Newsletter January 2014
POLITICS IN ORIHUELA - WHAT IS GOING ON?
The period between just before Christmas and just after New Year witnessed convulsions in the political life of Orihuela. What happened was of importance for Orihuela Costa and the events should therefore be explained fully.
On 19 December, the Popular Party of Orihuela and Pedro Mancebo's Centro Liberal Renovador (CLR) party announced a political agreement to govern together and signed a motion of censure to be voted on 3 January to bring down the present Socialist-Green minority government. In the event, the motion of censure was not voted on and the minority government of Orihuela continues in office. What happened?
In concluding a government agreement with CLR, the Popular Party cynically, unilaterally and without any notice, dropped its agreement signed in summer 2012 with C.L.A.R.O. We learned about it in the press. For its part, by joining forces with the Popular Party, CLR made an abrupt 180 degree switch in their loyalties, having voted for a Green Party Mayor after the 2011 elections, having served in a Socialist-Green coalition government for almost two years and having expelled two of its coalition members, Bob Houliston and Asuncion Mayoral, for, allegedly at the time of their expulsions, plotting to bring down the government in order to install a Popular Party candidate as Mayor, exactly what CLR are now planning to do.
C.L.A.R.O. was cynically betrayed by the Popular Party. They broke our agreement and we no longer have any obligations towards them. What is worse, reading the text of the PP-CLR agreement it can be clearly seen that the Popular Party betrayed Orihuela Costa. The PP-CLR agreement of 19 December is bad for Orihuela Costa. In the 5 page agreement, only 4 lines are devoted to Orihuela Costa. They are at the end, in paragraph 16 of a 19 paragraph document. In contrast, the published PP-CLARO agreement of summer 2012 devotes 8 of 12 pages to detailed, specific proposals for improving services and investment in Orihuela Costa. The main points C.L.A.R.O. painstakingly agreed with the PP are absent from the PP-CLR agreement: investment in a proper Civic Centre with theatre, library and meeting rooms for social groups; improved services and facilities for senior citizens; a fair share of the budget; decentralisation of staff and activities from Orihuela city to Playa Flamenca; upgrading parks and gardens; improved security and saving Cala Mosca to provide a major natural park for Orihuela Costa. All these issues and more, negotiated by C.L.A.R.O., were dropped by the PP in their agreement with Pedro Mancebo's CLR party. The inescapable conclusion is that C.L.A.R.O. was cynically used by the PP who had no real commitment to the policies for Orihuela Costa they agreed with C.L.A.R.O. Neither does Pedro Mancebo's CLR party have any real interest in Orihuela Costa . The overriding interest of both is getting into power quickly and sharing jobs and responsibilities between them.
Another provision of the PP-CLR agreement (8 lines), twice as long as the section on Orihuela Costa, is explicitly discriminatory towards the two councillors expelled from Pedro Mancebo's Town Hall group, Bob Houliston in 2011 and Asuncion Mayoral in summer 2012, the intention and result of which is that they cannot vote in a motion of censure for a change of Mayor. The PP-CLR agreement states that they will be allowed no positions or participation whatsoever in a PP-CLR government and the limitation of their rights and unassigned status (non-adscritos) is formally recognised. It is not well appreciated that despite all the fundamental differences between C.L.A.R.O. and CLR, the Coalition formed by the two parties to jointly contest the 2011 local election still exists and its Statutes still prevail legally. The committees of the Coalition have not met regularly as they should have since Pedro Mancebo, its President, has not convened meetings. The key body of the Coalition is the Main Committee or Junta Directiva, of which Bob Houliston is Secretary. The tendency of the majority of this Committee changed when Asuncion Mayoral and another CLR member were expelled from CLR. But the Main Committee has not voted to remove them so they remain members. That is why CLR used force to try to impose new members at a meeting of the Main Committee in January, 2012, a move foiled when police were called.
The Main Committee of the CLR-CLARO Coalition met on 21 December, two days after the announced PP-CLR agreement and motion of censure. Without the presence of Pedro Mancebo or Juan Ignacio Lopez Bas, who were invited but chose not to attend, the Committee decided unanimously to expel them from the Coalition providing them until 26 December to express any objections. They did not notify objections and the Main Committee of the Coalition confirmed the expulsions and notified the decision the same day to the Mayor, Secretary General of the Town Hall and other councillors. The expulsion of Pedro Mancebo and Juan Ignacio Lopez Bas was justified on the grounds that they had never respected the rules of the Coalition, had not readmitted the two expelled councillors in the council group as decided by the Main Committee, had used force to try to impose their wishes on the Main Committee and, the last straw, had adopted discriminatory measures in the PP-CLR agreement against fellow members of the Coalition. The procedures required in order that this decision is legal were carefully followed. Although they claimed they had not been properly informed, Pedro Mancebo and Juan Ignacio Lopez Bas notified their objections in a 20 page document to the Secretary General of the Town Hall within hours of the formal notification of their expulsion.
At the special plenary meeting of the Council on 3 January, the two co-presidents, the oldest and youngest councillors (la mesa de edad), Bob Houliston and Carolina Gracia, had to decide first if the expulsion of Pedro Mancebo and Juan Ignacio Lopez Bas disqualified them from voting on the proposed Motion of Censure. The decision had to be a legal decision not political. The Secretary General provided a legal opinion which on 6 of 7 counts stated that in his opinion the expulsions had followed requirements. But on the method of notification of meetings by e-mail, he said he could not be sure that the e-mails had been received, although he had received proof that they had been sent and had not been returned. He therefore gave the benefit of the doubt to the two expelled councillors considering that their signatures and vote would be valid. However, in accordance with the law, he said the presiding councillors and not he, the Secretary General, should decide. Another legal opinion by a Professor of Law disputed the Secretary General's argument on e-mails and decisively concluded that the expulsions were correct and the votes of the two councillors would not be legal. The two presiding councillors decided unanimously that the vote on the motion of censure should not take place. As a consequence, the minority Socialist-Green government continues in office.
As to be expected, the Popular Party and CLR have angrily rejected the decision of the special plenary and are taking legal action against the two presiding councillors in order to reverse the decision. It will inevitably be a judge who decides if the decision on 3 January was legal or not. C.L.A.R.O. will not join the continuing minority government as CLR have been predicting, alleging that Bob Houliston was bought, having been offered a job in return for refusing the Motion of Censure. All untrue. Some months at least will pass before there is a decision of the court. Politics in Orihuela will remain volatile.
One of the reasons being speculated for the sudden, surprise PP-CLR agreement of 19 December is that the PP candidate proposed by CLR and the PP for Mayor, Pepa Ferrando, will soon face charges of corruption for manipulating contracts during her time as a councillor in the government of Monica Lorente. If Pepa Ferrando is formally charged and there is no decision by a judge in the meantime (most unlikely) decreeing that the motion of censure should go ahead, according to the PP policy of not putting forward candidates for public office who are charged with corruption, she would presumably no longer be the PP-CLR candidate for Mayor of Orihuela and the PP would face a difficult and divisive task in deciding an alternative.
Again, it is speculated, that this haste to get Pepa Ferrando elected as Mayor explains the disproportionate responsibilities conceded by the PP to their junior partner, CLR, in the PP-CLR agreement. With only two councillors, compared to the 12 of the PP, CLR would be put in charge of Orihuela Costa, Planning, Urban Affairs, Contracts and Street Cleaning. It is also speculated that the haste of the PP enabled CLR to obtain the inclusion of a provision in the agreement to privatise the potentially multi-million euro street cleaning and rubbish removal service now in the hands of the Town Hall. C.L.A.R.O. had insisted in its agreement with the PP that this should remain a non-profit-making, public service since it has been the cause of so many charges and allegations of corruption, many still before the courts, when privatised in the past. It would be very dangerous to open this Pandora's box of interests once again.
The final outcome of these unexpected and complicated political developments is not yet known. C.L.A.R.O. considers that by acting legally and correctly, expelling from the Coalition the arch CLR expellers, Pedro Mancebo and Juan Ignacio Lopez Bas, we have saved Orihuela and Orihuela Costa from a bad government comprising an unprincipled and cynical Popular Party and an opportunistic and destructive CLR who are ready to behave anti-democratically in order to get their way. Although it is difficult for non-Spanish residents in Orihuela Costa to keep up with these developments because little space is given to them in the local English language press, they have important relevance for the future of Orihuela Costa. Without an active, elected C.L.A.R.O. councillor in the Town Hall, the interests of Orihuela Costa in these latest developments would have been trampled on and ignored as they have always been in the past. Thanks to C.L.A.R.O., for the time being at least, we have avoided the worst.