Lockdown skeptic seeks to eclipse far right in Madrid vote

MADRID – Hailed as a flagship of the Spanish anti-lockdown movement, the head of the country’s capital region has made Madrid this year a European exception, where bars, restaurants, museums and concert halls have remained open so even as the contagion rates were straining hospitals.

“I am facing a review,” Election leader Díaz Ayuso told The Associated Press this week. “It’s like asking ‘Do you like what I’ve done so far?’ Well give me a bigger majority so that I can handle things more forcefully. “

“The mind and heart of government just weren’t in one place,” Díaz Ayuso said of disputes that have deteriorated relations within the coalition during the pandemic.

Along the way, she gained as much support as it did hate. Voters once seduced by the populism of Vox, an upstart far-right party steeped in Spanish nationalism, added to its popularity. The left hates her.

“(Díaz) Ayuso seems more the far-right candidate than (Vox Rocío’s candidate) Monasterio,” said Pablo Iglesias, leader of the anti-austerity United We Can party.

Iglesias resigned from his post as Deputy Prime Minister at the end of March to run for the Madrid elections with an “anti-fascist” ticket. Ayuso, who had called the election a plebiscite between her and Sánchez, initially choosing “Socialism versus Freedom” as the informal slogan for his campaign, welcomed Iglesias to the race by tweeting “Communism versus Freedom”.

The burgeoning star of the conservative Spanish camp appears posed to bring about a tectonic shift in Spanish politics. If his divisive style bears fruit, his People’s Party could win an absolute majority in the 136-seat regional parliament. Few polls predict this scenario, but support for Díaz Ayuso has grown throughout the campaign, placing her in a stronger position to undermine Vox’s success and silence voices of moderation within her own. left.

If the People’s Party fails to secure 69 seats, Díaz Ayuso will likely have to rely on an alliance with Vox, possibly opening the door to Spain’s first regional government with the far right controlling multiple ministries.

“I have a team that is extremely well prepared after having gone through the worst two years for Madrid in terms of pandemic, winter snowstorm and forest fires,” she told AP. “If I have to depend on other parts, I want it to be as little as possible, so I don’t have to change my project.”

“I want to run a project freely,” she added.

The campaign took a bad turn last week with envelopes containing death threats sent to Iglesias and other left-wing politicians. Until the threats, attributed by Iglesias to the toxic political atmosphere created by far-right and left-wing candidates, sought to weaken Díaz Ayuso’s chances of re-election by criticizing his handling of the pandemic.

Madrid has reported 23,000 virus-related deaths, proportionately more than any other Spanish region or European capital. More than 5,000 people with COVID-19 have died in nursing homes in the region, most during the first wave of the pandemic in Spain.

But Díaz Ayuso rejects any criticism of his government’s pandemic response or comparisons with other parts of the world. She described as “pure manipulation” documents released by Spanish media which showed regional officials discussing how to sort out patients and a letter from a cabinet member denouncing how the collapse of the system in those early days left many people, especially the elderly, without access to medical treatment.

“What happened was painful, a great tragedy. But it would not be wise to tell people today that the death of their father or mother was preventable. This is a lie. People were dying everywhere: they were dying at home, in intensive care units and in hospitals, “she said.” It was like a tsunami. “

Díaz Ayuso argued that lessons from the first wave taught his team that lockdowns were detrimental to the economy and the mental well-being of many citizens.

“We have become allies of caterers, shops, museums and, increasingly, all of society,” she said, rejecting the idea that Madrid would become Europe’s party ground this year. spring.

Despite experts insisting that the aerial nature of the virus makes it easier to spread indoors, Díaz Ayuso said bars and restaurants in Madrid remain safe because they are well ventilated. She said her government had determined that most outbreaks were occurring in homes where people gathered without masks precisely when they couldn’t go out to eat or drink.

“This is why there are other parts of Spain and other parts of Europe that have closed their doors and yet they are failing to bring down the virus,” she said, adding : “They won’t succeed that way.”

One of Madrid’s most applauded moves during the first wave of the pandemic was to improvise a field hospital into a large exhibition center, which relieved pressure on existing medical centers. The facility also served as a model for a large, permanent “pandemic hospital” built in record time for an initial investment of 120 million euros ($ 145 million).

Critics have described nurse Isabel Zendal Hospital as a vanity project that siphoned much-needed medical staff into better-equipped facilities and money the region could have used to step up contact tracing. Ángela Hernández, spokesperson for AMYTS, Madrid’s main union of medical personnel, said that the establishment “is the most visible symbol that Madrid has opted for a model that sought to live with the virus, rather than l ‘eradicate.”

But highlighting the hospital’s “kilometer-long facade”, Díaz Ayuso said the pandemic hospital had treated more than 4,000 patients since it began operating in December.

“Isn’t that a good thing?” she said.

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