MADRID — She is a conservative who campaigned on a slogan that came down to one word: Freedom. She offered herself as a champion of small business and scoffed at national coronavirus restrictions.
Her critics called her a “Trumpista.” But Isabel Díaz Ayuso is now a rising force in Spanish politics. Voters rewarded the right-wing leader of the Madrid region with a landslide victory on Tuesday after she defied the central government by keeping the capital’s bars and shops open throughout much of the pandemic.
She suggested that her victory showed that pandemic fatigue and economic distress had left Spaniards unwilling to endure more of the measures favored by the left-wing national government led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
“Madrid is freedom — and they don’t understand our way of living,” she told her supporters about her left-wing opponents who suffered a crushing loss in the vote.
overflowed with Covid-19 patients. But after the central government lifted a nationwide state of emergency last June, Ms. Ayuso ensured that the city was one of the most bustling in Europe, even when its Covid-19 infection rate crept back up after Easter.
This week, Covid-19 patients are filling 44 percent of the beds in Madrid’s intensive care units, which is about double the national average.
Ms. Ayuso’s handling of the pandemic provoked tensions even within her administration. After resigning last year as the head of Madrid’s regional health services, Dr. Yolanda Fuentes, recently attacked Ms. Ayuso’s campaign slogan on Twitter.
“To understand that freedom means to do whatever you want during a pandemic, when intensive care units are above capacity and colleagues feel defeated, seems to me indecent, to say the least,” Dr. Fuentes said.
other elections recently in Europe, where voters have been reluctant to turn out amid the health concerns.
In her closing campaign speech on May 2, which was a public holiday in Madrid that commemorates the city’s fight against the occupation of Napoleon’s troops, Ms. Ayuso made a thinly veiled comparison between the 1808 resistance against the French and her own stance against the central government during the pandemic.