May 24 will be remembered as the date when the people of the Valencian Country (1) got their dignity back. As time goes by and as we learn all the details of what has been going on while the PP was in office --two long decades--, this date will become even greater.
Many must certainly be wondering how come the PP was able to stay in office for so long --a grand total of five terms-- and managed to win every single election during this time. There are many reasons for this and, even though this article is too short to mention them all, I would like to go over two of them.
First of all, there was the real estate bubble --fed by a zoning law that was eventually voided by an EU tribunal-- which created the colossal mirage of an economic boom where the PP was the holy of holies. This was a time when all the land in Valencia became a massive building site, as well as a paradise for speculators. Any builder could earn three times the salary of a teacher or a medic; the most popular unskilled jobs, which prompted youngsters to drop out of school, were in construction, a sector that became the imaginary driving force of an economy with feet of clay. Farming (which is labour-intensive) and Valencia’s traditional industries were nearly driven to oblivion.
A bill passed by former Valencian president Eduardo Zaplana allowed the two main political parties to appoint the chairmen of Valencia’s savings banks. Those banks were mismanaged by individuals who were either incompetent or corrupt --or both-- until they all went under. All in all, a rather sinister picture.
This was a time of flashy ostentation and grandiose projects, when backhanders bought you a plot of land or the vote of a local council. The recession has shattered the mirage and the economic miracle is in shreds now. Hundreds of thousands of families were sent to the dole queue and went bankrupt, while they watched in perplexity corruption cases cropping up everywhere. Given this state of affairs, it was only a matter of time before people eventually saw reality in a different light. A majority of Valencians are outraged and eager for things to change.
The other reason that has held back change lies with the perverse electoral system devised by the two main parties and aimed at preventing the existing political diversity in the streets of Valencia to be represented in parliament, too. A glass ceiling was built into Valencia’s electoral law whereby a party could not win any seats in parliament unless it got at least 5 per cent of the overall vote in every constituency, including null votes. As a result, a candidacy that won 7 per cent of the vote in Castelló would get no seats in parliament, if it only received 3 per cent in Alacant and just under 4 per cent in Valencia. Historically, this democratic anomaly has fostered a bipartisan system, encouraging abstention as well as the notion of “casting a useful vote”. Paradoxically, when a candidacy eventually manages to break through this ceiling, it is awarded several seats in parliament. In other words, you get nothing or a full parliamentary group! For many long years it was Bloc-Compromís that suffered this exclusion. This time around, it has been Esquerra Unida del País Valencià (EUPV), one of Valencian parties that have battled corruption with the greatest determination. Left-leaning EUPV used to have its own parliamentary group until it lost all its seats on May 24th, despite getting 106,047 votes (4.26 per cent of the total census). If, as is the case with Spain’s general electoral law, the 33,823 null votes cast in this election had been taken out of the equation, today EUPV would still have at least four seats in the Valencian parliament. I do not need to tell you who benefits the most from such an antidemocratic exclusion. The D’Hont method grants the main parties votes that do not belong to them.
Nevertheless, --and in spite of the unfair exclusion of EUPV-- that majority that has arisen from the elections of May 24 (PSOE, Compromís and Podemos) is in a position to allow for a new beginning in the Valencian Country. This should be based on an agreement for the democratic regeneration of Valencian society that wipes the slate clean. Beginning with a new electoral law, this agreement should see people rather than things as the main priority behind every political decision. Politicians should become public servants who do a service for their country, with transparent governments that set a good example and public accounts that anyone can check. After so many years of looting and squandering --public debt amounts to €40bn--, they should administer the meagre resources left wisely and honestly. And they should not forget that the corrupt must be held accountable and be made to pay back every penny to the Valencian people.
(1) N.T. Just south of Catalonia, the Valencian Country is a Catalan-speaking Spanish region that some Catalans regard as part of their nation.