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Coronavirus: Madrid lawmaker who opposed lockdown restrictions wins election

Díaz Ayuso said the results backed her policies of keeping bars, restaurants and other businesses open.
Madrid regional president and People's Party candidate Isabel Diaz Ayuso delivers a speech as she celebrates her victory in the Madrid regional elections beside PP leader Pablo Casado at the PP headquarters in Madrid on Tuesday.Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP - Getty Images

MADRID — Madrid's conservative leader, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, a champion of relaxed measures against the coronavirus and a scourge of the left-wing central government's handling of the pandemic, scored a solid win in a regional election Tuesday.

Díaz Ayuso, who had campaigned under the slogan of "Freedom," was backed by 44 percent of voters, up from 22 percent in the last election two years ago, with 99 percent of the ballot counted.

Díaz Ayuso said the results backed her policies of keeping bars, restaurants and other businesses open even in the thick of the coronavirus pandemic to keep the economy up and running.

Speaking to hundreds of supporters waving Spanish flags outside of her Popular Party's headquarters in central Madrid, the incumbent also said the result was a rebuke of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's left-wing coalition.

"The way of governing, with opulence and hypocrisy from Moncloa, has its days counted," the winner said referring by name to the palace that hosts the prime minister's office.

The Madrid region is Spain's main economic engine and the country's busiest transportation hub. It's home to 14 percent of Spain's 47 million people but has recorded nearly one-fifth of the European country's 3.5 million confirmed virus cases.

Vox, the far-right party that mixes Spanish patriotism and populism is shaping up as Díaz Ayuso's new choice for legislative support and won one more regional lawmaker, rising from 12 seats to 13.

Referring to the upcoming term, Vox's regional leader Rocío Monasterio said that "our votes will be decisive for absolutely everything during the next two years."

In a sign that Díaz Ayuso's popularity traveled beyond Spanish borders, the leader of Italy's right-wing League Matteo Salvini praised the Madrid regional chief.

"Congratulations and good work to President Isabel Díaz Ayuso, winner of the Madrid elections, a woman of common sense and courage, who has combined protection of health, right to work and freedom," the tweet read.

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The preliminary results were a blow for Prime Minister Sánchez's regional Socialists, losing 13 assembly seats, from 37 to 24.

The anti-austerity 'United We Can' party leader, Pablo Iglesias, announced an end to a political career that in many ways shaped Spain's politics for much of the past decade. Iglesias had quit his position in Sánchez's Cabinet to run in Madrid.

Although his candidacy helped expand the number of the group's lawmakers from 7 to 10, Iglesias announced he was resigning from all positions in the far-left party born as a response to the 2008 financial crisis that dogged Spain's economy for years.

"Nobody could have imagined what we have achieved in seven years," the 42-year-old politician said.

Image: People react outside the Vox party headquarters in Madrid, Spain,
People react outside the Vox party headquarters in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday.Manu Fernandez / AP

Despite a persistent high infection rate that has recently plateaued, Madrid residents voted in droves, shooting the turnout to more than 69 percent of the 5 million eligible voters by 7 p.m., an hour before voting ended — up from 59 percent in the 2019 regional election.

Long queues of socially-distanced voters formed outside polling stations in schools, sports centers and even a bullring. Authorities imposed strict voting requirements to prevent the spread of infections: double masks, separate entrance and exit paths for voters and plastic screens for election workers.