The seismic results of Tuesday’s elections to the Madrid region’s powerful autonomous parliament have shaken national politics, and sent ripples abroad.
The right-wing Partido Popular (PP) leapt from 30 to 65 seats, only four short of an absolute majority. It absorbed all 26 seats held by Ciudadanos, its rivals for the centre-right, putting that party's national survival in doubt. The PP also grabbed centrist votes from the Socialist Party (PSOE), which dropped from 37 to 24 seats. This is a sharp blow to the PSOE prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, especially as the Madrid PP's maverick leader, Isabel Ayuso, successfully presented this regional election as a national plebiscite on his struggling government.
Meanwhile, the election outcome caused Sánchez's erstwhile deputy, and coalition partner, Pablo Iglesias, to abruptly exit politics altogether. Iglesias is the once charismatic leader of the leftist Podemos party, which mushroomed from the anti-austerity 15-M movement in 2014. He took the daring gamble of resigning national office to lead Podemos's campaign in Madrid, where it had been severely weakened by a split.
He made little impact, while his erstwhile comrades in Más Madrid were able to win more than double Podemos’s votes, taking 24 seats.
Ayuso now holds more Madrid seats than the three left parties combined. She has also halted the rapid rise of the neo-fascist party Vox, and is unlikely to need its 13 seats to govern the region. The big question is whether Ayuso herself, with her demagogic rhetoric, represents a further shift in the PP to the hard right. Her simplistic campaign slogan was Libertad, which she juxtaposed, Trump-style, to a supposedly “communist” national government. That style is also reflected in her irresponsible populism in keeping Madrid’s bars open during the pandemic.
The first international figure to congratulate Ayuso was the Italian far-right leader Matteo Salvini. She has certainly boosted a faltering PP at national level, but its current leader, Pablo Casado, may soon find her stepping on his coat-tails.