Spain’s resurgent right celebrates after winning big in Madrid

PP leader Ayuso’s approach to Covid restrictions pays off while leftist leader Pablo Iglesias quits politics

 Madrid’s regional president  Isabel Díaz Ayuso and People’s Party leader Pablo Casado celebrate the party’s result  in Madrid’s elections. Photograph: Mariscal/EPA

Madrid’s regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso and People’s Party leader Pablo Casado celebrate the party’s result in Madrid’s elections. Photograph: Mariscal/EPA

 

The conservative Popular Party (PP) was the resounding winner of Madrid’s regional election, which followed a deeply polarised campaign that focused heavily on management of the pandemic.

The PP’s Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who is president of the region, more than doubled her share of seats in the regional assembly to 65, just four short of a majority.

That contrasted with a disastrous result for the Socialist Party of Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez, which lost 13 seats and slipped to third place, behind the leftist Más Madrid.

Although the other main party on the left, Unidas Podemos, made modest gains, its leader Pablo Iglesias announced his resignation from politics.

Pablo Iglesias: Despite his Unidas Podemos gaining three seats, he announced he was quitting politics. Photograph: Kiko Huesca/EPA
Pablo Iglesias: Despite his Unidas Podemos gaining three seats, he announced he was quitting politics. Photograph: Kiko Huesca/EPA

“Things have changed and the hope has returned,” Ayuso told her party’s national executive on Wednesday. “The vast majority of people want to be free.”

“Freedom” was her slogan throughout the campaign ahead of this election, as the regional president defended her decision to keep Madrid’s bars, restaurants and other businesses open in recent months where possible, often in defiance of health ministry recommendations.

This approach to the pandemic has seen infection rates in Madrid surpass most other regions – it currently has the second-highest rate behind the Basque Country – and it has also pitted Ayuso against the leftist central government.

In celebrating the victory, the PP’s national leader, Pablo Casado, said it had been a “democratic no-confidence motion” against Sánchez.

Corruption scandals

The PP, which has governed Madrid since 1995, is hoping that this result will mark a broader turnaround after several years during which it has been plagued by corruption scandals and suffered a string of heavy election defeats.

Ayuso called this snap election just two years after the last one, due to supposed fears that her coalition partner, the centre-right, Ciudadanos, was planning to back a no-confidence motion against her. Another election will therefore take place in 2023.

Ciudadanos, which in the past has siphoned votes away from the PP, continued a recent downward slide, losing all of its 26 seats in the regional chamber. While adding to speculation that Ciudadanos is on the verge of total collapse this also creates more space in what had been a crowded right.

The far-right Vox party gained a single seat and now has 13. The parties on the left had warned during the campaign that Spanish democracy was in peril because Vox was poised to govern with the PP. However, it looks more likely that Ayuso will renew a confidence-and-supply deal with the far right, rather than entering a coalition with it.

Death threats

It was an unusually rancorous campaign, with some violent incidents and a spate of death threats against several of the candidates. When Vox cast doubt on a threat sent to Iglesias along with four bullet casings, the candidates of the three main leftist parties refused to take part in any more debates with the far-right party.

The polarised climate appeared to mobilise voters, despite concerns about Covid-19, and there was a record turnout of 76 per cent.

The biggest shock of the election was the resignation of Iglesias. He had stepped down as deputy prime minister in the Spanish coalition government in order to run in this race. However, despite his Unidas Podemos gaining three seats, Iglesias did not hide his dismay at the overall result.

“The remarkable electoral success of the Trumpian right which Ayuso represents and the consolidation of the far right is a tragedy for Madrid’s public health and public education and for public services,” he said. “But it is undoubtedly what the majority of Madrid’s people have voted for.”

After his resignation, the conservative mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, tweeted: “Iglesias is history in Spanish politics. Lots to celebrate.”

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