Madrid votes Tuesday in an early regional election, the incumbent Conservative popular party is expected to win comfortably, giving a blow to Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
Isabel Diaz Ayuso, the outgoing leader of the important regional administration in Madrid, has consistently pushed back against central government pressure to impose stricter virus restrictions.
The 42-year-old growing star in PP argues that keeping the economy afloat and preserving social interaction is also important for health.
On its 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 mid-2020.
“Having beer is important,” Diaz Ayuso told radio station last month. “After a bad day, a beer encourages you.” She has campaigned under the slogan “Freedom”.
Critics say, however, that her lazy limitations have come at too high a price.
They point out that Madrid has the highest proportion of intensive care beds occupied by Covid-19 patients in the country, almost 45 percent – and one of the country’s highest infection rates.
More than 5.1 million people have the right to vote in elections in Spain’s richest region, which has been ruled by the PP since 1995.
Polling stations open at 09.00 (07.00 GMT) and closes at 20:00, and the results are expected several hours later.
Final opinion polls give the PP party about 40 percent support, almost twice as much as the result in the election in May 2019.
That would put them far ahead of the Socialists, whose support in the opinion poll had dropped to 20 percent from just over 27 percent in 2019.
Depending on the size of her victory, Diaz Ayuso may still need the support of the far-right Vox party to rule. That would not be “the end of the world,” she said.
Left parties have tried to rally their voters by warning of the dangers of the PP government with anti-immigrant Vox.
During the Socialist Party’s final campaign on Sunday night, Sanchez reiterated his warning that “our democracy” was at stake in the election.
The campaign has also seen anonymous death threats sent to top politicians, including Diaz Ayuso and the leader of the left-wing Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias.
Podemos is the younger partner in Sanchez’s minority coalition government and Iglesias resigned as deputy prime minister of Sanchez’s coalition government to run as the party’s candidate.
The early election was called by Diaz Ayuso in March after she broke up her ruling coalition with the centrist party Ciudadanos, which is expected to fight to win some seats in this election.