Spain’s conservative People’s party is on course to retain control of the Madrid region in a snap election dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, after a bitter, fractious and polarised campaign in which six parties on the right and left competed for votes.
However, according to a phone poll for the broadcasters TVE and Telemadrid, the PP could need to rely on the far-right Vox party to form a new government in the 136-seat regional parliament.
The poll gave the PP 62-65 seats, which would more than double its tally in the 2019 election. The Socialist party of the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, is was projected to win 25-28 seats, and the leftwing Más Madrid party 21-24.
Vox was predicted to come fourth with 12-14 seats, followed by the far-left, anti-austerity Unidas Podemos on 10-11. The centre-right Citizens party, meanwhile, looks likely to fail to win a single seat in the assembly. An hour before the polls closed on Tuesday evening, participation stood at 69%, 11 percentage points up on 2019.
The vote was triggered in March when the region’s president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, dissolved her coalition with Citizens in response to efforts elsewhere in Spain to topple PP-led regional governments.
Ayuso, who has been a vociferous critic of the country’s Socialist-led coalition government and an opponent of its Covid lockdowns, has not ruled out a deal with Vox, saying it shares common ground with the PP 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 to the pandemic. Her insistence on keeping bars and restaurants open has been questioned.
The number of Covid cases per 100,000 people over the past fortnight stands at 343 in Madrid, compared with a national average of 214. In Madrid’s intensive care units, 44% of the beds are occupied by Covid patients; across Spain as a whole, the proportion is 22.9%.
By mid-morning on Tuesday, long queues had formed outside polling stations, where workers had 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 were asked to vote in the final hour, between 7pm and 8pm.
The electoral campaign was marked by recriminations and accusations, and two of the candidates – including Ayuso – received death threats.
Last month the Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, who stepped down as a national 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.
Sánchez has said Vox poses a threat to Spain’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,” he 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.”