Madrid chief’s talk of “burning churches” upsets Popular Party colleagues

Regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso was attacking the plans of caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to exhume ex-dictator Francisco Franco, but the comments are out of step with the conservative group’s strategy for the upcoming election campaign

Isabel Diaz Ayuso before taking office as leader of the Madrid region in August.
Isabel Diaz Ayuso before taking office as leader of the Madrid region in August.Kike Para

Controversial statements by Madrid’s regional leader, Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the conservative Popular Party (PP), have eclipsed attempts by party leaders to strike a moderate tone ahead of the November 10 general election.

Speaking inside the regional assembly on Thursday, the recently appointed premier accused the caretaker prime minister, Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE), of using Spain’s late dictator Francisco Franco for electoral purposes.

“Sánchez is again mired in a stalemate, and he wants Franco to pull him out of this mess,” said Díaz Ayuso, alluding to the repeat vote that will take place in November after Sánchez won the April election but failed to form a government due to lack of sufficient parliamentary support. It will be Spain’s fourth national election in under four years.

That kind of rhetoric mobilizes the left. Let’s hope it doesn’t spread

Anonymous PP congressman

Díaz Ayuso argued that Sánchez’s plans to exhume Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen monument – a signature project of the PSOE’s that has been delayed for years due to legal hurdles – is an attempt at attracting leftist voters. She also called it highly divisive, and resorted to Civil War imagery to suggest what could come next.

“What will it be next? [Taking down] the cross from the valley? The entire valley? The neighborhood churches? Will they burn like they did in 1936?” said Díaz Ayuso, a former journalist who took office in August on a message of “consensus and dialogue above permanent tension and conflict.”

PP president Pablo Casado was in Melilla on Thursday.
PP president Pablo Casado was in Melilla on Thursday.Cristian Calvo (Europa Press)

Her words did not sit well with PP leaders, who have adopted a milder tone ahead of the November polls compared to their campaigning in April of this year. On Thursday, party chief Pablo Casado was in Melilla, a Spanish exclave city in North Africa, where he spoke about “respecting everyone’s religious freedom on the strength of the principles that unite us.” He also said it was better not to engage “in debates that are of no interest to anyone.”

It’s the economy

But Casado’s attempt at sending out the message that only the PP can avoid a new economic crisis in Spain was eclipsed by Díaz Ayuso’s headline-grabbing statements. “That kind of rhetoric mobilizes the left. Let’s hope it doesn’t spread,” said one PP congressman.

“They go crazy over Franco. It’s the party people who share that kind of opinion who see you end up with fewer than 66 seats [in Congress]. Most of our potential voters are not into that kind of narrative, let alone younger people,” said another PP leader.

PP president Casado has adopted a discreet position with regard to Franco’s exhumation. When the project was put to a vote in Congress, the PP did not vote against but rather abstained, arguing that they do not see it as a priority and that money should not be spent on it. Casado has said in the past that he “wouldn’t spend a euro on digging up Franco.”

Casado personally selected Díaz Ayuso as the PP candidate ahead of the regional elections of May and entrusted her with a mission: to stem the loss of voters who were switching to the far-right party Vox. The choice raised some eyebrows among senior party members due to her lack of political experience, but Díaz Ayuso ultimately managed to keep the PP in control of a regional government that handles an annual budget of over €20 billion.

English version by Susana Urra.

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