Tuesday, March 21

Election morning in Salamanca, fiefdom of the PP of Mañueco: late night owls, resigned leftists and a vindictive nun

Sunday dawns in Salamanca and the city begins to wake up. The cleaning trucks wash down the streets, the cafes in the Plaza Mayor begin to place the chairs on the terraces for breakfast and the last stragglers from Saturday night are being collected. Within an hour, at 9:00, the polling stations will open, which will determine the future of the local candidate in the early regional elections. Alfonso Fernández Mañueco, president of the Junta de Castilla y León, is from Salamanca, he was mayor (2011-2018), as his father was before, when there was no vote. But this tradition could not matter less to the dozen people waiting for their sandwiches in a store near a nightclub named after a tsarist minister, in the historic center, which has just closed. “They don’t make laws, they build them,” reasons Raúl, a 24-year-old farmer who does not intend to vote.

The semantic distinction is difficult to define at this time of the morning, or at night, but Raúl comes to say that the courts of Castilla y León do not respond to the popular mandate as much as they should. He is seconded by Sofía, 23, a graduate in Sociology and now a Social Work student, who declares herself “anti-system”, not apolitical. She will not vote either, although she takes the opportunity to criticize Vox, because her speech “goes against human rights.” The rest of the group looks sideways, without speaking, already thinking about going to sleep. Not far from there, in a corner of the Plaza Mayor, the Dori newspapers have just been placed, which runs a kiosk that has been there “80 years”. It seems that the elections have not led to a notable increase in press sales. “Perhaps tomorrow,” confides Dori, who, although he does not take risks with an electoral forecast, warns: “People are a little tired.”

Contrary to the cliché that in medium-sized cities (Salamanca has 140,000 inhabitants, plus almost another 100,000 in the metropolitan area) life goes slowly, in the politics of Salamanca, specifically in that of the Popular Party, everything is maelstrom lately. The provincial PP, its president, Javier Iglesias, and its manager, Isabel Sánchez, are accused of alleged illegal financing in connection with the primaries that in 2017 allowed Mañueco to take command of the party at the regional level. Many popular militants were not going to be able to participate in that process because they were not up to date with the payment of dues, so some cadres began to settle accounts in a hurry, without paying much attention to the limitations of the Law of Parties. A court considers that this may be a crime and tried to question Iglesias last January, which he preferred not to answer. The manager is scheduled for March. Mañueco, a militant since the time of Alianza Popular, has behaved as if the thing was not with him. The electoral advance has nothing to do with it, he has assured.

Of the financing of the primaries or of the other two cases of corruption that affect the PP of Castilla y León (the plot for the concessions of wind farms, on the one hand, and the cost overruns of a public building in Valladolid, on the other) Little is said in El Zurguén, a Salamancan expansion neighborhood south of Tormes, planned at the end of the 1990s, whose complete development prevented the real estate crisis. Here, half an hour’s walk from the historic World Heritage Site, there are no solemn buildings of centuries-old stone and apostolic gravity, but rather modern dwellings that coexist with some in poor condition, with blocks that remained in the skeleton.

What most bothers the around 4,000 residents registered in the neighborhood is that they have spent 10 years clamoring unsuccessfully for a health center to be built. José Manuel García Borgas, a 46-year-old party dress cutter, remembers him at the gates of the electoral college, located in a municipal nursery. “Mañueco promised when he was mayor, that he would lay the first stone, and now you see.”

There is a kind of fatalism in this “worker, worker” neighborhood, according to Borgas, in which the PSOE was the most voted force in both 2015 and 2019. “We are the last monkey,” he says. “I would like Mañueco to get shot in the butt, but it seems difficult for the right not to come out,” calculates Alejandro Azcárate, 37, a native of Cádiz and almost without an accent, who believes that the local “idiosyncrasy” is imperturbably conservative, and the president of the Board, a “fox” who has been spared the management of the pandemic taking its toll, unlike his until recently partners at Ciudadanos. “I have not seen TV, I vote to be contrary, here the PP will always win,” remarks a woman with a melancholy air.

The day is clear and the sun is already hot after 11:00, when Mañueco goes to vote in the Plaza de la Constitución, in the building that houses the headquarters of the Ministry’s Delegation of Economy and Finance, the former local headquarters of the Board. Four Salesian nuns arrive a few minutes before and are surprised by the congregation of journalists and popular activists, a couple of dozen. “Important people are coming today,” a local police officer explains. One of the sisters is Rosa, (“Rose of thorns”, she jokes) in charge of the Salesian women’s wardrobe, who gives her opinion on the local political scene: “There is a lot of borreguismo and a lot of clientelism”, she says, adding that the media should “inform without entelechies”. They have already left when Mañueco appears, whom the young people of the PP receive with applause.

The president deposits the ballot paper and when he leaves he admits, after the usual thanks and calls to vote, that “all of Spain is paying attention today to Castilla y León”, although he may be thinking of Madrid. On the margins of the square, a middle-aged couple observes the ensemble, she takes a photo. Her name is María and she says that she has always voted, but not anymore, that the coronavirus has made her see things differently: “While people are dying, they keep putting the saucepan. Let them go that way.”