Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Because we are winners..."

This was the moment, around 9:45 pm on September the 9th, that Victor Hugo del Pozo, twice previously elected as mayor of La Antigua, emotionally conceded defeat in front of his friends, family and assorted empadronados gathered in the Sevilla Spanish School ; though at this stage it was still unclear who had come out on top on the night.

To the surprise (and discontent) of many, the winner turnd out to be Dr Rodolfo Vivar whose brother owns Toreros, one of the more notorious nightspots in La Antigua, located behind the market. One of the lamer arguments deployed by Dr Vivar's opponents was that the UNE candidate planned to open up discos all over the city as soon as he was elected, thereby leading its youth to inevitable perdition!

In the days immediately after the election V and I started to suspect that the shock of Vivar's election had caused an immediate increase in the incidence of death by miocardial infarction in the more well-to-do neighbourhoods, because many of the homes we passed as we walked our dogs were adorned with the black (bin-liner) bows of luto. Yet when V made her enquiries with a security guard outside one such house-in-mourning, she was told that it was in fact the institution of local government in La Antigua whose sudden passing was being thus lamented.

Our nine-year-old niece and goddaughter Amy is wonderously well-informed about local political affairs. She came to stay with us for four days shortly after the election; I found her waiting outside the front door one afternoon bearing her mochilita and a highly unusual three-headed pineapple. She duly informed us that grief-stricken supporters of "la Sucia Asensio" were driving around La Antigua dressed in black carrying lit candles and that her own aspirational eldest cousin Jeannette had participated in one of these vigils, along with a bunch of "ricos".

The architect Susanna Asensio had lost out to Dr Vivar by just 220 votes and naturally felt hard done by. Her assumption of fraud was based on a familiar argument: Vivar, her supporters said, had bused in people from outside to vote for him. From my own observations of the electoral process this appeared somewhat unlikely, as every voting table was being closely observed by fiscales from the different parties, and the whole process appeared to be being managed fairly transparently, in La Antigua at least.

However, it emerged that Asensio had managed to win 60% of the tables, and until the votes at the Centro César Brañas were counted, had established a lead of 950 over Vivar. And this polling station was the one especially set up by the electoral commission to handle 'new' citizens: individuals from outside communities like El Rodeo and Escuintla who had supposedly moved to La Antigua quite recently, and as a result had applied for new personal identifcation documents (cédulas).

Outgoing mayor Antonio Siliézar ('el alcalde amigo...de lo ajeno') is accused of having effectively purchased 500 cédulas in the eight months prior to the vote, and overall the electorate of La Antigua seems to have been bumped up rather suspiciously by 10% in this same period. Fiscales at the César Brañas centre vouched that they witnessed lorry-loads of gormless yokels all trying to pass themselves off as residents of San Pedro las Huertas, and the finger of suspicion in organising this sudden migration is being pointed at dodgy old Siliézar, who appears to have sided with his rival when it became clear that his own politcal game was up. Two days before the vote a number of uniformed local policemen were caught handing out pamphlets designed to spread highly unfavourable rumours about Asensio and her campaign.

The TSE has nevertheless upheld the election of UNE's Dr Vivar. Meanwhile, the actions of Asensio's camp have caused consternation in some quarters. That their black-clad corteges were circling the parque on Independence Day in the wake of the college bands was deemed inappropriate by many, and Amy's sister Clara Lucia told us that she had heard people calling up local radio stations to say that they were glad that Vivar had won, even though they had themselves voted for Asensio. Some went on to suggest that Asensio's party, Antigua Somos Todos, had paid them for their vote.

Voter rewards of one kind or another are nevertheless all too commonplace. One of our close neighbours suddenly changed all the posters on the facade of her home in the days before the election, reportedly on the promise of a secretarial job with a new UNE adminsitration. Victor Hugo's features lay torn and mud-trampled on the road outside.

When we reached the Sevilla school (owned by one of del Pozo's key backers) at around 8pm on election night, it was filled with a mangy crowd of affiliates who clearly already sensed that they were not to get their hueso ('bone') this time round. My young and informed sources tell me that many had been promised land plots in return for their X.

Defeat was bitter to Victor Hugo, never before anything but a ganador. His theory that he could re-take the Ayuntamiento with just 3000 votes had been shown up conclusively. But the planned celebratory disco still went ahead, and a stack of particularly explosive, car-alarm unfriendly fireworks were launched into the night skies.

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