Madrid's Most Polarised Campaign Gives Way to the Polls
Ayuso calls for a "broad majority" to govern "with freedom" and Sánchez warns that PP and Vox would put democracy at risk
MadridFreedom, the slogan that Isabel Díaz Ayuso wanted to make her own in the midst of a pandemic that has led to unprecedented restrictions, has ended up being the axis of the most polarised of election campaigns. Initially, the PP candidate for the Madrid elections emptied the concept of content, equating it to having a beer outside a bar after work, but all the candidates have ended up embracing it to contribute their vision. The May 4 campaign has ended up being a campaign full of ideology in which antagonistic positions have been highlighted, to the point that the right has contrasted democracy with communism and the left has contrasted it with fascism.
Ayuso yesterday played up to her story, turning her final campaign rally into a party. In Puente del Rey's open space thousands of people gathered while the current president exploited her most populist side. The event overflowed with enthusiasm and emotions, with tears included when Ayuso thanked her mother for giving birth to her. Before the start, a DJ had livened up the wait with loud music that turned this part of Madrid Río into an open-air club. It was surely an example of how her government has relativised the dramatic figures of deaths the pandemic has caused in the Madrid region.
In recent weeks Ayuso has wanted to convey an optimism that has captivated many Madrileños - the polls predict a landslide victory - and has repeated that she never wanted this campaign to end. However, the "excitement" of a project that "transcends the acronym of the PP," she said yesterday, does not hide a strong ideological charge. Ayusismo's freedom is that families can choose schools and health centres, and lower taxes so they can choose what to spend their money on. "Distrust the one who gives you a paycheck," proclaimed the candidate for re-election, in a strong defence of private initiative. Former president Esperanza Aguirre, one of the protagonists of the PP's neoliberal stranglehold on Madrid was one of the prominent guests at the final rally, in which Ayuso asked for the vote to achieve a "broad majority" to govern "with freedom".
On the other hand, the left has focused on defending a strong public sector. PSOE, Más Madrid and Podemos have not been able to escape from the frame imposed by Ayuso and have turned it around to adapt it to their postulates. Ángel Gabilondo, Mónica García and Pablo Iglesias have repeated throughout the campaign that freedom is equal opportunities, education accessible to all and quality health care available to the most vulnerable.
The ballot boxes will tell if they have played their cards well enough to mobilise their electorate, especially in the southern districts and municipalities. Progressive voters are more inclined to stay at home after so many years of PP regional governments and frustration with socialist municipal governments that have not met expectations. In this campaign they have heard a classic left-wing discourse, especially from the PSOE and Podemos. Más Madrid, on the other hand, is the party that has made the most of newer demands on the political agenda, such as climate change and feminism.
Threats with bullets
However, there has been another component that has fuelled the polarisation of the campaign: threats with bullets against politicians, including two candidates, Pablo Iglesias and Diaz Ayuso. In the last few days there has been an armistice, but the middle of the campaign was marked by the constant drip of threatening letters. The first were against the Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, the director of the Civil Guard, María Gámez, and the candidate of Unidas Podemos, and this caused a turning point. The Vox candidate, Rocío Monasterio, refused to show solidarity with Iglesias and he left a radio debate. Without beating around the bush, the left went on to describe Vox as fascist and accused the PP of being an accomplice.
"She will reach an agreement with the xenophobic far-right and says it is not the end of the world, but it may be the beginning of the end of a vigorous democracy full of rights and freedoms," warned the president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sanchez, at the closing act of the PSOE campaign in Entrevías, a neighbourhood of Puente de Vallecas. The socialist secretary general has remained in the background and has ceded the limelight to Ángel Gabilondo, who began the race with a more moderate profile that he has been forced to alter, at least rhetorically. Sánchez reappeared yesterday, but he has chosen not to expose himself too much, bearing in mind that the more he gets involved, the more he could be held responsible for an eventual defeat against Ayuso. Iglesias, meanwhile, has been accompanied in the last two days by the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, who yesterday accused the PP of "trivialising fascism".
Vox returns to Colón
The president of the Madrid PP, Pío García Escudero, bet that Ayuso can govern alone, but the publication on the penultimate day of the campaign of the PP's complete electoral programme already gives clues that it counts on Vox. Eclipsed by Ayuso, the far-right has had to resort to the criminalisation of unaccompanied migrant minors to be noticed, and yesterday held its last act in a symbolic place, Plaza Colón, where Santiago Abascal criticised an alleged "equidistance" of the PP. Who will be missing from the famous February 2019 photograph against dialogue with Catalonia is Ciudadanos, which might suffer a new blow and be left without parliamentary representation in the Madrid Assembly. In desperation, Ciudadanos has emulated Barack Obama posters with Edmundo Bal's face and the slogan Yes we Bal.
It ends a campaign in which terms such as freedom, democracy, communism and fascism have been evoked lightly and opposing ideologies have surfaced. The poles, further estranged by death threats, face the test of the ballot box.
The day on which the election campaign in Madrid ended was precisely on May 2, the regional holiday, and president Isabel Diaz Ayuso did not waste it. She was the centre of attention in the institutional act delivering medals and pronounced up to eight times the word libertad - her campaign slogan - during her speech, which earned her criticism from the left, who called it "electioneering". Ayuso justified it by appealing to the "freedom" for which Madrid "heroes" fought against French troops in 1808. Among the medals awarded by Ayuso, one was received by former Madrid president Cristina Cifuentes, who used the moment to vindicate herself and said she was "free of charges and burdens". The musician Nacho Cano also received one, but gave it back to Ayuso. He did not reject it, but he gave the red band to the president of Madrid to thank her for the "miracle" of her management. In the afternoon the bulls also returned to Las Ventas, but in the end Ayuso did not attend.