MADRID – The youngest mayoral candidate in Spain’s upcoming local elections is just 19 years old, the oldest 95, some of whom are relics from a distant past who are looking to extend tenures that began during the military dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, before the country’s transition into democracy after his death 1975.
Spaniards will elect aspiring mayors in 8,131 municipalities, ranging from the smallest villages in Andalusia to the country’s major cities like Barcelona and the capital, Madrid, on May 26.
Ricardo Diez Pascual, 89, is the country’s longest-serving mayor and, after 51 uninterrupted years in office, he said he would feel like he was letting his small village of Castillejo de Mesleon, located in Segovia province about an hour and a half’s drive north of Madrid, down if he did not run again.
His political career started in 1963 when he was 33. He saw out the last 12 years of the dictatorship and has bagged 10 local election victories since the arrival of democracy, all with an absolute majority.
Diez, who is running for the conservative Popular Party, presides over a community of just 130 inhabitants.
This year, however, the veteran local politician has new competition and for the first time must face off with three other candidates from the Socialist Party (PSOE), the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens, in English) and Centrados, a regionalist party that emerged in Segovia a year ago.
On the other end of the list is Juan del Canto who, at 19 years of age, must juggle his campaign in the town of Villalazan, near Zamora in the northwest, with his studies.
With just 280 inhabitants, Villalazan is one of the many rural towns in Spain undergoing rapid depopulation. It has lost around 30 percent of its population in recent years.
Del Canto is a precocious young candidate and was only able to vote for the first time in the recent general elections, held on April 28.
Although he is also running on a PP ticket, he has been largely unassociated with party politics and has centered his attention on stemming the flow of people out of the town.
“Although they tell us that villages have a sell-by day, I don’t believe it,” he said.
What he lacks for in political experience he makes up for with enthusiasm and local support.
A desire to defend regional interests can be found in equal measure with Maria del Rosario, better known as Charito, who, at 95, grabbed headlines with her foray into the political area to see, in her words, whether “ministers” will listen to her and achieve some sort of the change in Patones de Arriba.
Patones de Arriba, a town of around 500 in the mountains north of Madrid, has a strong local tourism industry but it, too, suffers from depopulation, according to Charito.
Charito relies on the support of her five friends all running under the banner Grandmothers for Patones.
The youngest member of the group is currently 63.
“If I die, the Grandmothers of Patones will carry on,” Charito said.
There are currently 34 mayors in Spain who have been in power since 1979 – the first local elections after Franco’s death – of which 24 are on the ballot paper again this year.
Mayoral salaries vary considerably. According to data from Spain’s ministry of territorial policy and civil service, Madrid’s mayor, Manuela Carmena, earns 100,000 euros ($111,780) a year but around 2,500 local mayors earn nothing at all and are simply reimbursed for transport and other expenses.
More specifically, of the 6,680 local councils from which the ministry received information, some 4,110 said they had received some sort of salary while 2,571 said they got no payment at all.
And neither is the salary for a local mayor based on the size of the community represented.
For example, Luis Vicente Castello, the mayor of Agost, a town of around 4,713 in the southeastern region of Alicante, takes home around 37,000 euros while Ignacio Garcia, the mayor of Navia in northern Cantabria, which has a population of 8,409 people, earns just 85 euros.