Madrid Election Talk: The battle for Madrid

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Author: Ed Biggart

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On 4 May, the Comunidad de Madrid will go to the polls electing the 136 deputies that make up the Regional Assembly. One of the crown jewels of Spain’s autonomous regions, the election is also a bellwether for the broader mood of the country and a chance for the region to give its verdict on the response to the pandemic that has killed nearly 15,000 people in the Comunidad alone.

The fleeting display of national solidarity during the pandemic has quickly turned to division and acrimony with the banging of pots and pans once used to show solidarity for healthcare workers now a regular feature of fervent political rallies. Even in Spain’s usual climate of polarisation, this election has been particularly toxic with the formation of two ideological blocs with little indication of common ground and consensus. Framed as a battle between communism and fascism by both sides, the contest feels like a return to the highly adversarial style of politics that preceded the rise of challenger parties Unidas Podemos (UP) and Ciudadanos who have seemingly fallen back to the fringes.

This article will provide a brief summary of the key players, policies and prospects of the six major parties participating in the 2021 Madrid Regional Election.

(Polling data taken from El País: 27.04.2021)

Partido Popular (PP) – Isabel Diaz Ayuso

The incumbent and current leader in the polls, conservative candidate Isabel Diaz Ayuso’s promise of libertad through a continued easing of lockdown measures seems to be a popular one in the Capital Region. Along with national leader Pablo Casado, she is part of a new generation of populista politicians that is attempting to rebuild the party’s reputation following the infamous Caso Gürtel Corruption scandal that saw it haemorrhage a large number of right-wing voters to Vox and Ciudadanos. A beneficiary of the latter’s decline, PP’s traditional economic agenda and the liberalization of restrictions sees Ayuso well-placed to retain her premiership. The larger question is whether she will again need a partnership with far-right Vox to form a government.

Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) – Ángel Gabilondo

The other half of Spain’s traditional two-party system and main force on the left, the socialistas are currently in charge of the national government under Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. Propped up in Moncloa by Unidas Podemos, Madrid candidate Ángel Gabilondo has advocated the formation of a left-wing bloc to rival the PP juggernaut extending an olive branch to other leftist parties. A former university professor and Minister for Education, Gabilondo actually won the popular vote in the 2019 regional election but was unable to form a government. Often a spokesperson for the national party’s platform, he has highlighted the Ayuso administration’s lack of meaningful financial support for Madrid’s businesses and hospitality sector.

Más Madrid – Mónica García

The party formed around once Mayor of Madrid Manuela Carmena, the small left-wing organisation has impressed under the leadership of Mónica García vaulting them to 3rd place in the polls. An anaesthesiologist turned politician, García’s background in health, which saw her working on the front line during the pandemic, has provided the backbone of her candidacy and proved popular with voters. The party has also managed to differentiate itself with the same hyper-localised message that proved so successful for Carmena, becoming the main challenger to PSOE on the left. Más Madrid will also hope for a sufficient turnout to be able form a coalition on the left. However, having originally broken away from UP and declined its subsequent request for a shared electoral list of candidates, meaningful cooperation is not a foregone conclusion.

Vox – Rocío Monasterio

The rise of Vox, from the fringes of politics to a partner in Ayuso’s previous administration and possible kingmaker this time around, is remarkable. An ideology shared with many right-wing populist movements around the world, Vox has promised to hacer España Grande otra vez (make Spain great again). Advocating another Reconquista and a return to life under francoist ideals, it vehemently rejects gender and racial equality and has used the same dehumanising discourse of immigrants and left-wing politicians which has seen it compared to the Nazi regime. Formed in response to the Catalan Independence campaign and the Syrian refugee crisis, national leader Santiago Abascal and candidate for Madrid Rocío Monasterio have managed to recreate a movement in Spain that many hoped would have vanished with the fall of Francoism and democratisation. However, Vox has become a mainstream political player on the back of disillusioned voters, winning seats even in PSOE strongholds like Andalucía and it looks set to play a role again if Ayuso fails to win a majority.

Unidas Podemos – Pablo Iglesias

Forged in the wake of the anti-austerity indignados movementin 2014, this collection of far-left groups burst onto the political scene led by the charismatic former political science professor Pablo Iglesias. Offering a platform that blends social progressivism on gender, LGBTQ+, migrant and environmental justice with a populist economic policy of renationalization and increased public spending, UP’s main criticism during the campaign has been the devastating effect of austerity on Madrid’s healthcare system. Currently 5th in the polls, UP will hope that Iglesias’ surprise candidacy will help reverse a general decline but with congestion on the left and a history of acrimony between the parties, this is not a fait-accompli.

Ciudadanos – Edmundo Bal

Seemingly out of place in a hyper-polarised election, the moderate centrism of Ciudadanos sees it last in the polls and in danger of falling short of the 5% minimum threshold needed to sit in the Regional Assembly. Suffering a spectacular fall from grace, the party once looked to set to up-end Spain’s traditional two-party hegemony.  However, following a series of tactical errors, the most recent of which triggered this snap election having tried to usurp the PP-led government in Murcia, the party lost its talismanic leader Albert Rivera. Another poor return for the C’s might put it in danger of slipping out of mainstream politics entirely.

This article was written by Ed Biggart, a postgraduate student currently researching his thesis on the politics of historical memory using Spain as a case study.

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