MADRID – Conservative Madrid leader Isabel Díaz Ayuso, a champion of relaxed coronavirus measures and a scourge of the left-wing central government’s handling of the pandemic, scored a solid victory in a regional election on Tuesday.
Díaz Ayuso, who campaigned under the slogan “Freedom,” was supported by 44 percent of voters, up from 22 percent in the last election two years ago, with 99 percent of ballots counted.
Díaz Ayuso said the results supported his policy of keeping bars, restaurants and other businesses open even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to keep the economy running.
Addressing hundreds of supporters waving Spanish flags outside his People’s Party headquarters in central Madrid, the outgoing president also said the result was a rebuke from the left-wing coalition of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
“The way of governing, with the opulence and hypocrisy of Moncloa, has its days numbered,” said the winner, referring by name to the palace which hosts the Prime Minister’s office.
The Madrid region is Spain’s main economic engine and the country’s busiest transport hub. It is home to 14% of Spain’s 47 million, but has recorded nearly a fifth of the 3.5 million confirmed cases of the virus in the European country.
Vox, the far-right party that mixes Spanish patriotism and populism is emerging as Díaz Ayuso’s new choice for legislative support and has won another regional legislator, dropping from 12 seats to 13.
Referring to the upcoming term, Vox regional chief Rocío Monasterio said that “our votes will be decisive for absolutely everything over the next two years”.
As a sign that Díaz Ayuso’s popularity has spread beyond Spanish borders, the leader of the Italian right-wing League, Matteo Salvini, has praised the regional leader of Madrid.
“Congratulations and good work to President Isabel Díaz Ayuso, winner of the Madrid elections, a woman of good sense and courage, who combined health protection, right to work and freedom,” the tweet read.
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The preliminary results were a blow to Prime Minister Sánchez’s regional socialists, losing 13 seats in the Assembly, from 37 to 24.
The leader of the anti-austerity “United We Can” party, Pablo Iglesias, has announced the end of a political career that in many ways has shaped Spanish politics for much of the past decade. Iglesias had left his post in Sánchez’s cabinet to run for Madrid.
Although his candidacy helped increase the number of lawmakers in the group from 7 to 10, Iglesias announced he was resigning from all positions in the far-left party born in response to the 2008 financial crisis that hampered the Spanish economy for years.
“No one could have imagined what we have accomplished in seven years,” the 42-year-old politician said.
Despite a high and persistent infection rate that recently leveled off, residents of Madrid voted en masse, pulling the turnout to over 69% from the 5 million eligible voters at 7 p.m., an hour before the end of the vote – against 59% in the 2019 regional election.
Long lines of socially distant voters formed outside polling stations in schools, sports centers and even an arena. Authorities have imposed strict voting requirements to prevent the spread of infections: double masks, separate entry and exit routes for voters, and plastic screens for election workers.