POLITICS

Spain’s politicians scramble for photo opportunities ahead of elections

But flurry of ribbon-cutting ends as voting legislation bans further acts before May 24

The mayor of Málaga, the Spanish prime minister and the French culture minister at the inauguration of the Málaga Pompidou center.
The mayor of Málaga, the Spanish prime minister and the French culture minister at the inauguration of the Málaga Pompidou center.GARCÍA- SANTOS

Members of the local government team in Málaga joke about it, calling it “Los ocho días de oro” or “The eight days of gold,” the name of a popular annual sales period at El Corte Inglés, Spain’s premier department store.

The reason is that between March 23 and 30, there have been 40 official events in the province ahead of municipal elections in May.

The flurry of public ceremonies includes the inauguration of two museums set to turn Picasso’s hometown into the new golden mile of Spanish art. Only last Saturday, Málaga officials cut the ribbon at the first franchise of the Centre Pompidou to open outside France.

Even Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is not a big fan of this sort of event, has been adding them to his agenda lately

“Last night I slept four hours,” admitted Málaga Mayor Francisco Javier de la Torre, of the PP, as he took the call from EL PAÍS on his way to the museum.

But time is running out: as of this Monday, further project inaugurations are off limits as per Spain’s voting legislation. Municipal and regional elections have just been announced for May 24.

Before this, however, mayors and regional premiers have been packing in the presentations. This phenomenon has been most noticeable in Andalusia, which held early regional elections on March 22.

Even Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is not a big fan of this sort of event, has been adding them to his agenda lately. Between January and February the Popular Party (PP) leader only presided one ribbon-cutting ceremony dealing with a power connection between France and Spain. But this Monday he is traveling to La Rioja to open a new road link and to Santander to visit a hospital.

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Sources at La Moncloa, the seat of government, admitted that elections “set the pace,” but noted that during his entire term in office Rajoy has only cut the ribbon on three road sections, including Monday’s event.

And while public works projects have slowed down because of the crisis, in 2015 there will be 1,000 new kilometers of high-speed railway and 350km more of roads available to travelers in Spain.

Researchers at the Foundation for Applied Economics Studies (Fedea) said in a recent study that no high-speed AVE line in Spain is turning a profit, and suggested that such a roll-out of new rail links is tied to politicking.

But the Málaga mayor Torre supports this type of political publicity.

“It would be a mistake not to use this opening to advertise yourself to the world,” said De la Torre about the museum opening, though stating that his team “didn’t push anything forward or back” to make it coincide with the end of campaigning.

Cádiz Mayor Teófila Martínez poses in front of ongoing construction work on the city's new bridge.
Cádiz Mayor Teófila Martínez poses in front of ongoing construction work on the city's new bridge.

Sources familiar with the negotiation said that Pompidou managers wanted the Málaga branch to open before April, coinciding with the replacement of Pompidou president Alain Seban.

During the Andalusian campaign, Cádiz Mayor Teófila Martínez, of the PP, was heard saying privately that she would finally be able to inaugurate the colossal bridge over the bay, which is 3.2 kilometers long and 185 meters high. This major project now looks like it will be completed before general elections in the fall.

But in the meantime, Martínez is making good use of the construction phase. The city recently launched a website showing work progress in real time.

“We filed a complaint with the election board,” recalls Fran González, a Socialist candidate in Cádiz. “The board banned the city from using its slogan on the site, so they performed a facelift, but kept the site up and running.”

In April, Martínez will cut the ribbon on the road link to the bridge, and has asked the Public Works Ministry to make sure that the access ramp can be visited three days before the ceremony.

“She is desperate at the thought that she will likely lose the elections,” says González. “She needs that picture linking her to the project.”

Cádiz was the only Andalusian capital where Podemos, the new anti-austerity party, was the most voted force at the March 22 elections.

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