MADRID (AP) – Residents of Madrid, one of the regions in Europe hardest hit by the pandemic, vote on Tuesday for a new regional assembly in an election that tests the depths of resistance to lockdown measures.
The snap elections were called by a conservative regional leader trying to cling to power after his center-right coalition collapsed. Isabel Díaz Ayuso has made a name for herself by resisting the strictest measures against the virus and by criticizing the handling of the pandemic by the national government.
Here’s what’s at stake in the May 4 vote:
WHY IS THE LOCAL ELECTION IN MADRID IMPORTANT?
By keeping Madrid’s bars, restaurants, museums and concert halls open, Díaz Ayuso has reinvigorated his support for his conservative People’s Party. She also made inroads among voters recently won over by the patriotic populism of Vox, an upstart far-right party.
Restaurateurs imagined dishes and menus with his name and his portrait is ubiquitous on city billboards and ballots. Díaz Ayuso says the election is about choosing between his promise of “freedom” and left-wing “socialism” and “communism”, in reference to his two rivals who are part of the ruling national coalition.
Her resistance to sweeping coronavirus shutdowns has consistently pitted the 42-year-old conservative against Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the leader of the United We Can anti-austerity party, Pablo Iglesias. Iglesias left his Cabinet post last month to run against Díaz Ayuso in the regional vote.
WHAT DO THE HEALTH DATA SAY?
The virus has ravaged retirement homes in the Madrid region, especially last year. More than 5,000 elderly people died before they could be accommodated by a hospital system that faltered amid the first wave of infections.
Since then, keeping the country’s economic engine running has become a key goal for Díaz Ayuso, even as it meant having to add hospitals and more beds to treat COVID-19 patients.
Díaz Ayuso firmly resisted the restriction on travel inside and outside Madrid. Instead, she has relied on mass screenings with coronavirus antigen testing and setting up large wards to speed up vaccinations.
As a result, the region which is home to 14% of the country’s 47 million people has experienced more than 19% of the country’s 3.5 million infections and a confirmed national death toll of more than 78,000.
As of Friday, the 14-day cumulative number of cases stood at 384 new infections per 100,000 population, well above the national average of 229 new cases per 100,000 population.
WHAT ARE THE SURVEYS SAYING?
Although a few pollsters predict that an absolute majority of regional assembly seats will go to the conservatives of Díaz Ayuso, most estimates suggest a victory of over 40% of the vote. This would potentially double the number of People’s Party lawmakers since the last election in 2019.
Polls also place the far-right Vox party as the most likely choice for an alliance that would see Díaz Ayuso form a government.
A smaller possibility is that the center-left camp, fragmented into three parties, will win enough votes to form a ruling alliance.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES?
Most political analysts agree that any solid victory for Díaz Ayuso will pave the way for more antagonism between the socialist-led national government and the conservative party that has dominated the Spanish political landscape until recently.
It would also mean a reprimand for the recent strategy of the People’s Party national leader, Pablo Casado, who tried to distance his party from Vox’s far-right ideology.
Either way, the winner will have the challenge of getting Madrid back on its feet after a difficult year with COVID-19 which included a winter snowstorm that crippled the city for days.
The region, plagued by inequalities, has been a stronghold of the Popular Party since 1991.
Left-wing parties want more investment to resolve the social and economic crisis, especially to support the region’s public education and health systems after years of austerity and privatization.
Díaz Ayuso pledged to cut taxes to attract more businesses and boost consumption, as well as build more than 6,000 social housing units.
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