“The attempt to point out the sources of contagion of the old Cainite fever in this or that social sector, in this or that area of Spanish life, is in vain.” We are not in the Spain of early 1937 about which Manuel Chaves Nogales wrote from exile those lines for his prologue to To blood and fire. And yet, the political communication strategists who drive the candidates’ designs have reduced these elections to facing the more than five million Madrilenians summoned today to the polls faced with the dilemma of choosing between two factions distilled from another era: ” communism or freedom ”, versus“ democracy or fascism ”.
Both slogans, projected as the axis of a campaign of noise and fury that has turned a regional election into a matter of national scope through perpetual scandal, shake an exhausted country after a year of COVID-19 pandemic. A nation clinging to the injection of 140,000 million European funds in exchange for reforms negotiated with Brussels. A society punished by inequality, under a structural unemployment rate of 15% – which is close to 40% in the youth rate – and a labor market that has destroyed 137,500 jobs in the first quarter of this year. A democracy plunged into a deep institutional crisis while distrust of political parties, the Congress of Deputies, the Government and the media soars, according to the latest Eurobarometer. A system that maintains Madrid and its adjacent region as a metropolis structured between the power of the high civil service, the business elites that dominate the headquarters of the main Spanish companies and the workers destined to provide services for both strata. Voters start from this context to decide the political future of a region under the hegemony of the Popular Party during the last quarter of a century.
In this sense, the polls point – except for surprises – to a victory for the PP candidate and president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who would be prey to the support of Vox to form a government. While the applicants have fought a battle between accusations and invectives, the region suffers from a health situation plagued by the pandemic and with the second lowest per capita budget in public health of all the autonomous communities; an education with the lowest public spending per student in Spain – which deepens the segregation of the entire territory – and an economy dependent on European funds that suffers a lower unemployment rate than the national average, although it is increasing faster than in the rest of the country. The thick line and the noise silenced the confrontation of ideas about the problems in Madrid during the 15 days of campaigning for an election that Ayuso called after the political earthquake of the motion of censure in Murcia, breaking the government pact with Ciudadanos and Vox that It has been going on for the last year and a half.
It all started at dawn on Sunday, April 18, unveiling the posters of the candidates. Ángel Gabilondo (PSOE), 72-year-old university professor and winner of the previous elections who could not govern: “Do it for Madrid.” Isabel Díaz Ayuso (PP), 42-year-old journalist: “Libertad”. Edmundo Bal (Citizens), 53-year-old state attorney: “Vote Edmundo. Choose center ”. Mónica García (Más Madrid), 47-year-old doctor: “Because of what really matters”. Rocío Monasterio (Vox), 47-year-old architect: “Protect Madrid. Vote for sure ”. And Pablo Iglesias (Podemos), 42-year-old university professor and former vice president of the Government: “Let the majority speak.” Those slogans were the prelude to frenzy.
That first day of the campaign, Ayuso set his course: “These are key elections. What seemed like a regional decision was not. Here was a hidden plan to continue dividing a country. Gabilondo went on the counterattack by putting the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, in the spotlight: “You have no other project to confront with him.” García appealed from Vallecas to the Madrid president for her idea of freedom: “Does Mrs. Ayuso say that freedom is drinking beer?” Iglesias returned to Lavapiés to battle against the right-wing bloc made up of the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox: “We must send those arrogant to the opposition.” Monastery sentenced from Móstoles: “Spain is going to be carried out by Spain that gets up early, Sánchez the traitor will not get it, the one who has agreed with separatists and bildu-ETA”.
The following Monday, Gabilondo already warned about decibels: “We are dedicated to show politics instead of working together.” Ayuso sharpened his darts against Sánchez: “There is a plan of the Government of the nation to gradually change Spain.” Edmundo Bal warned in Nueva Economía Forum: “We are risking tolerance and coexistence.” And García went down to the fiscal area: “Every time Ayuso raises tax cuts, we already know that they are for a few.”
The tension increased the following day with Ayuso’s reference to the people who go to the hunger queues, whom he called “kept subsidized.” Gabilondo did not take long to show that those “unpresentable statements” suppose “an offense for all of us.” He said it to his face during the only debate attended by all the candidates and which was held on Telemadrid on the night of Wednesday, April 21.
At least that night there was debate. Iglesias upset Ayuso with the numbers of deaths from coronavirus in the Community of Madrid – “Don’t smile!” – and she responded by calling him “mean.” García grew up in the blocks dedicated to the pandemic. Flying over the scene, Bal asked that the contestants not throw “the figures in their faces.” Monastery distributed tow everywhere, with the focus on Iglesias and brandishing the poster of his party against immigrant minors that has been the subject of a complaint, file and subsequent appeal by the Prosecutor’s Office for hate crime. That night Gabilondo asked Pablo Iglesias for his support, addressing first to Mónica García, to stop the “government of Colón.” The blocks to the left and right were closed.
During the final stretch of the week, the CIS gave encouragement in a poll flash to the left bloc, against the rest of the polls. And on the evening of Thursday, April 22, Pablo Iglesias published on his Twitter account the image of an envelope addressed to him with a letter with death threats and four bullets. The Interior Minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, and the director of the Civil Guard, María Gámez, also received letters with threats and bullets. The campaign was about to explode.
It happened the next morning, in the Cadena SER debate in which Ayuso refused to participate. Pablo Iglesias initially demanded an explicit condemnation of Monastery for the threats received, as did the rest of his adversaries. Monasterio avoided doing so and Iglesias abandoned the debate, which continued harshly amid shouts and accusations until a recess after which Gabilondo and García also left. Ayuso’s “communism or freedom” found the left-wing bloc in front of him asking to choose between “democracy or fascism.” The possibility of further discussions ended. Everything was reduced to slogans at rallies, individual interviews and messages through social networks.
The following Monday, the Minister of Industry and number two on Gabilondo’s list, Reyes Maroto, received another letter with a bloody knife inside. After being photographed with images of the razor next to Congress, it emerged that the sender was a person with a diagnosed mental illness. Ayuso said at a rally: “We all receive threats, but we don’t do a circus.” Iglesias went to the Tetuán neighborhood and proclaimed: “we must give a civic response to fascism.” Gabilondo raised his voice against Vox in Fuenlabrada: “Let’s not trivialize the speeches of the extreme right, they are the seed of hate crimes.” And Monasterio said on TVE that it condemned all threats. “Including these to Mr. Iglesias. What I asked him is that just as I condemned them, that he do the same with those of [los mítines de Vox en] Vallecas ”that ended in riots during the pre-campaign. The following morning, EL PAÍS published a survey prepared by Metroscopia, according to which Ayuso would double his 2019 results, but he would need Vox to govern, leaving the PSOE below 20% of votes and with Más Madrid on his heels.
The threatening letters were replicated. On Tuesday, April 27, a missive with bullets addressed to Ayuso and another addressed to the Civil Guard leadership with projectiles and a threatening letter against Iglesias were intercepted. On Wednesday another envelope with bullets and an insulting letter to the former President of the Government José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was intercepted at the Post Office. Interior strengthened surveillance of candidates who had an escort and assigned as many to those who did not have one. Ayuso pointed out to Iglesias: “With Podemos, hate speech has grown.” Iglesias pointed out to the King: “How is it possible that with death threats there has not been a single word from the Royal House condemning fascist violence?”
Ayuso faced the final stretch clinging to the Madrid phobia that, according to their version, “they have been using from many regions, saying that we are a region of rich people, that we dumping fiscal”. And to finish off his phobia of Pablo Iglesias, he did not hesitate to proclaim that the Podemos candidate “is evil.” It happened on Friday, April 30, the same day that Iglesias reported to the congressional police station that a private Facebook group made up of more than 15,000 police officers made threats and insults against him. After filing the complaint, Iglesias went to Usera, grabbed a microphone and shouted: “They are not going to intimidate us!”
The campaign closed on Sunday, May 2, between a bullfighting festival in Las Ventas, the new photo of Vox in Colón – already without the PP or Citizens – and the left-wing bloc entrusting its destination to the mobilization to turn around the unanimous Ayuso’s victory predicted by the polls. The only certainty is that the noise and fury of the last 15 days will not give way to silence the day after these elections.
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