Behind Melilla’s courts, in which a case of alleged electoral fraud is being investigated, stands a panoramic view of the Renaissance fortress, one of its most iconic images and a symbol of the autonomous city’s Spanishness. Less exploited, far beyond the borders, is the architectural and social richness that is the integration of the Hispano-Berber community into Melilla’s society. Including cheap tapas, nice beaches and a cultural range which, however, competes with the “black legend of Melilla”, which is often the subject of bad news. The last one, a national police operation in which 10 people have been arrested as suspects of buying votes by post. A criminal practice that has taken root since the late eighties, and whose roots lie in the efforts of parties to win the vote of the fast-growing Muslim community.
You go along a road up the Cuesta del Porvenir, from where you can see the typical colorful houses of the city’s peripheral neighborhoods, mainly inhabited by Melilla residents of Riffian origin. “Today the Muslim community already outnumbers those of Spanish origin,” explains Marcos Robert, a sociologist from the autonomous city. Electorally, this segment of Melilla’s population was more neutral, which is why political parties from the late eighties – when residence permits for this group were regularized – tried to capture their votes at all costs. either money, aid, tenders or bureaucratic favors. And the main means of guaranteeing the alleged buying of those votes was vote by mail, which has been on the rise for years.
It was in the mid-nineties when a party that defended the identity of the Spanish-Riffian community broke into the political scene of the autonomous city. The Coalition for Melilla (CpM) knew how to “copy”, judicial sources have revealed, the practices adopted by political formations to attract a fishing ground of votes from the Muslim community. “Political parties have taken advantage of the needs of a population without the resources, with low educational levels, that they need to meet their basic needs,” says Sarah Ochen, president of the women’s association Kahina. amazing from Melilla. The autonomous city’s GDP per capita in 2021 (the last data recorded) was 19,266 euros, which places it as the fourth poorest Spanish autonomy; The gross household income is 12,793 per inhabitant, which is the second lowest.
Corruption, “fraudulent” politicians and a certain sense of “abhayadaan” over the years have perpetuated these practices till date; In addition to the sense of “remoteness” that the people of Melilla have from the powers of the central administration, in contrast to Ceuta, which is closer to the peninsula in terms of physical distance and transport connections. “Melilla has always felt abandoned,” says political scientist Enrique Delgado, who also points out that Ceuta has no local party as strong as the CPM, nor has been able to mobilize the Muslim community as much.
Near the Cuesta del Porvenir, better known as the Cuerno neighborhood, Habiba has lived all her life. She is of Riffian origin, she arrived in Melilla at the age of 15 after marrying a man with papers to live in the autonomous city. He had 10 children. one of them, surname is in, is one of 10 detainees now being investigated by Melilla’s Court No. 2 for a conspiracy to buy votes in exchange. He offers tea as soon as he enters the house. His children move around, he says, working low-paying jobs in neighborhoods where drug trafficking is common. After the pandemic and the closure of the border, there has been a sharp decline in the smuggling of goods with Morocco. What has increased now is voting by mail, as Habiba and her entire family prepare envelopes at their home in Cuerno.
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With a high percentage of civil servants, Melilla needs to exploit the tourism sector. “We have exported the Spanishness of the fort instead of mixing cultures, that the Muslim community is integrated, that they offer you tea, their neighbourhood. But that would have been exporting a Moroccanization, which did not interest many politicians”, criticizes the economist Jaime Bustillo. Despite the effort to attract cultural agents, historians, businessmen, in the end the news in Melilla is “always the vote by fence, mail or drugs”. “We must make ourselves known more, as everyone who comes to Melilla repeats,” says historian Paloma Moratinos. Meanwhile, the system reinforces inequalities and neighborhoods of disadvantaged families, who see a way out in offerings for their votes.
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