POLLING stations in the autonomous community of Madrid have opened with extra COVID-related restrictions in place for an election that could reshape the political landscape in Spain.
Isabel Diaz Ayuso the regional leader of the conservative People’s Party (PP), is on course to win big, potentially doubling the number of seats for her party, according to opinion polls.
The 42-year-old has won broad support by defying Spain’s left-wing government which pressured her to close down bars and restaurants to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead she prioritised the economy and championed personal freedoms, although critics accuse her of putting business interests above that of health services.
While the PP is projected to win over 40% of the vote, Ayuso is likely to need the help of the far-right Vox party to govern.
Opinion polls suggested that the centre-right Ciudadanos party, which has in the past teamed up with the PP to form regional governments, is facing electoral oblivion and the prospect of winning no seats at all.
The campaign has split the contending parties into left and right-wing blocs with the parliamentary leader of the far-left Unidos Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, stepping down from his role of parliamentary party leader and deputy prime minister to stand for the top job in the region.
Both Ayuso and Iglesias received death threats in the run-up to the vote, with each warning of the dangers of “communism” and “fascism” respectively.
Voting stations opened at 9 am with a two-hour period mid-morning and one hour before polls close being reserved for elderly voters.
Polling stations also enforced strict hygiene rules to those waiting to cast their ballots with early reports suggesting some stations were facing long queues shortly after they opened.
The Madrid region, home to some seven million of Spain’s 47 million people, has one of the highest infection rates in Spain, recording 369 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in the last 14 days on Monday against a national average of 223.
Occupancy of intensive care units is also the highest in Spain, at about 44.7%.
- Polls show Spain’s right-wing set to win big in Madrid regional elections
- More death threats: Bullets sent in post to regional PP leader Isabel Ayuso ahead of Madrid election
- EXPLAINER: Left right, left right, centre, reverse – why Spain’s political landscape is in turmoil again