Five things to know about Madrid’s regional election

Spain's central Madrid region, an established bastion of the right, will hold an early election on Tuesday that could have significant consequences for national politics.

Isabel Ayuso and Pablo Casado

Here are five things to know about the polls in this region of around 6.7
million people:

‘Jewel in the crown’

Madrid is the third most populous of Spain’s 17 regions and its richest,
accounting for around 20 percent of the country’s economy.

Of the 2,000 largest Spanish companies, 72 percent are based in Madrid,
according to the industry ministry.

Spain’s decentralised political system gives regional governments
significant powers and Madrid is the focus of the country’s political and administrative power.

It has been dubbed the “jewel in the crown” by Spanish media because the
head of the region’s government enjoys a high national profile.

The right-wing Popular Party (PP) has governed the region since 1995.

Pandemic epicentre

The Covid-19 pandemic has been an important issue in the campaign as Madrid was at the epicentre when the virus first took hold in Spain.

In March 2020, the region accounted for 40 percent of the country’s total

The mounting toll prompted Madrid’s regional government to turn an ice rink
into a makeshift morgue and an exhibition centre into a field hospital.

The number of Covid-19 infections and deaths in the region remains the
highest in Spain, but it is lower than that of Paris for example.

Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias has quit as Spain’s deputy PM to run in regional election. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

Pizza homage

The region’s outgoing leader, Isabel Diaz Ayuso of the PP, has consistently
pushed back against central government pressure to impose restrictions and
lockdowns, arguing they hurt the economy.

Her government set one of Spain’s loosest curfews, defying national recommendations to shut bars and restaurants and making her a heroine for the hospitality sector.

Madrid’s Pizzart restaurant chain has added the “Madonna Ayuso” pizza to
its menu in her honour – a creation of tomato sauce, mortadella, burrata and
crushed pistachio.

“Thanks to her we have been able to survive,” Marina Padilla, one of the
chain’s owners told Spanish media.

But critics blame Ayuso’s policies for Madrid’s higher infection rate.

Migrant candidate

On the list of the far-left Podemos is a Senegalese man who arrived illegally on a migrant boat that reached Spain’s Canary Islands in 2006.

Former fisherman Serigne Mbaye, 45, made his way to Madrid where he worked as an illegal street vendor – and was arrested for it several times – before eventually obtaining Spanish citizenship.

He is also a member of a union representing street vendors in the capital,
known as “manteros” because they sell their wares from blankets, or “mantas”,
spread out on the pavement.

Such vendors are common in Spanish cities. Most are undocumented immigrants from West Africa.

If elected, he has vowed to fight racism in Madrid, a region where foreigners account for around 15 percent of the population.

Far-right Spanish-Cuban

Most polls suggest Ayuso’s PP is on track to win by a wide margin although
she is not expected to secure an absolute majority, meaning she will likely
look to the far-right Vox party to govern.

Regional Vox leader Rocio Monasterio is an architect whose Cuban father
fled the island after the Castro regime expropriated his sugar business.

She has dual nationality and often likens Podemos – the junior partner in
Spain’s left-wing coalition – to Cuba’s communist regime, warning the party
will destroy Spain’s economy with its calls for high social spending and taxes.

“I know exactly what it brings and what it brings is poverty,” she said in a recent interview.

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EXPLAINED: What is Spain’s anti-trafficking law?

The Spanish government has passed a draft bill that seeks to beef up the fight against human trafficking and exploitation, addressing everything from prostitution to arranged marriages and organ trafficking.

EXPLAINED: What is Spain’s anti-trafficking law?

On November 29th, Spain’s Council of Ministers approved a draft law aimed at tackling human trafficking.

The law, known as la ley de trata (or anti-trafficking law) will bolster measures against sexual exploitation, forced and arranged marriages, slavery, forced labour, organ and tissue removal, and situations where vulnerable people are forced to engage in criminal activity.

Spain’s Justice Minister, Pilar Llop, said that the law will protect “people who suffer a lot in our country and also in other countries around the world,” strengthening the fight against trafficking mafias and organised crime groups to “break the business chain that is generated using human beings as commodities.”

The law will, among other things, create a national plan for the prevention of trafficking, protection and privacy protocols, a compensation fund for victims, social, health and financial support, and increase awareness of the problem at the educational level.

A particular focus of the legislation will be on minors, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees – groups thought to be most vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

Prostitution in Spain

Many cases of human trafficking in Spain result in sexual exploitation, but there exists no single law that deals directly with prostitution in Spain. Prostitution was decriminalised in 1995, though its related activities, such as pimping, trafficking, and sexual exploitation are still illegal.

READ ALSO: What’s the law on prostitution in Spain?

Although the clandestine nature of the sex work makes accurate data hard to find, according to a 2011 UN report, Spain is the third biggest centre for prostitution in the world, behind only Thailand and Puerto Rico.

In 2016, UNAIDS estimated that over 70,000 prostitutes were working in Spain, but some estimates put that number as high 350,000.

It is believed that 80 percent of them are foreigners, with many reportedly coming from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Morocco and eastern Europe.

If the draft law is finally approved, its sexual exploitation clauses would include prison sentences of up to eight years for procurers such as pimps or madams.

Customers of prostitutes that have been forced to be sexual workers could also face fines and prison sentences of between six months and four years.

The Spanish government wants prostitution banned in its current form in Spain.

Forced labour

Clearly, the ley de trata will hope to combat some of the sexual exploitation of women in Spain, but the anti-trafficking legislation is more far-reaching than that and is also intended to tackle forced labour and slavery – two big but underreported problems in Spain.

According to the U.S State Department’s 2022 report on human trafficking in Spain, “labour trafficking is under-identified in Spain. Authorities report the pandemic increased worker vulnerabilities and contributed to the rise in labour trafficking in 2020 and 2021, especially in agriculture, domestic work, and cannabis cultivation in Catalonia.”

“In 2022, Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine, are vulnerable to trafficking. Labour traffickers continue to exploit men and women from Eastern Europe and South and East Asia, particularly Pakistan, in the textile, construction, industrial, beauty, elder care facilities, and retail sectors.”

It should be said, however, that the report also notes that “the government of Spain fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” and kept it in its Tier 1 of nations.

What does Spain’s anti-trafficking law include?

  • National Trafficking Plan

The law will create a protocol to coordinate the immediate referral of trafficked persons to specialised services, which will be overseen by a National Rapporteur on Trafficking and Exploitation of Human Beings run through Spain’s Interior Ministry, according to the Spanish government website.

The rapporteur will oversee anti-trafficking policy and represent Spain in the international arena, a role considered crucial as human trafficking is often a cross border, international problem.

  • Education

According to Article 7 of the law, efforts will also be made to improve educational awareness of the problems of trafficking and exploitation with a focus on human rights, sexual education, and democratic values.

  • Social, labour, and health support

A ‘Social and Labour Insertion Plan’ will be created for victims of trafficking and exploitation that provides social, health and employment support for victims.

This could include housing access, physical, psychological and sexual health support, employment opportunities, and financial assistance for victims and their family members.

  • Tightening labour market regulation

As trafficked and exploited people are so often brought in from abroad (and often dependent on the traffickers themselves for housing, food, money and so on) the regulation of migrant worker recruitment will be tightened through beefed up surveillance and labour standards.

  • Compensation fund

A compensation fund – the Fund for the Compensation of Victims of Trafficking and Exploitation (FIVTE) – will also be created, and will be taken from state budgets, as well as money or goods confiscated from convicted traffickers.

  • Protection and privacy

The anti-trafficking law will also provide protection services and maintain the victim’s right to privacy, protect their identity, access to free legal advice and even offer a living income.

According to Article 36 of the bill, victims trafficked from abroad will have the right to voluntary and assisted return to their country of origin. If they were brought illegally into Spain and don’t have official documentation, the Spanish government will issue them with the appropriate papers needed for travel as well as provide them with the option of residency.