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Down to the wire: Right-wing parties battle for power in Madrid City Hall

With one day to go before the deadline, Ciudadanos and the Popular Party are in tense negotiations over who should be the next mayor of the Spanish capital

Popular Party candidate José Luis Martínez-Almeida (bottom right) at a session at Madrid City Hall.
Popular Party candidate José Luis Martínez-Almeida (bottom right) at a session at Madrid City Hall. EFE

With one day left to go before Spain’s newly elected municipal councils appoint their mayors, Madrid is proving a particularly tough battleground.

Following an election where the vote was scattered, reflecting a new reality of political fragmentation, two right-of-center parties are engaged in a tug-of-war to see who gets to lead the government of the Spanish capital.

Who knows if their next bright idea will be for Almeida to be mayor on even days and Villacís on odd days

PP official Andrea Levy

Although the acting mayor, Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Más Madrid group, won 30.94% of the vote on May 26, the conservative Popular Party (PP), center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) and far-right Vox have more combined councilors. Más Madrid and the Socialist Party (PSOE) together won 26 seats on the city council, while the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox collectively earned 30.

In a race to break the deadlock before the June 15 deadline, the PP and Ciudadanos have reached a deal on a preliminary governing program, but have so far failed to agree on who the mayor should be. Vox’s support will be sought to help push the left out of Madrid City Hall, but its candidate stands no chance of holding office.

Further complicating the talks is the fact that the same parties are vying for control of the regional government.

Acting Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena with PP candidate José Luis Martínez Almeida.
Acting Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena with PP candidate José Luis Martínez Almeida. Europa Press

Rotating mayors

Faced with the prospect of watching Carmena serve a second term due to the right’s inability to forge alliances, Ciudadanos on Thursday suggested a rotating position that could be held for two years by its own candidate, Begoña Villacís, and two more years by the PP’s José Luis Martínez Almeida.

But the PP has scoffed at the plan. “This is not serious, it is not responsible or rigorous for the capital of Spain,” said Andrea Levy, a PP official. “Who knows if their next bright idea will be for Almeida to be mayor on even days and Villacís on odd days.”

Deal with the PSOE

While the PP rejects the idea, the Socialist Party (PSOE) has accepted a rotating deal with Ciudadanos in two regional capitals, Albacete (population 173,050) and Ciudad Real ( 74,743), where there will be a PSOE mayor for two years and a Ciudadanos mayor for the other two.

Ciudadanos claims that its offer is “extremely generous” and notes that the PP has lost thousands of votes in Madrid, leading to its worst election result in history. The conservatives underscore that they are still 80,000 votes ahead of Ciudadanos.

If right-of-center parties fail to reach an agreement, Carmena will serve for another four years as the candidate of the party that earned the most votes on May 26. Before she became mayor in 2015 thanks to a leftist alliance, Madrid had been governed by the PP for 26 years.

Support from the far-right Vox will be necessary even if it does not enter the government, and PP mayoral candidate Almeida on Thursday met with Vox official Javier Ortega Smith right after rejecting Ciudadanos’ rotation plan. Sources at Vox said that its own negotiations with the PP “are progressing favorably” and that the PP and Ciudadanos will have to solve their problems on their own.

English version by Susana Urra.

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