Spain's far-left Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias said on Monday he would quit the coalition government to challenge Madrid's right-wing leadership in a May regional election.
The move sets up a potentially feisty battle in Madrid, which has defied the Socialist-led national government to resist a stricter coronavirus lockdown, and also leaves the influential deputy PM job up for grabs.
Iglesias, 42, the pony-tailed leader of Unidas Podemos, proposed party colleague and Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz should both replace him as deputy PM and in running for the top job at the next national election.
"Madrid needs a left-wing government and I believe I can be useful in helping to win and lead it," he said of the May 4 vote, condemning the conservative People's Party (PP) currently running Madrid and their potential far-right partner VOX.
"We must prevent these criminals, these offenders, who advocate the dictatorship ... from having all the power in Madrid," he said, alluding to high-profile corruption cases that have led to convictions of several PP officials and VOX policies that remind many of dictator Francisco Franco's era.
Campaigning starts in the middle of April for the Madrid poll, which was triggered last week when PP's Isabel Diaz Ayuso resigned as regional leader after friction between her party and centrist coalition partner Ciudadanos.
She is standing again and was equally harsh about Iglesias.
"I'm worried about his politics, which have sown hatred and misery," she told reporters.
"My concern is stopping communism from entering Madrid."
A former political science lecturer, Iglesias rose to prominence in 2014 proposing a leftist alternative to austerity-based politics after the global financial crisis.
A vocal critic of the establishment, in early 2020 he entered a coalition with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialist party, after four elections in four years.
According to opinion polls, his party might struggle to secure any seats in Madrid's regional assembly. However, Iglesias is looking to join forces with rival Mas Madrid, which spun off from Unidas Podemos in 2019 and is set to be the third biggest party in the vote, according to polls.
Madrid's regional administration is in charge of health policy and is responsible for its own coronavirus response and vaccine rollout. Widely viewed as a maverick, Ayuso's administration has imposed one of Europe's loosest curfews and consistently refused to shut bars and restaurants.