Voting is underway in the Madrid region in a snap election dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and a bitter, eventful and polarized campaign as six parties from right and left vie for votes.
By mid-morning on Tuesday, long lines had formed outside the polling stations, where workers were given two masks, face shields, disposable gloves and hand gel. Older voters were asked to vote between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., while people with the virus or in quarantine were asked to vote in the last hour, between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The poll was triggered in March after the region’s right-wing outgoing president Isabel Díaz Ayuso dissolved her coalition with the center-right Citizens Party in response to efforts elsewhere in Spain to overthrow regional governments led by his conservative Popular Party (PP).
Ayuso, who has vehemently criticized the country’s socialist-led coalition government – and an opponent of its Covid lockdowns – is expected to win Tuesday’s vote. However, it is unclear whether she will attract enough support to rule on her own, or whether she will have to seek support from the far-right Vox party. Ayuso did not rule out a deal with Vox, saying they shared common ground on “some fundamental issues.”
While Ayuso’s attitude has earned him the respect of many workers in the hospitality industry, his critics accuse him of putting the regional economy ahead of people’s health. In May last year, the region’s public health official resigned after disagreements over Ayuso’s response. His insistence on keeping bars and restaurants open has also been questioned.
The number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last fortnight is 369 in Madrid, against a national average of 224. In intensive care units in Madrid, 44.7% of beds are occupied by Covid patients; in Spain as a whole, the proportion is 23.1%.
The election campaign was marked by recriminations and accusations, and two of the candidates – including Ayuso – received death threats.
Last month, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, who resigned as deputy prime minister to run for his party’s election, walked out of a televised debate after Vox candidate Rocío Monasterio had tried to question the death threat he and his family had received with four assault rifle bullets.
Ayuso took to Iglesias’ candidacy to suggest Tuesday’s poll is a choice between “communism and freedom,” while Vox has been criticized for stigmatizing unaccompanied migrant children in his election posters.
Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Vox posed a threat to the country’s “democracy and coexistence” and called for a massive mobilization of voters.
“The People’s Party says it is going to make a deal with the racist, sexist and homophobic far right, and that making deals with the far right is not the end of the world,” Sánchez said on Sunday.
” No. It’s not the end of the world, but it could be the beginning of the end of Madrid’s strong democracy and its many rights and freedoms. The mere presence of the far right in government puts that at risk.