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Madrid election centers on virus response, rise of far right

The incumbent conservative Madrid president Isabel Diaz Ayuso casts her vote during the regional election in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, May 4, 2021. Over 5 million Madrid residents are voting 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.

BERNAT ARMANGUE/AP

By ARITZ PARRA | Associated Press | Published: May 4, 2021

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MADRID — 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.