Spain: ‘Trump-like’ Madrid governor set for election win

Isabel Diaz Ayuso has kept bars open during the pandemic, winning praise among businesses who have named a beer after her.

Madrid regional government leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso waves to supporters upon arriving by motorbike to an electoral event [File: Sergio Perez/Reuters]

If, or more likely when, Isabel Diaz Ayuso claims victory in regional elections in Spain, she will be confirmed as the fastest rising star of the country’s political right.

The 42-year-old president of the community of Madrid is running with the right-wing main opposition People’s Party (PP).

Described by some as a populist, she has a tough-talking public speaking style that seems to thrive on controversy.

Her pinned tweet ahead of the Tuesday’s vote screamed: “COMMUNISM OR FREEDOM”.

Since taking over as the PP’s regional leader in 2019, Ayuso has gained plenty of air time with outlandish claims such as that traffic jams at three in the morning in Madrid form part of the city’s cultural identity, and that when it comes to air pollution in the capital, “nobody has died from it”.

Tuesday will likely see Ayuso’s brand of politics double the PP’s seats in Madrid’s regional parliament.

In the process, the centre-right Ciudadanos party, previously the junior partner in her ruling coalition, could well lose all its MPs.

“A big win for the PP could be very important at a state level, above all psychologically,” Oriol Bartomeus, professor of Political Science at Barcelona’s Universidad Autónoma, told Al Jazeera. “It would boost the idea that the PP’s time is coming.”

Such a triumph might also improve Ayuso’s chance of becoming the candidate Spain’s right one day puts forward to challenge Spanish President Pedro Sánchez.

While coy on discussing possible leadership battles within the PP, when it comes to criticising Sánchez, a socialist, Ayuso does not need much encouragement.

“She’s winning because she decided to take on the central government, and turn herself into President Sanchez’s alter ego,” Bartomeus said.

“Taking that approach costs her nothing politically in a region like Madrid, which” – with the PP in power for more than two decades – “has been right-leaning for many years. It has allowed her to be on the campaign trail since she became Madrid president, too.

“Part of her electorate wants a conservative government running Madrid. But another part of the pro-Diaz Ayuso vote on Tuesday will be anti-Sanchez.”

Ayuso’s constant clashes with the central government over what she views as overly restrictive pandemic policies, coupled with keeping Madrid’s bars and shops open for much longer hours than in other parts of Spain, have been strongly applauded by Madrid’s sizeable services sector.

They have even created a special edition beer named after Ayuso for the elections, bearing the slogan: “Let nobody take away our way of life.”

She claims to speak for Madrid’s liberty-loving population when confronting the government, a line which has clearly struck a note with PP voters.

But critics say the emphasis on protecting the capital’s economy comes at too high a price, noting that Madrid’s public health services are fighting against the second-highest contagion rate of any of Spain’s mainland provinces. Forty-four percent of its ICU hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Her ferocious criticism of Madrid’s best-known left-wing candidate, former Deputy PM Pablo Iglesias – “He was born from evil, to do evil,” she once claimed – has likely found her greater favour with ultra-conservative voters.

Depending on the scale of her near-certain victory, she may yet need the far-right party Vox to form a government in Madrid’s parliament. Long term, though, this could cost her support on the PP’s more liberal wing.

For now, though, Ayuso is on course for a notable triumph in Tuesday’s elections that will likely have political reverberations far beyond Spain’s richest region.

“I’d compare her with Donald Trump,” said Bartomeus, “not so much for her personality, but in terms of her strategies, and in the way in which her rivals initially seriously undervalued her, just as the Democrats did with Trump before he became successful.

“Then, like Trump, when her opponents discovered that she was nowhere near as clumsy an operator as they thought, it was too late.”

Source: Al Jazeera