Lockdown rebel wins Madrid regional election, opinion poll shows
MADRID (Reuters) -The conservative leader of Spain's Madrid region, who for months defied the leftist central government by keeping bars and shops open during the COVID-19 pandemic, won a regional election on Tuesday, an opinion poll showed as voting ended.
Isabel Diaz Ayuso's People's Party (PP) more than doubled its score to 62-65 seats from 30 in 2019, the opinion poll showed, in a major win for the maverick who had banked on her loose COVID strategy to appeal to voters.
Ayuso fell just shy of winning enough seats to rule the region without the support of any other party, according to the telephone poll conducted in the last few days by GAD3 for broadcasters TVE and Telemadrid.
"It seems that the people of Madrid are backing Isabel Diaz Ayuso's project for Madrid in a significant and major way," Alfonso Serrano, Ayuso's campaign director, told TVE.
The PP has controlled the region for the past 26 years and the convincing win, if confirmed, would likely give it impetus at a national level. In the national parliament, PP is the second-biggest party after the ruling Socialists.
The centre-right Ciudadanos, which was running the region with the PP, collapsed, winning no seats at all, compared with the 26 it achieved two years ago, according to the GAD3 poll.
That makes the far-right Vox party, which went from 12 seats to 12-14, according to the poll, a likely candidate to back Ayuso. Vox was already backing the PP/Ciudadanos coalition and the question is now whether it will ask to become part of the government.
Official results will now start trickling in and confirmation of the winner should come in the next few hours.
The PSOE of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez went from 37 seats to 25-28, according to the GAD3 poll, not enough to allow the Socialists and other left-wing parties to challenge Ayuso.
The Madrid region, home to seven million of Spain's 47 million people, recorded 343 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in the last 14 days on Tuesday against a national average of 213. Occupancy of intensive care units is the highest in Spain, at 44%.
Critics accuse Ayuso of neglecting health services while looking after business. But she won the support of many Madrid residents by refusing to close bars and restaurants to curb the pandemic.
Unlike in other elections in the COVID era in recent months, turnout was high, at 69%, from 58% in 2019.
(Reporting by Belen Carreno, Ingrid Melander, Clara-Laeila Laudette, Cristina Galan, Emma Pinedo, Elena Rodriguez, writing by Ingrid Melander, editing by Andrei Khalip and Giles Elgood)
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