Anti-lockdown leader poised for re-election in Madrid vote
Wednesday, May 05, 2021       02:26 WIB

Madrid, May 4, 2021 (AFP)
Madrid residents voted Tuesday in a regional election expected to hand a comfortable victory to its hardline leader who has soared in prominence for stubbornly resisting virus restrictions.
After voting closed at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT), the results of two polls taken in the days running up to the ballot, were released, both suggesting a solid win for Isabel Diaz Ayuso, a rising star in the right-wing Popular Party (PP).
At the helm of Spain's richest region for just over 18 months, Ayuso has been one of the leading critics of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's leftist government and its handling of the pandemic.
An outspoken hardliner, she has won widespread support for resisting government pressure to impose tighter restrictions on the local economy.
Madrid is the only major European capital that has kept bars, restaurants and theatres open since the national lockdown ended in June 2020.
Just over 5.1 million people were eligible to vote in Tuesday's election, which comes after a bitterly-fought and divisive campaign in a region that has been ruled by the PP for more than 25 years.
From the early hours, there were long queues outside polling stations, with turnout at just over 69 percent an hour before the close, some 11 percentage points higher than in 2019.
Although Madrid has suffered Spain's highest numbers of infections and deaths, Ayuso has consistently defied calls to shut bars and restaurants, turning her into the heroine of the hospitality sector.
A year into the pandemic, Ayuso caught the political establishment by surprise, calling a snap election in a bid to cash in on the political capital she has more than likely earned.
And polls suggest her gamble will pay off, with results from a final pre-vote survey by Gad3 suggesting Ayuso's PP would take 62-65 seats in the 136-seat parliament, up from 30, while Sanchez's Socialists would end up with 25-28, down from 37.
Another poll by Sociometrica predicted a similar outcome with the PP taking 58-62 seats and the Socialists between 26 and 29.
- 'Having a beer is important' -
With "freedom" her campaign slogan, the populist leader has focused on people's need for normality, despite the pandemic.
"Having beers is important," the 42-year-old said last month. "After a bad day, a beer cheers you up."
But critics say her lax restrictions have ultimately cost lives in a region where almost 15,000 people have died, accounting for one in five of Spain's 78,000 coronavirus death toll.
"Ayuso deserves to be loved for what she's done in keeping bars open and saving jobs," said 63-year-old civil servant Jose Luis Cordon, who had voted for the PP at a polling station in the city centre.
Across the region, polling stations were disinfected every three hours and virus patients or those in quarantine asked to cast their vote in the last hour.
Although Ayuso's victory seems assured, with polls predicting the PP would win 40 percent of the vote, she would fall short of an absolute majority, forcing her to likely seek support from the far-right Vox to govern, an option she has said "wouldn't be the end of the world".
The PP's likely tie-up with Vox has been a central campaign issue for the left with Sanchez himself warning "our democracy" was at stake in the vote.
After voting, opposition leader and PP chief Pablo Casado said the vote would be "a turning point for Spain's future", insisting it would be a precursor of the party's fight to topple the Socialists in the 2023 general elections.
The campaign has been characterised by deep polarisation, with several political leaders receiving death threats in letters containing bullets, among them Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, who stepped down as a deputy prime minister to run as his party's candidate in Madrid.
Even if the left takes a drubbing, analysts don't see any major impact on Spain's ruling coalition, although a solid victory for Ayuso would likely exacerbate the antagonism between the PP and the government.

Sumber : AFP