It came as a surprise to everyone late last week after a meeting of party faithful in San Pedro. The San Pedro party (Opción Sampedreña – OSP) has voted to withdraw its support for the three-party coalition led by Socialist PSOE mayor José Bernal that has been running Marbella council since 2015.
The move clears the way for the conservative PP party’s local leader Ángeles Muñoz to return to the top in the town hall.
The decision by OSP, a party which seeks to separate the town of San Pedro from the overall control of Marbella council, was even more as a shock as it came just a couple of weeks after its ruling council narrowly voted to continue to maintain support for the PSOE- led coalition until the end of the current council term in 2019.
It means that the OSP’s two councillors will now vote with the 13 councillors of the PP against current mayor José Bernal in a vote of no confidence during the council meeting planned for August 29th.
This will give the councillors 15 votes, enough to reach a majority to topple the mayor, as the other parties, who are all against the PP’s return to power after it lost control in the last elections, add up to 12 votes only.
The PSOE Socialist party has eight councillors, Izquierda Unida (IU) two councillors and Podemos-linked Costa del Sol Sí Se Puede (CSSP) two councillors as well. The votes of these three left-wing parties won’t be enough to keep the PP out of power in the forthcoming no confidence vote.
'Over reliance' on Podemos
The sudden change of heart by San Pedro’s councillors was the result of increasing frustration over the way the coalition led by José Bernal was running things.
The OSP councillors’ overall priority is increasing local powers for the San Pedro area of the municipality and they had agreed to go into coalition with the PSOE and IU in 2015, ending eight years of PP rule, in return for control of the district town hall in San Pedro and a stronger voice in the municipality.
One OSP councillor, Rafael Piña is currently district mayor in San Pedro and the other, Manuel Osorio, is councillor for Finance for Marbella overall.
However the 12 combined votes of the PSOE/IU/OSP alliance is only effective in getting its programme approved in council meetings with the addition of the two votes of the Podemos-CSSP councillors.
Dispute over parking zones
Although Podemos isn’t part of the ruling group, they have generally been voting with the coalition to keep it in power and keep the PP out.
However this situation has caused constant background tension within the council as some perceive, especially within the OSP, that the Podemos group has an undue influence over the mayor’s thinking.
Despite the San Pedro party’s members voting to keep supporting the coalition last month after the original two-year coalition pact started in 2015 had run out, matters came to a head again last week over a dispute over the running of the on-street parking (zonas azules) in the municipality.
The coalition had promised to return the management of the spaces to direct council control, ending a five-year contract with a private company which expires this summer. Podemos were particularly vocal supporters of this change.
However last week it was suddenly announced by the IU councillor in charge of the parking negotiations that the concession with the private operator would be renewed for a further five years, ostensibly as there is a catch clause in the contract meaning it made financial sense for the town to renew and avoid losing a lot of money.
The “broken promise” caused an intense social media exchange between the ideologically similar Podemos and IU, with Podemos threatening to vote against the council’s budget for 2018.
'What's best for San Pedro'
The dispute was enough for the San Pedro OSP party to meet on the night of Friday 11 August and put an end to the uncertainty, as they saw it.
“We can’t continue having conditions imposed on us like this,” said OSP’s Manuel Osorio. “San Pedro Alcántara isn’t interested in this type of politics. They drag everything down with it; you meet with them, you reach agreements and those agreements turn out to be non-binding afterwards.”
On Tuesday 15 August, PP and OSP announced details of the new pact that they will make if the no confidence motion succeeds, as is expected on August 29th, and they take power.