After an abnormally tense election campaign, the polls opened in Madrid on Tuesday for voters to choose the next government of Spain’s powerful capital region.
Isabel Ayuso, the incumbent from the right-wing Popular Party and one of Spain’s most outspoken lockdown critics, is set to secure the most seats.
With the surprise entry of Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias into the race, Ayuso has framed the vote as a choice between “freedom or communism.”
Iglesias chose to leave his post as Spain’s deputy prime minister to battle the right-wing forces that he sees threatening the Spanish democracy as a whole.
This ideological battle has played out dramatically in recent weeks, as Madrid became a stage for Spain’s increasingly polarized political scene.
This was evident at the first major rally for the far-right party Vox, where anti-fascist protesters ended up clashing with police in their attempts to disrupt the speeches. It later emerged that one of the arrested protesters had financial ties to Podemos.
Vox, which polls suggest may hold the key to government formation, later came under fire for an apparently racist billboard campaign targeting unaccompanied foreign minors.
The tension came to a head during the last debate.
Iglesias, along with Spain’s interior minister and first female head of the Guardia Civil police forces, had received death threats and bullets in the mail.
The Podemos leader asked Vox candidate Rocio Monasterio to denounce the threats, but she insisted that she did not believe they were real.
Iglesias told the debate moderators that by allowing Vox to speak, they were “normalizing” a violent ideology and left the stage. The two other left-wing candidates eventually followed suit and brought the debate to an abrupt end.
The death threats have become a rallying cry for the left-wing candidates who say the fascist forces that ruled Spain for much of the 20th century threaten to regain ground.
A death threat addressed to Ayuso was also intercepted in Barcelona. Her reaction was to minimize it so as not to encourage the perpetrators.
While much of the attention was focused on the left versus right, Ayuso’s management of the pandemic was able to slip somewhat under the radar.
Madrid, with around 6.6 million residents, has recorded 15,015 official COVID-19 deaths. Currently, 45% of its intensive care units are full of COVID-19 patients – higher than anywhere else in Spain.
Ayuso has been an advocate for a more relaxed approach and gained national attention for her repeated clashes with the central government over tightening measures.
The pandemic could also be influential in the vote itself. The voting hours have been split so that elderly voters, the general population, and people with COVID-19 or in isolation will not overlap.
Analysts say higher turnout could benefit the left-wing block, but the combination of the vote taking place on a working day and limited voting hours could fall in Ayuso’s favor.