Spain’s ‘Citizens’ party fires up voters

In the midst of a battle of the big old forces against surging left-wing party Podemos, another young challenger has emerged: centrist party Ciudadanos.

Spain's 'Citizens' party fires up voters
Albert Rivera speaking during a presentation of Ciudadanos' economic programme on April 7th. Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

Hundreds of people are queueing outside a Madrid theatre, but not to see a play. They are here for the latest spectacle in Spain's fast-unfolding election drama.

Spain's political landscape has been transformed as it heads to a general election expected around November, split over a gradual economic recovery and still-high unemployment.

READ: Why Spain's radical new centrists are spooking Spain's populists. 

Giving Podemos a run for its money, Ciudadanos -"Citizens" – has staked out a moderate position just right of centre, drawing potential voters from left and right.

"It is the only option right now. It is something new," said Rafael Perez, a 38-year-old consultant.

"It is not just smoke and mirrors. They're not trying to con you."

He was one of hundreds of people queueing to hear Ciudadanos' leader Alberto Rivera, a 35-year-old lawyer from Barcelona, present his latest economic policies this week.

Some come disillusioned with the governing conservative Popular Party (PP) and the opposition Socialists, while others reject those two but see Podemos as too radical.

Now analysts say Ciudadanos could hold the key to possible future coalitions in Spain's transformed political landscape.

Ciudadanos attracts "young, urban voters, former PP voters", said Fernando Alvarez Ossorio, an expert in constitutional law at Seville University.

But it also draws disillusioned voters who have might have voted for Podemos until they find "a party on their ideological wavelength" in Ciudadanos, he added.

'Spain's got talent' 

Founded in 2006 as an anti-independence party in the Catalonia region, Ciudadanos has reinvented itself in recent months as a national centrist party of reform, in the wake of Podemos's surge.

Its membership has multiplied from 2,000 to 20,000 in less than a year.

Podemos, under its pony-tailed leader Pablo Iglesias, 36, has topped some recent opinion polls, campaigning against corruption and the injustices of the economic crisis.

Ciudadanos meanwhile, under its suited and groomed leader Alberto Rivera, 35, also campaigns against corruption but strikes a more moderate and economically liberal stance.

"In Ciudadanos, we want justice. What Podemos wants is revenge," Rivera, 35, said in a recent interview in El Mundo newspaper.

Rivera and his economic guru Luis Garicano from the London School of Economics this week promised a new model based on innovation and the knowledge economy.

"Let's talk about talent. We want talent to stay in Spain, or to come back here," Rivera said, dressed in a dark jacket and open-necked blue shirt, to the excited crowd that filled the theatre's 600 seats.

He proposed more flexible working contracts and other measures to boost businesses by encouraging innovation and investment and cutting red tape.

Rivera also has a foot in the social liberal camp with his stance against cuts to health and education spending and home evictions and his defence of women's right to abortion.

'Coherent and clean' 

Ciudadanos surprised its rivals last month in an election in the southern Andalusia region, coming fourth with 9.2 percent of the vote.

That was a key test ahead of more regional and local votes over the coming months and the general election.

Ciudadanos' share of voting intentions more than doubled from 8.1 percent in January to 18.4 percent in March, according to a survey by Metroscopia published in El Pais newspaper.

Meanwhile, Podemos's rise has slowed: a study by the state polling institute CIS showed its support rating falling by five points from February to March.

Many voters seem unimpressed by the Socialists and the PP which have alternated in power for three decades.

Ciudadanos "are coherent, new, clean," said Martin Perez, a 22-year-old student at the gathering.

"They don't have baggage," like the PP and Socialists which have been hit by numerous corruption scandals, he added.

"They are for a gentle change — not like Podemos, which is also new but wants a revolution."

By Gabriel RUBIO with Daniel BOSQUE in Barcelona


What the PP’s landslide win in Andalusia means for Spain’s ruling Socialists

A resounding win by Spain's conservative Popular Party in a weekend regional election in Andalusia appears to have boosted its chances in national elections next year and weakened Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

What the PP's landslide win in Andalusia means for Spain's ruling Socialists

The Popular Party (PP) secured 58 seats in Sunday’s election in Spain’s most populous region — three more than the 55 needed for an absolute majority. That constitutes its best-ever result in the longstanding Socialist stronghold.

The Socialists won 30 seats, their worst-ever result in Andalusia. It governed there without interruption between 1982 and 2018, when it was ousted from power by a coalition between the PP and centre-right Ciudadanos.

This was the Socialists’ third consecutive regional election loss to the PP after votes in Madrid in May 2021 and Castilla y Leon in February.

Sanchez’s government has been struggling to deal with the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has fuelled inflation worldwide, especially through increasing energy prices.

Socialist party officials argued the results of a regional election “can’t be extrapolated” nationally.

But in an editorial, centre-left daily El Pais said no one can deny the gulf in the election scores obtained between the two parties in two of Spain’s most populated regions — Andalusia and Madrid.

This was “more than just a stumble”, it argued.

“This may be a symptom of a change in the political cycle” at the national level, it added. The conservative daily ABC took a similar line.

‘Worn down’

Pablo Simon, political science professor at the Carlos III University, said this “new cycle” in which “the right is stronger” began when the PP won a landslide in a regional election in Madrid in May 2021.

It could culminate with the PP coming out on top in the next national election expected at the end of 2023, he added.

But Cristina Monge, a political scientist at the University of Zaragoza, took a more cautious line.

“The government is worn down after four difficult years due to the pandemic” and the war in Ukraine, which has fuelled inflation, she said.

She refused to “draw a parallel” between Andalusia and Spain, arguing “there is still a lot of time” before the next national election.

Sanchez come to power in June 2018 after former PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy was voted out of office in a no-confidence motion triggered by a long-running corruption scandal.

The PP then suffered its worst-ever results in the next general election in 2019, which the Socialists won.

Sunday’s election was the first since veteran politician Alberto Núñez Feijóo, a moderate, took over as leader of the PP from Pablo Casado following a period of internal party turbulence.

Partido Popular (PP) candidate for the Andalusian regional election Juanma Moreno greets supporters during a meeting following the Andalusian regional elections, in Seville on June 19, 2022. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

‘Packing his bags’

“People are fed up with Sanchez,” the PP’s popular regional leader of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, said Monday.

“If national elections had been held yesterday, the result would have been the same and today he would be packing his bags,” she added.

Up until now, the far-right Vox party had supported the PP in Andalusia but from outside government.

This time around however, it had said its support would be conditional on getting a share of the government of the southern region.

But the PP’s commanding victory in Andalusia means that is now moot: it no longer has to rely on far-right party Vox to govern.

At the national level, it could be a different story however, said Pablo Simon.

A PP government nationally that did not rely on Vox would be “impossible” due to the fragmentation of parliament, which has several regional and separatist parties.