Party. In 2006, the Andalusian regional government dissolved the city council due to corruption and urban development irregularities. Both, the mayor and her deputy were arrested.

Corruption and terrorism to dominate
Spanish regional and local elections

15 March 2007: ETA terrorism and corruption in local government: those are the two issues that will most probably decide this year’s local and regional elections in Spain. The government’s response to terrorism by ETA, the Basque region's separatist movement, and well-publicised cases of corruption in local politics have led to a polarisation of Spanish politics. For both main political parties, the socialists and conservatives, the local elections are the last major test before the next general elections.

| Terrorism | Corruption | Electoral fraud | European voters | Madrid | Barcelona | Bilbao | Marbella | Ceuta |

On 27 May 2007, the 8,108 Spanish municipalities will elect their leaders for the next four years. At the same time, elections will be held in 13 of the 17 Spanish Autonomous Communities. Voters in other local entities will also go to the polls. The Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa will choose the composition of their Assemblies; the people of the two archipelagos, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, will vote for the members of their councils; the Basque Historic Territories will renew their autonomous governments; and Navarra and the Val d'Aran will also elect their councils.

For Spanish policies in general, the elections come at a particularly difficult time. The two main political forces, the centre-left Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) and the conservative People’s Party (PP) are undergoing one of the most difficult relationships of recent history. This polarisation is reflected in the streets, where citizens are adopting more and more radical positions, as seen in the constant public demonstrations. This division will obviously be reflected in the forthcoming elections.

Other important issues include the presence of many European citizens who have the right to vote and to run for election, which will help decide the composition of some city councils. Furthermore, cases of possible electoral fraud are being investigated.

Terrorism is a major cause for concern in Spanish society. The “permanent ceasefire” declared by ETA on 22 March 2006 was flagrantly broken with the terrorist bomb blast at Madrid Barajas International Airport on 30 December 2006, which claimed several victims. It deeply damaged the government’s credibility in this area. Afterwards, all the polls showed a fall in the PSOE’s popularity but as time went by it recovered its advantage.

Nevertheless, the problem of terrorism is again in the headlines following the controversial decision of the Minister of the Interior, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, in showing leniency to convicted terrorist Iñaki De Juana Chaos.

De Juana Chaos, who served little more than 18 years in prison for the murder of 25 people, was again sentenced in 2006 to three years imprisonment for making terrorist threats. But after a prolonged hunger strike the Spanish government decided to send him to hospital and, later, to his home where he could serve the rest of his sentence.

In reaction, some 200,000 people protested in February 2007, claiming the government was caving in before terrorist blackmail. It is now abundantly clear that the issue of terrorism will affect the PSOE’s chances in the municipal and autonomous elections.

Apart from terrorism, corruption seems to be the other great issue in the minds of Spaniards. This is much more related to the municipalities, and thus to local elections.  Spain is undergoing a period of widespread corruption in urban development while at the same time the construction industry has been a powerful engine of economic growth. Many corrupt politicians have simply decided to serve themselves rather than their people.

In March 2006, Operation Malaya uncovered a great many cases of cities and towns where politicians corruptly received substantial sums of money in relation to urban planning schemes and the construction companies implementing them.

Now, central government is to pass a new Soil Law, later this year, in order to combat the problem in the face of ever increasing cases of corruption coming to light. But until then, it is obvious that the perceived honesty, or otherwise, of the politicians will be a decisive factor for the voters in the forthcoming elections.

Electoral fraud
Then there is election fraud. With the proximity of the elections, many small under-populated towns are receiving massive registrations of people, which can determinate the victory of a candidate. Some councillors are said to have offered residential status to tourists, with financial inducements, in exchange for voting for the governing party.

It has been reported that in Mogán, on the Grand Canary Island, ruled by the PP, some councillors offered residency to tourist in exchange for their votes. Enix, in Andalusia, registered an increase of inhabitants from 267 to 347. In another case, in Las Tres Villas, also in Andalusia, the community ‘gained’ 129 new inhabitants from January 29 to January 31. The PP candidate reportedly admitted that up to 50 persons of the new arrivals where relatives of him.

European voters
Under the Spanish Constitution, all European citizens can vote and run for election in the municipal vote. In June 2006, the number of such people entitled to vote was 619,341 (source: INE). The influence of the Europeans is especially significant in some tourist towns. In Spain, there are 46 municipalities where the foreign population is up to the 25%. In some 20 of these towns, the outside Europeans will hold the key to the next election.

Case study 1: Madrid
The out of contest in the Spanish capital  is most keenly awaited by political observers. There, the incumbent mayor from the PP, Alberto Ruíz Gallardón, is challenged by Miguel Sebastián from the PSOE, the former director of the Prime Minister’s economics office. The socialist party was late in nominating its candidate, having tried to recruit former defence minister José Bono. After he turned down the offer there was speculation that the deputy prime minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega would become the socialist candidate for Mayor of  Madrid. However, many did  not like the idea of the highest-ranking woman in Spanish politics being removed from the government. At the end, in October 2006, Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Rodríguez Zapatero announced the candidacy of Miguel Sebastián.

Case study 2: Barcelona
Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain. It has being traditionally a PSOE’s domain. The elected candidate, Joan Clos, resigned his post the 8 September 2006 to become Minister of Industry, Tourism and Trade. He was substituted by Jordi Hereu, who is the socialist’s official candidate in the forthcoming elections. The candidate of the nationalist party Convergència i Unió (CiU) is Xavier Trias, a physician who was Councillor of Public Health, and Councillor of the Presidency in the autonomous government of Catalonia during the government of Jordi Pujol (CiU). Other candidates are Alberto Fernández Díaz (PP), Jordi Portabella (Ezquerra Republicana de Catalunya or Republican Left of Catalonia) and Imma Mayol (United Left).

Case study 3: Bilbao
Bilbao, the biggest city in the Basque country, is at the centre of the region’s independence movement and lives in the shadow of ETA’s terrorist activities. It’s current mayor, Iñaki Azkuna, was supported by the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and Eusko Alkartasuna (EA).He will run for a new term, but without the support of EA, which fielding it’s own candidate, Jon Aritz Bengoetxea. Other candidates are Antonio Basagoiti (PP) and José María Oleaga (PSOE).

The party Batasuna, outlawed because its close links to ETA, will participate in the election in a different form. The party re-named itself Ezker Abertzalea (Left Abertxale), a move that seems to have the backing of the Spanish courts. Judge Baltasar Garzón ruled that while Batasuna was a party, Left Abertxale was a political movement and therefore a different entity.

Case study 4: Marbella
After the arrest last year of Marbella’s mayor, Marisol Yagüe, and her deputy Isabel García Marcos on corruption charges, the regional government dissolved the whole city council, which was dominated the Independent Liberal Group (GIL), formed by the late and also disgraced mayor Jesús Gil. Since then the town has been run by an administrative commission, which, according to various polls, has done a much better job than the previous elected council. It is likely that the new council will be dominated by PP councillors, with the socialists forming the opposition. The PP’s candidate for mayor is Ángeles Muñoz.

Case study 5: Ceuta
The cities of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa have a unique status in the Spanish political system. They are ‘Autonomous Cities’. The main difference with the ‘Autonomous Communities’ is that the two African enclaves have no legislative power: their self-government has only executive functions. But this situation may change in the future. The city of Ceuta is planning to change its statue in order to become an Autonomous Community at the same level of the other 17 that make up Spain. As the city’s mayor is the main political figure, his actions will be crucial to the determination of the final state of the city.

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