In Spain, an off-season local election will serve as a clash between right and left, but also over opposing ways of dealing with the pandemic.
In early March, Madrid governor Isabel Ayuso resigned and paved the way for an early vote, to be held on May 4.
Then, Pablo Iglesias, Spanish Deputy Prime Minister, also resigned, to challenge the government in Madrid, giving national weight to the vote.
Iglesias’ entry into the conflict has been welcomed by the Spanish right, for facilitating the narrative that it is a clash between conservatives and radicals. “My concern is to prevent communism from entering Madrid. It is communism or freedom. Madrid cannot become Caracas,” Ayuso said.
Iglesias also raised his voice. “We must prevent these criminals, who defend the dictatorship, from having all the power in Madrid”, he said, referring to the corruption cases which implicated the PP and led to the fall of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in 2018, and the Vox, of the extreme right, which exalts the memory of the dictator Francisco Franco (1892-1975).
By bringing the dispute to ideological ground, the two parties avoid having to debate the errors of the pandemic, underline analysts heard by the Spanish press. They also hijack the question that Ayuso and Iglesias recently took public office to and have little to show.
Ayuso, 42, is from the traditional right-wing PP (Partido Popular). As governor since 2019, she has stood out in the pandemic to take on the national government, led by the PSOE (Socialist Party) and Pode, both on the left.
Spain was one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus at the start of the crisis a year ago. In the first few months, there was a deal and rival politicians acted together to respond to the emergency, with measures like a severe lockdown. The initial discourse was to first solve the problem and then find the culprits.
The truce was short-lived. In September 2020, the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, (PSOE, from the left), imposed new restrictions to curb the spread of the disease. Madrid, with Ayuso in the lead, said no.
The confrontation between the two levels took place in public. The governor has sided with commerce and the leisure sector, which are important in a tourist city like Madrid. After the clashes, there was common ground at that time: the capital region adopted localized closures, through neighboring neighborhoods and towns, instead of a complete blockade.
In the countryside, Ayuso is the guardian of Madrid’s bars and bohemian style. In a promotional video, she argues that the city prides itself on being a place to have a few beers and have fun. The opposition considers this speech irresponsible, because there are still determinations to avoid the agglomerations due to the pandemic.
Spain started in March with an average death toll of around 350 per day. The value is declining and is currently in the range of 100 daily deaths. Despite this, the national government continues to urge caution and has expanded requirements for wearing masks this week.
The Spanish government has also carried out internal raids between its members, the traditional left-wing PSOE, and Pode, who has a more radical stance. It is a recent union: the coalition took over in January 2020, just before the pandemic crisis broke out.
We can continue in government, even with the departure of the Deputy Prime Minister. Iglesias was one of the party’s founders in 2014, with the aim of tackling the austerity policies adopted by Spain after the economic crisis of the past decade.
In the central government, Pode continues to defend more public spending, while the PSOE has a more restrained position to achieve the budgetary objectives of the European Union.
Madrid’s regional government, which includes the capital and some neighboring towns, has been led by the PP since 1995, and a victory for the left would have strong symbolism there. Currently, the PP also commands the Madrid City Hall, which until 2019 was under the control of Más Madrid, on the left.
Polls indicate Ayuso’s favoritism. A survey published on the 17th by the GAD3 institute points out that the PP should obtain between 60 and 62 seats in the Madrid Assembly, which is double what it won in the 2019 elections. Vox, on the other hand, would take between 10 and 12 seats. Together, the two parties would exceed the minimum of 69 elected names, allowing the formation of a government.
The same research pointed out that Vamos, by Iglesias, would reach 14-15 seats, and Más Madrid, 13-14. Thus, even with the PSOE, the left bloc would not reach the majority.
In Spain, parliamentarism is also valid at the local level: it is necessary to obtain a majority among the elected legislators to form a government. If the coalitions split, governments fall and elections are advanced. Thus, the resignation of Ayuso, who still had two years in office, was an attempt to remain more firmly in office. In an ideal scenario, he would be able to govern without depending on other parties.
Ayuso, a political communication specialist, decided to resign after breaking with the Citizens, another party that emerged under the aura of popular outrage in 2006, but which is in a bad phase: he was the fifth on no longer voted in the 2019 national elections. losing the position of second largest right-wing party to Vox.
According to the GAD3 survey, citizens may not be able to elect a parliamentarian in this election, because it does not cross a barrier clause: each party must have at least 5% of the vote to obtain a seat in Parliament.
As PP and Citizens are partners in several other local governments in Spain, the disruption in the capital can lead to further changes in national politics and lead to an advance of the far right.