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Madrid's champion of soft virus restrictions wins election

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Conservative Madrid regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso, left, and Popular party leader Pablo Casasdo wave outside the popular party headquarters in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, May 4, 2021. Madrid residents voted in droves for a new regional assembly in an election that tests the depths of resistance to virus lockdown measures and the divide between left-wing and right-wing parties. Regional President Isabel Daz Ayuso, who called the early election by dissolving her center-right coalition, had set off to broaden her power base and open up to an alliance with the far-right. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

MADRID – Madrid’s conservative leader, a champion of relaxed measures against the coronavirus and a scourge of the left-wing central government’s handling of the pandemic, scored a solid win in a regional election Tuesday.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who had campaigned under the slogan of “Freedom,” was backed by 44% of voters, up from 22% in the last election two years ago, with 99% of the ballot counted. Three rival left-wing parties together had 41%.

The biggest blow was to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's Socialists and the national leader's coalition's junior partner, the anti-austerity United We Can whose leader, Pablo Iglesias, announced an end to a political career that in many ways shaped Spain's politics for much of the past decade.

Díaz Ayuso said that results backed her policies of keeping bars, restaurants and other businesses opened even in the thick of the coronavirus pandemic to keep the economy up and running.

Speaking to hundreds of supporters waving Spanish flags outside of her Popular Party’s headquarters in central Madrid, the incumbent also said the result was a rebuke of Sánchez’s left-wing coalition.

“The way of governing, with opulence and hypocrisy from Moncloa, has its days counted,” the winner said referring by name to the palace that hosts the prime minister’s office.

The preliminary results gave the Popular Party 65 seats in the 136-seat regional assembly, more than double from 2019 but short of the 69-seat majority needed to form a government.

Vox, the far-right party that mixes Spanish patriotism and populism and is shaping up as Díaz Ayuso’s new choice for legislative support, won one more regional lawmaker, rising from 12 seats to 13.