Madrid’s president revels in ‘wake-up call’ victory as left routed

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the conservative president of the Madrid region who inflicted a stinging defeat on her leftwing opponents in Tuesday’s snap election, has vowed to carry on acting as a “counterweight” to Spain’s Socialist-led coalition government.

Although her People’s party more than doubled its seat count and won more seats than the three leftwing parties combined, Ayuso fell just short of an absolute majority, meaning she will have to rely on the support of the far-right Vox party to form a new regional government.

On Wednesday morning, Ayuso made it plain that she was not planning to abandon the combative tone that has characterised her handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the tense and bitter election campaign.

“I’m not going to let my guard down for a single minute,” she said in an interview with esRadio. “Now we’ll see what surprises [the central government] has in store for us after the election and we’ll carry on doing whatever we need to by acting as a counterweight and opposition force.”

Ayuso, who has dragged the Madrid branch of the PP far to the right of its national counterpart and been a fierce critic of the prime minister Pedro Sánchez’s Covid lockdown strategy, said her victory marked a turning point in Spain’s politics.

The result was a “wake-up call” that showed that the days of the Sánchez government were numbered, she said.

Ayuso pledged she would govern for everyone in the region and implement “liberal, sensible policies”.

She will need Vox’s support or abstention to ensure her reinvestiture as regional president, which the party has already guaranteed. As soon as the results came in, Vox’s leader, Santiago Abascal, announced his party would help facilitate Ayuso’s return to power “to ensure that there is no way for the left to govern in Madrid”.

Ayuso was congratulated on her victory by Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League party. “Congratulations and good job to President Isabel Díaz Ayuso, winner of the Madrid elections, a woman of common sense and courage who has combined protection of health, right to work and freedom,” he tweeted.

Ayuso supporters outside the People’s party’s headquarters in Madrid on Tuesday night. Photograph: Bernat Armangué/AP

Sánchez, whose Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE) was pushed into an embarrassing third place by the leftwing regional Más Madrid party, also congratulated Ayuso but said her great victory came with a “great responsibility”.

Meanwhile, the centre-right Citizens party was dealt another humiliating defeat, losing all of its 26 seats and crashing out of the regional parliament.

Pablo Iglesias, the Podemos leader and its candidate in Madrid, announced his immediate departure from politics. One of the most influential Spanish politicians of recent years, Iglesias said while he was “very proud” to have led “a project that changed the history of our country”, he would not stand in the way of new leadership.

The regional election was one of the most fraught and vituperative campaigns of recent years. Ayuso and Iglesias were sent death threats accompanied by bullets, and riot police had to wade in after protesters clashed with Vox supporters during the party’s rally in the traditionally leftwing and working-class Madrid neighbourhood of Vallecas.

The poll has served as further proof of the polarisation of Spanish politics and revealed the extent to which rival parties in both the right and left blocs are having to compete for votes. The new parties that ushered in a new political era a few years ago are no longer the forces they once were.

Citizens, which used to pose a serious threat to both the PP and the PSOE in the centre ground, looks to be in terminal decline and is still paying a high price for its lurch to the right under its former leader Albert Rivera and its refusal to back Sánchez in a vote that turfed the PP out of national office in 2018.

Podemos, the other upstart party that helped end the traditional PP/PSOE duopoly, has also been fading despite its status as the junior partner in the central government coalition.

Left and right remain locked in a cycle of accusation and recrimination. Voters in Madrid ignored Sánchez’s warning that an Ayuso victory would herald “the beginning of the end of Madrid’s strong democracy and its many rights and freedoms”. Instead they voted in droves for a candidate who campaigned on the one-word slogan of libertad (freedom) and who insisted on the sanctity of being able to have a beer in a bar at the end of a long day.

While Ayuso’s appeal to voters sick of the pandemic and its many restrictions has paid off handsomely in Madrid, her courting of Vox and its voters may not do the party many favours elsewhere in Spain.

“The PP now finds itself in a curious paradox: it needs to grow and eat into Vox’s territory to be able to govern, and yet at the same time it needs Vox’s support to govern,” said Pablo Simón, a political scientist at Madrid’s Carlos III University.

“But if it does enlist Vox’s support, it can’t forge alliances with nationalist parties – and that will make it very hard to get to [govern Spain] as it’s very unlikely that the PP and Vox have the votes to get there between them on a national level. That makes things very difficult.”





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