Voting is under way in the Madrid region in a snap election dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and a bitter, fractious and polarised campaign as six parties on the right and left compete for votes.
By mid-morning on Tuesday, long queues had formed outside polling stations, where workers have been provided with two masks, face screens, disposable gloves and hand gel. Older voters were invited to cast their ballots between 10am and 12pm, while those with the virus or in quarantine have been asked to vote in the final hour, between 7pm and 8pm.
The poll was triggered in March after the region’s incumbent, rightwing president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, dissolved her coalition with the centre-right Citizens party in response to efforts elsewhere in Spain to topple regional governments led by her conservative People’s party (PP).
Ayuso, who has been a vociferous critic of 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 govern alone, or whether she will have to seek the support of the far-right Vox party. Ayuso has not ruled out a deal with Vox, saying they share common ground on “some fundamental questions”.
While Ayuso’s attitude has won her the respect of many hospitality industry workers, her critics accuse her of putting the regional economy before people’s health. In May last year, the head of public health in the region resigned after disagreements over Ayuso’s response. Her insistence on keeping bars and restaurants open has also been questioned.
The number of cases per 100,000 people over the past fortnight stands at 369 in Madrid, compared with a national average of 224. In Madrid’s intensive care units, 44.7% of the beds are occupied by Covid patients; across Spain as a whole, the proportion is 23.1%.
The electoral campaign has been marked by recriminations and accusations, and two of the candidates – including Ayuso – have received death threats.
Last month, the Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, who stepped down as a deputy prime minister to contest the election for his party, walked out of a TV debate after Vox’s candidate, Rocío Monasterio, tried to cast doubt on the death threat he and his family had received along with four assault rifle bullets.
Ayuso has seized on Iglesias’s candidacy to suggest Tuesday’s poll is a choice between “communism and freedom”, while Vox has been criticised for stigmatising unaccompanied migrant children in its election posters.
Spain’s Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has said that Vox poses a threat to the country’s “democracy and coexistence” and called for a massive mobilisation of voters.
“The People’s party says it’s going make a deal with the racist, sexist and homophobic far right, and that doing deals with the far right isn’t 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.”