Perpignan: Healthy Democracy or Banana Republic?
Basil Howitt offers the first of two updates on Perpignan’s surreal smelly socks election saga that began a year ago last March. Following a final ruling by the Conseil d’Etat (France’s highest court of appeal), the mayor, Jean-Paul Alduy (UMP), and the entire Conseil Municipal have been deposed on the grounds of electoral fraud. Pending repeat elections in late June, the town is being governed by “Les Sept Sages” (“The Seven Wise Men”*).
When does a politician’s determination to hold on to power become obstinacy? When does that obstinacy become sheer bloody-mindedness or stupidity? When does the refusal to relinquish power become self-destructive? When does a vision become a delusion?
It all depends where you’re coming from of course. Next month, Perpignan’s citizens will have the chance to reveal how they view the decision of their recently deposed mayor, Jean-Paul Alduy, to stand for re-election. Yet again! This will be his fifth time of standing in an unbroken mayoralty of 16 years.
Before that, his late father Paul Alduy had reigned without interruption for 34 years, since 1959. Hence the loathing among their opponents of the 50-year stranglehold on Perpignan of the Alduy “dynasty”. A loathing that may be understandable, though a credible and cohesive opposition to it still seems as far away as ever.
Neither political side can claim the moral high ground. As recently as last January, the Court of Appeal in Aix-en-Provence sentenced Alduy’s deadly enemy Christian Bourquin, Socialist President of the Conseil Général, to a suspended 3 month prison sentence and a 5,000 euros fine for understating and falsifying his election campaign expenses in 2001. (Another appeal is pending.)
Timeline to the present crisis
– 16th March 2008. On the night of the second round of the municipal elections, Georges Garcia, the Presiding Officer of Ward 4 and brother of one of Alduy’s fellow candidates, is discovered to have stuffed his socks and pockets with voting slips. He is subsequently duly charged with electoral fraud. Additionally, Alduy’s second deputy mayor, Mimi Tjoyas, and a municipal employee are charged with aiding and abetting fraud in this same ward.
– 21st March 2008. After a week of flamboyant and vociferous street demonstrations, the liste headed by Jacqueline Amiel-Donat (Socialist Party) lodges a 166-page appeal with the Tribunal Administratif in Montpellier for the invalidation of the election on the grounds of massive and “generalised” fraud.
– October 2008. The Tribunal Administratif grants the appeal and declares the election invalid.
– November 2008. Alduy lodges an appeal against this judgement with the Conseil d’Etat, thus remaining in office for a further 6 months.
– 23rd April 2009. The Conseil d’Etat confirms the Tribunal’s invalidation of the election: in view of the narrow majority of Alduy’s liste – 574 votes in a poll of 41,983 voters – “it was not certain that in the absence of fraud [in Ward 4] the majority result would have prevailed over the liste led by Jacqueline Amiel-Donat (PS)…”.
The Conseil Municipal is then dissolved.
– 27th April. The Seven Wise Men, chosen by the Préfet and led by Monsieur Bernard Bacou, are installed at the Mairie to manage the town’s affairs.
Never say die: “change and renewal”
On 4th May Alduy announced that he would again be standing for election with a new liste. “The Town is in need of change and renewal,” he said (after 16 years in office). “I am the man to lead this change.” He would head a new liste “with new priorities including hygiene and security”. Such priorities “I have put somewhat to one side in the interests of the great future in store for our trans-frontier town and its agglomeration”. He was counting on this “last” mandate in order to choose a “dauphin” as his successor.
Although Alduy’s candidature alone as head of liste has been offically backed by the president of the Département’s UMP party, Daniel Mach, (and informally by Sarkozy) he faces a more splintered right this time round. Two other right wing candidates, François Rivière and Henri Carbonnell (Divers droite – variously to the right?) have declared they will set up their own listes in competition with Alduy’s.
We shall see. More on all the new listes soon, on press soundings, and on election issues. Is the hugely expensive and controversial new Théâtre de L’Archipel a visionary project or a white elephant? – especially when Perpignan, one of France’s poorest towns, is in dire need of slum clearance.
Sixteen years ago Perpignan saw a dissolution of the reigning council under Paul Alduy. Following a rift with his first deputy, in 1993 the council rejected en bloc his budget and had to be dissolved by the then President of the Republic, François Mitterand. Jean–Paul Alduy was then voted in as the new mayor.
Jobs for the wives
In March 1997 Paul Alduy was sentenced to a 10 month suspended prison sentence, fined 80,000 francs and deprived of his civic rights for the abuse of his office. Between 1982 and 1992 Alduy senior had created a fictitious job for his wife at Perpignan’s “communal centre for social action”. He didn’t appeal against the sentence.
In spite of suppositions and endless tittle-tattle, there is no published evidence that Jean-Paul Alduy has ever personally been involved in, nor charged with, any fraudulent activity.
To be continued.
© 2009 Basil Howitt
Basil Howitt has also written
Life in a Penguin Suit] (Camerata Productions 1993)
Love Lives of the Great Composers] (Sound and Vision 1995)
Grand Passions and Broken Hearts: Loves and Lusts of the Great Composers] (Robson Books 1998)
More Love Lives of the Great Composers] (Sound And Vision 2002)
Walter and His Daughters: The Story of the Carroll Family of Manchester (Forsyth Brothers Ltd 2005)