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An increasing number of foreign nationals are being listed on the ballot forms in Spain’s municipal elections. Here, some tell SUR in English of their motivation.
This week, as the political manoeuvrings move up a notch as 22nd May looms ever closer, SUR in English speaks to some of the non-Spanish protagonists in 2011’s local election battle.
So what compels someone from another country to stand as a candidate?
“Well at first I was going to take a bit of a backseat,” says Emma Hall, Nerja’s Councillor for Foreign Residents (Partido Popular). “My father was approached first but he thought it would be better for someone younger, and who spent a lot of their childhood in Spain, to do it,” explains Emma, whose family came to the town from Newcastle when she was 13 years old.
British-born Denise Bush (PSOE) was encouraged to join the foray of politics to help other foreigners become involved in their communities. “I was asked if I would like to represent the British community living in Villanueva del Trabuco and since I have got to know most of the council members over the last 10 years, I jumped at the chance of working with them.”
Integration is a key motivator for many. “I wanted to improve the integration of and information for foreign residents living in Fuengirola,” says Johanna Forssell (PSOE), who hails from the north of Sweden. “A Town Hall must be close to all residents and provide the necessary tools to make integration and participation possible.”
Some want to give back to their community. Originally from Swindon in the UK, Charlotte Wilmot (PSOE), a councillor in Ronda says: “I got involved in the local party to work with the local executive committee and was invited to participate in the 2007 elections, and thought it would be a great experience to contribute something back to my adoptive town.”
Other foreign candidates felt compelled to stand as a candidate to tackle certain issues. Two Brits, Philip Smalley and Gary Miles, are representing the Partido Andalucista in La Viñuela. They are the president and press officer, respectively, of Save Our Homes In Axarquía (SOHA), which actively campaigns for “the establishment of an amnesty for honest homeowners” whose properties are threatened with demolition as they were built, unbeknownst to the buyers, on “rustic, non-developable land.”
“We have come to a point where our frustration at the inability of the Town Halls and the Junta de Andalucía to work together to solve the problem has reached its limit. Given that we cannot run for the Junta, then the only logical thing to do is run for the council,” explains Gary. “Our thinking is that from inside the Town Hall we can have a more positive influence in solving the problem, to ensure that this does not happen again, and bring confidence back into the housing market,” adds Philip.
In Alcaucín, Belgium-born Mario Blancke (Green Party) shares similar concerns. “I have always been a convinced ecologist. So my membership in the Green Party on one hand, and my membership of SOHA might appear as a contradiction. However, my conviction is that you cannot defend our environment and ignore the people’s problems. And I strongly believe that the only asset we have here in this region is our nature, exactly what has been mistreated in the last decade.”
All those who spoke to SUR in English said the reaction to politically-active, non-Spanish nationals has been favourable. “I’ve not heard of any criticism,” confirms Charlotte Wilmot; a view echoed by Johanna Forssell: “I have been well received and my own party is supporting me 100 per cent.”
“Other candidates and voters have responded very positively. They can see the benefits,” affirms Philip Smalley.
Emma Hall says there are those who “speak a little slower than they would to someone else, but after 23 years I’ll tell them, in Spanish, ‘I’ll ask if I’m unsure!’”
“The other candidates have made me feel very welcome,” says Denise Bush.
We will know the voting public’s reaction on 22nd May.
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