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Ayuso calls for elections in Madrid on 4 May, after ‘political earthquake’ week

Latest: Coronavirus in Spain figures (16 Mar)

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the outspoken president of the regional government in Madrid for the right-wing People’s Party (PP), has called for elections on 4 May, initially in order to avoid a potential motion of no confidence against her from the socialist PSOE and centre-right Ciudadanos (Cs) parties.

The Madrid regional government is currently a coalition between the People’s Party (PP) and Ciudadanos (Cs), with support from Spain’s far-right Vox party.

The news followed a motion of no confidence launched against the PP-controlled government in the region of Murcia on Wednesday morning, by the PSOE and Cs parties. With Spanish media describing the events as a ‘political earthquake’, Ayuso swiftly dissolved the Madrid regional assembly in order to avoid a similar motion against her leadership, and called for elections on 4 May. Since Wednesday, however, the PP party in Murcia has managed to avert the motion of no confidence, with three Cs members reversing their decision within 48 hours.

The PSOE and the Más País party, led by Íñigo Errejón, did launch a motion of no confidence against Ayuso in Madrid on Wednesday morning, but the timing did not affect the call for elections in May. 

The move by Ayuso in Madrid was provoked by events in the south of Spain just hours before on Wednesday morning. In the southeast region of Murcia, the Cs party stunned the PP by withdrawing its support for the regional government, and presenting a no-confidence vote along with the PSOE socialists. If successful, it would give Cs the regional presidency of the rural region that the PP has ruled for over 25 years.

Ayuso, a scathing critic of Spain’s left-leaning main coalition government between the PSOE socialists and left-wing Podemos group, responded by what she described as a defensive move to prevent another possible rebellion by Cs in Madrid.

‘The institutional instability provoked by the Ciudadanos and PSOE in Murcia has forced me into this situation,’ she said. A new regional election, she said, would be for ‘Madrid’s residents to choose between socialism and freedom’.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso on 18 September 2020. (Comunidad.Madrid)

Ignacio Aguado, the leader of the Cs in Madrid and its regional vice president, said that he had urged Ayuso not to end their partnership, calling an early election during a pandemic ‘irresponsible’.

Madrid has been the worst-hit region by Covid-19 in Spain. Latest figures [up to 10 March] show that there have  been 598,859 confirmed cases of Coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, nearly 19% of the country’s 3,178,442 cases to date. There have been 14,250 Coronavirus-related deaths in Madrid, and the incidence rate of infections per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days is still the country’s highest, at 226.

The capital and the Madrid region accounts for nearly 20% of the Spanish economy and is the focus of its political and administrative power. The regional government has been in the hands of the People’s Party (PP) since 1991, but they needed to team up with Ciudadanos (Cs) in order to prevent the left-wing parties from taking control in 2019.

The break-up of alliances between the PP and Cs could have further impact across Spain, where other regions and municipal governments — including Madrid City Hall — depend on deals between the two parties. However, the Mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida of the PP party, was quick to point out that he and his deputy mayor, Begoña Villacís of the Cs party, would ‘keep walking’ together in a tweet on Thursday. 

Both the PP and Cs are struggling to stop the surge of Spain’s far-right Vox party, already the country’s third-largest group, and which surpassed both in the recent elections held in Catalonia. Led by Inés Arrimadas, the Cs‘ distancing from the PP, led by Pablo Casado and who leads the opposition in the Spanish Congress, could push the party closer to the ruling PSOEPodemos coalition and give Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez further options when seeking support on key votes.

Madrid regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso at the inauguration of the Isabel Zendal hospital in Madrid on 1 December 2020. (Comunidad.Madrid)

Isabel Díaz Ayuso

Believed to be one of the rising stars of the right-wing PP party, Isabel Díaz Ayuso is seen as an outspoken ‘hardliner’ and fierce critic of Spain’s left-leaning government, largely due to the Coronavirus pandemic. She took office in summer 2019 as head of a coalition government with the centre-right Cs, and with the health crisis taking hold after just six months into her term. 

Ayuso became the leading challenger to the handling of the pandemic by the central government led by Pedro Sánchez. She has consistently pushed back against health restrictions and lockdowns, stating that they are doing too much damage to businesses and jobs. She is now also against the new nationwide travel restrictions for the upcoming Easter week, in contrast with all other regions that have agreed they are necessary to avoid another wave of infections like the one generated by the Christmas holidays. Ayuso also received criticism (as well as support) for inaugurating a new hospital during the health crisis, costing nearly €100 million: Madrid inaugurates new hospital, amid controversy and protests.

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