Madrid yesterday voted in an early regional election the incumbent conservative Popular Party (PP) is expected to win comfortably, dealing a blow to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, of the Socialist Workers’ Party.
President of the Community of Madrid Isabel Diaz Ayuso has consistently pushed back against central government pressure to impose tighter COVID-19 restrictions.
The 42-year-old rising star in the PP said that keeping the economy afloat and preserving social interaction is also important for health.
On her watch, Madrid has had Spain’s lightest virus restrictions. It has been the only major European capital to keep bars, restaurants and theaters open with few restrictions since a nationwide lockdown ended in the middle of last year.
“Having beers is important,” Ayuso told Cadena Ser radio station last month. “After a bad day a beer cheers you up.” She has been campaigning under the slogan “Freedom.”
Critics say her lax restrictions have come at too high a price.
Madrid has the highest percentage of intensive care beds occupied by COVID-19 patients in the nation, at nearly 45 percent — and one of the country’s highest infection rates, they said.
More than 5.1 million people are eligible to vote in the election in Spain’s richest region, which has been governed by the PP since 1995.
Polling stations opened at 9am and closed at 8pm, with results expected several hours later.
Due to the pandemic, social distancing measures were in place at polling stations, which were disinfected every three hours. Voters who have COVID-19, or suspect they do, had been encouraged to cast their ballots during the final hour of voting to avoid mixing with others.
Final opinion polls give the PP about 40 percent support, almost double their result in the May 2019 election.
That would put them well ahead of the Socialists, whose backing in the opinion poll had dropped to 20 percent from just more than 27 percent in 2019.
Depending on the scale of her victory Ayuso might yet still need the support of far-right Vox party to govern.
That would not be “the end of the world”, she has said.
Leftist parties have sought to rally their voters by warning of the dangers of the PP governing with anti-immigrant Vox.
During the Socialist Workers’ Party’s final campaign rally on Sunday night, Sanchez repeated his warning that “our democracy” was at stake in the elections.
The campaign has also seen anonymous death threat letters with bullets sent to top politicians, including Ayuso and the leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias.
Podemos is the junior partner in Sanchez’s minority coalition government. Iglesias stepped down as a deputy prime minister in the government to run as the party’s candidate.
Analysts said a solid victory for Ayuso would likely lead to more antagonism between the Socialist-led national government and Spain’s main opposition PP. It would also be a rebuke of the recent strategy of the PP’s national leader, Pablo Casado, who has tried to move the party to the center and it could open internal tensions within the formation.
The early election was called by Ayuso in March after she broke up her ruling coalition with the centrist Ciudadanos (Citizens) party, which was expected to struggle to win any seats in this election.
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