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Spain’s right-wing Popular Party achieves solid win in Madrid’s divisive regional elections

Spain's right-wing Popular Party led by rising star Isabel Díaz Ayuso won a resounding victory in Madrid's regional elections Tuesday, handing a stinging defeat to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists.

Spain's right-wing Popular Party achieves solid win in Madrid's divisive regional elections
Madrid regional president and People's Party (PP) candidate Isabel Diaz Ayuso (L) celebrates her victory in the Madrid regional elections with PP leader Pablo Casado. Photos: Pierre Philippe Marcou, Javier Soriano/AFP

With more than 50 percent of the votes counted, Ayuso more than doubled the PP’s showing in the 2019 ballot, winning 64 of the regional parliament’s 136 seats, while the Socialists shed 12 seats to secure just 25.

A later recount found that Ayuso and her party had won more seats than all three left-wing parties put together (PSOE, Más Madrid and Unidas Podemos), meaning they will only need far-right party Vox’s abstention to govern.

“Today is a turning point for national politics,” said PP chief Pablo Casado, hailing Ayuso as “the leader that Madrid deserves”.

At the helm of Spain’s richest region for less than two years, Ayuso, 42, has been one of the leading critics of Sanchez’s leftist government and its handling of the pandemic.

An outspoken hardliner, she has won widespread support for resisting government pressure to impose tighter restrictions on the local economy.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias also said Tuesday he was resigning from politics after a dire showing by his hard-left party in Madrid’s regional election which was resoundingly won by the right.

“We have failed, we have been very far from putting together a sufficient majority,” he said in a speech shortly after the result showed a solid victory for the right-wing Popular Party, handing a stinging defeat to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists and Podemos.

Who is Isabel Díaz Ayuso?

Madrid leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso is a rising right-wing star whose Tuesday regional poll triumph cements her hold on Spain’s richest region.

Not even two years have passed since she took over as Madrid’s regional leader, but in that time she has become one of the best-known faces of Spain’s right-wing Popular Party, largely thanks to the pandemic.

Responsible for Spain’s wealthiest region with a population of 6.6 million and where the pandemic has hit hardest, Ayuso had served barely six months in office when the virus first struck.

Thrown into a historical crisis with little political experience, she has soared to prominence as the battering ram of the right for her confrontational style and blistering attacks on Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

A year into the pandemic, Ayuso abruptly called a snap poll aimed at capitalising on the support she has earned through resisting pressure to impose tighter virus restrictions on the local economy.

Although Madrid has suffered Spain’s highest numbers of infections and deaths, Ayuso has consistently defied calls to shut bars and restaurants, turning her into the heroine of the hospitality sector.

Presenting Madrid as the “capital of freedom”, she has kept restrictions to a minimum, shunning central government recommendations and even those embraced by other PP-led regions.

“We enjoy a level of freedom and rights that are not to be found anywhere else in Spain. This way of life in Madrid is unique,” she said on calling a snap election on March 10.

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POLITICS

Qatar emir visits Spain as EU eyes gas alternatives

Qatar's emir began a state visit to Spain on Tuesday as Europe seeks to diversify its natural gas supply sources to reduce its energy dependence on Russia.

Qatar emir visits Spain as EU eyes gas alternatives

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani was welcomed by King Felipe VI at Madrid’s royal palace at the start of his two-day visit, his first to Spain since he ascended the throne in 2013.

The emir, who is accompanied by Qatar’s foreign and energy ministers, is scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Wednesday.

Spain and Qatar are expected to sign a dozen economic and commercial contracts during his visit, mainly regarding energy, according to a Spanish government source.

The visit comes as the European Union is aiming to cut its reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds this year due to Russia’s invasion of  Ukraine.

Russia currently supplies around 40 percent of Europe’s gas needs.

Qatar, which has the third-largest natural gas reserves in the world, is currently Spain’s fifth-biggest supplier of natural gas after the United States, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt.

The country accounted for 4.4 percent of Spain’s total gas imports in April and the Spanish government hopes this share could increase.

“We are working closely with out European counterparts” on the long-term supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG), Qatar’s ambassador to Spain, Abdullah Al-Hamar, told Spanish daily 20 Minutos.

The emir of Qatar’s trip to Europe will also include visits to Germany, Britain, Slovenia and Switzerland, where he will attend the World Economic Forum which will run in the mountain resort of Davos from May 22nd-26th.

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