STAFF REPORTER

PALMA
THE regional elections which took place in the Balearics during May this year changed the political colours of the Islands overnight.
A left-wing coalition and the Unió Mallorquina party joined forces with the Socialists to put paid to the ambitions of ex Balearic president Jaume Matas and his centre-right Partido Popular.

Voting results, however, were really close on 27th May with the Partido Popular being the most voted for party but without an absolute majority.
But thanks to the Socialist pact with the left-wing “Bloc” the Balearics now have a Socialist president - Francesc Antich, Francina Armengol is Socialist president of the Council of Majorca and Palma City Council is headed by Socialist mayor Aina Calvo. The leadership coincidence is unprecedented in the Balearic Islands.

Elsewhere in the region, Socialists Joana Barceló and Xicu Tarrés were, for the third time, voted as heads of the Councils of Minorca and Ibiza respectively. Meanwhile, Jaume Ferrer of the “People for Formentera” coalition, was elected leader of that island's recently created council.

Whilst regional institutions are becoming accustomed to this political “earthquake,” the Partido Popular, now in Opposition was going through its own upheavals. Ex president Jaume Matas, faced with the impossibility of pacting with Unió Mallorquina, left politics for a new career in the United States, leaving Rosa Estaras to front his party which she did at first on a provisional basis and then latterly on an official footing.

The new centre-left Balearic government faced its first crisis on 11th July this year with the sinking of the fuel tanker “Don Pedro” belonging to the shipping line, Iscomar, near the port of Ibiza. The resulting spillage forced the closure of some beaches on the island during the high tourist season for several days. It was not until October that the clean-up of the coastal waters and shoreline was complete and, following concerns that refloating the tanker may prove even more damaging to the environment, the hull of the stricken vessel remains 43 metres underwater.

Another hot political potato for the new Balearic government this year has been the issue of Palma's metro. The new infrastructure was a star project of the former Partido Popular government but in September this year, only six months after opening, it had to close indefinitely as a consequence of flooding which plagued the underground system everytime there was heavy rainfall. Towards the end of the year, there was speculation that the service was ready for reopening although a report presented by the Transport ministry advised that it was better to wait at least until April of 2008, to allow time for drainage reforms to be carried out in the area of the Son Castelló industrial estate.

Nevertheless, without doubt, the most difficult decision that new Balearic president Francesc Antich has had to take has been on the location of Palma's new hospital, which during the term of office of the Partido Popular, had been planned for lands at Son Espases by the historical Son Real monastery. Before they came to power, the Socialists had campaigned vigorously against the project saying that the hospital would no doubt attract satellite development on land that should be earmarked as being of Special Cultural and Historical interest. One of the key reasons the left-wing coalition, the “Bloc” pacted with Antich was that they were given assurances that were the Socialists to come to power, there was no way the new hospital would be built near the monastery.

On 5th October, Antich announced, after studying more than one alternative siting for the hospital, that he was giving the go ahead for the project at Son Espases. Apart from delaying the building of a new hospital, one reason for his choice may well have been the fact that indemnities, which would have had to have been paid to the constructor at Son Espases had the project not gone ahead there, would have run into hundreds of millions of euros.

The left-wing coalition, not surprisingly felt betrayed and launched the first set of public demonstrations against a leadership to which they had given their backing at the May elections.

The latter half of the year has witnessed intense Parliamentary debate for the Balearic government over the issue of protected territory in the Islands. Emergency measures were introduced to stop any building work planned in the vicinity of threatened ecological terrain such as the wetlands of Ses Fontanelles at Ca'n Pastilla. Also halted were commercial developments associated with golf course installations.

Although the courses themselves might be allowed to remain, accommodation and leisure facilities alongside them have become strictly taboo. Agreement has been reached with the Partido Popular on ensuring that specific areas of the Islands are fully protected from further construction.

New legislation introduced this year under an altered regional constitution will allow the Balearics to have their own tax collection system which,. it is anticipated, will mean further financial investment in the Islands.

Tornados struck Majorca on 4th and 17th October this year, killing two people and wreaking havoc in built up areas of Palma including major industrial estates - the government gave financial support to those most badly affected.

Disgraced Andratx mayor, Eugenio Hidalgo, implicated in urban planning scandals, emerged from prison for a second time on 22nd March, despite being allegedly responsible for as many as seven cases of planning fraud whilst holding a government office.

On a cultural note, the King and Queen of Spain opened the Santísimo chapel in Palma's cathedral after its spectacular reform by Majorcan artist and sculptor, Miquel Barceló who also provided his services free to design a new logo for the Balearic government.

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