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Madrid election centers on virus response, rise of far right

People queue for cast their vote during the regional election for a new regional assembly in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, May 4, 2021. Over 5 million Madrid residents are voting Tuesday for a new regional assembly in an election that tests the depths of resistance to lockdown measures and the divide between left and right-wing parties.(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

By ARITZ PARRA, MADRID (AP) — Madrid residents voted in droves Tuesday 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.

The early election was called by a conservative regional president who is trying to broaden her power base after she dissolved her center-right coalition. Madrid President Isabel Díaz Ayuso has made a name for herself by criticizing the national government’s handling of the pandemic and by resisting the strictest infection-control measures.

Long queues to obey social distancing rules formed outside polling stations in the region’s schools, sports centers and even a bullring, despite concerns due to a high rate of new infections.

More than 28% of the 5 million eligible voters had voted by midday, a 2% increase from a 2019 vote.

Authorities have imposed strict requirements to prevent the spread of infections: double masks, separate entrance and exit paths for voters and plastic screens for election workers.

Older adults were encouraged to cast their ballots during a 2-hour period mid-morning and the hour before polls close has been reserved for people quarantining because of COVID-19.

Díaz Ayuso has gained increasing popularity among voters who in recent elections were attracted to the populism of Vox, an upstart far-right party that could become kingmaker in Tuesday’s election.

The Madrid region is Spain’s main economic engine and the country’s busiest transportation hub. It’s home to 14% of Spain’s 47 million people but has recorded nearly one-fifth of the country’s 3.5 million confirmed virus cases and of the national pandemic death toll of over 78,000.

The only incident reported by midday was a brief semi-naked protest by members of the women’s rights activist group Femen who held signs reading “It’s not patriotism, it’s fascism” outside where Vox’s main candidate voted.

Voting stations close at 8 p.m. with results expected a few hours later.

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