Allegations of electoral fraud in at least seven cities has tarnished Spain’s key regional and municipal elections in advance of voting on Sunday.
The allegations surround the buying of votes, bringing the reliability of the Spanish electoral system into question.
Melilla, Spain’s North African enclave, was the first Spanish city to claim alleged fraud after police arrested 10 people. Unusually high postal vote requests by locals alerted authorities, as the number was atypical compared to past years.
While in Spain the requested postal vote average was 2.84% of the electoral roll, the figure in Melilla exceeded 20%.
According to Spanish press, policemen were reportedly tapping the phones of local drug dealers when something caught their attention: that criminals were buying votes and selling them to political parties.
The group visited entire neighbourhoods in Melilla, targeting vulnerable families willing to sell their vote for up to €200. Once they had requested their ballot and filled it out accordingly, the gang would allegedly then sell it back to the highest-bidding politician.
In Spain, postal voting only requires identification when requesting the ballots, not when depositing them, so the group could easily collect the documents and offer them to political parties.
On other occasions, unidentified hooded men assaulted postal workers carrying electoral documents to steal them. After several robberies, the workers were given police escorts.
The investigation led authorities to raid the house of a 40-year-old security guard, a member of the criminal group that included petty criminals, drug traffickers, public officials and relatives of politicians. Ten of its members have been arrested by Spain’s National Police.
Out of the 11,707 postal votes requested in Melilla, around 10,000 were under the control of the criminal group, according to the Spanish newspaper El País. Only 10% of the votes were cast by citizens who really wanted to exercise their right to vote.
The arrests prompted a change to the rules. The city’s electoral board decided to ask for ID cards from everyone who came to cast their vote. This decision was extended by the Central Electoral Board to the rest of Spain.
The Conservative Popular Party, along with Coalition for Melilla, have been accused of allegedly trying to buy votes.
The regional party, which belongs to the city’s three-way ruling coalition, complained as police raided their headquarters, suggesting the search constituted “an attack on democracy”.
While the investigation continues, thousands of votes in Melilla have been lost. Over 70% of the postal vote in the city has remained undelivered, with questions being raised over the reliability of the city’s electoral outcome this Sunday.
Electoral embarrassment in Spanish cities
New cases of alleged fraud have emerged in the run-up to the elections.
The country’s two major parties, the ruling Socialist Party and the Popular Party, have both taken a hit, with allegations of vote-buying in seven Spanish regions.
In Murcia, Guardia Civil officers arrested 13 people, among them the local Socialist Party mayoral candidate in Albudeite, Isabel Peñalver. Again, the plot came to light after police carried out an anti-drug bust.
Another alleged vote-buying plot in Almería, in southern Spain, saw seven people arrested on Thursday, including two Socialist candidates.
Engulfed in controversy, the Spanish Socialists have levelled accusations of their own that their opposition, the Popular Party, have also been engaged in electoral fraud.
More than 8,000 municipal governors and regional governments will be elected this Sunday, with the Ministry of the Interior having devised a special security plan for the entire election day in every Spanish city.