Albert Rivera resigns as Ciudadanos leader after Spain election drubbing and bows out of politics altogether

Just 18 months ago, Albert Rivera was being compared to France's Emmanuel Macron and Canada's Justin Trudeau, was feted as kingmaker in parliament and tipped to be a future prime minister.

Albert Rivera resigns as Ciudadanos leader after Spain election drubbing and bows out of politics altogether
His bared all for his first campaign poster in 2006 and resigned on Monday. Photo: Ciudadanos/ AFP

But on Monday, the leader of Spain's Ciudadanos, Albert  stepped down after the business-friendly party suffered a drubbing in a repeat general election. 

The party, which has been rocked by internal divisions over strategy, won just 10 seats in the 350-seat parliament in Sunday's polls which were marked by a surge in support for far-right party Vox, down from 57 seats in the previous ballot in April.   

“In coherence with who I am, I don't think it's surprising that I resign today. It's the responsible thing to do,” he said adding he was also stepping down as a member of parliament and abandoning politics.

“The time has come to serve other people, to serve my parents, to serve my daughter who I have spent less time with than I should have,” he added after meeting with his party's executive committee.

Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists won the most seats in Sunday's election but once again fell short of an absolute majority in parliament, prolonging months of deadlock.

Several top Ciudadanos figures resigned in the lead up to the election in protest over deals the party struck with upstart Vox to allow it to govern in several regions and cities along with the main opposition Popular Party.

Rivera, 39, had led Ciudadanos since he founded it in 2006 as a regional party in Catalonia which focused on fighting separatism and defending Spanish unity. 

He burst onto the Catalan political scene in a breath of fresh air, vowing to fight corruption and posing naked on campaign posters to “lay politics bare”. 

The party soared in the polls when it went national in 2014 on a market-friendly, anti-corruption platform which sought to wipe out the traditional left-right divide and it entered parliament the following year.

Rivera, a former water polo player who worked at a bank before entering politics, recently moved the party to the right in an attempt to make Ciudadanos the country's main conservative party, and attacked Sanchez after having failed to form a coalition with him in 2016.

Just 18 months ago, he was being compared to France's Emmanuel Macron and Canada's Justin Trudeau and was feted as kingmaker in parliament and quite possibly as a  future prime minister.


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Madrid puts off separatist talks over Catalan snap election

Spain's central government on Thursday said the announcement of snap elections in Catalonia would delay planned talks between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the region's separatist leadership.

Madrid puts off separatist talks over Catalan snap election
Catalan regional president Quim Torra (R) meets with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez at the Palacio de Pedralbes in Barcelona on December 20, 2018.Photo: AFP

News that the regional election would be brought forward was announced by regional president Quim Torra on Wednesday but he did not give a date, suggesting some time after mid-March.

The date was brought forward following a major dispute between Catalonia's two ruling separatist parties, Together for Catalonia (JxC) and the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC).

The announcement came ahead of a key February 6 meeting in Barcelona between Torra and Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to lay the ground for talks on resolving the separatist conflict.

In response, Sanchez's office said the meeting would go ahead but that the negotiations would not begin until a new regional government was in place.   

“The government is hoping to be able to begin the dialogue after the Catalan people have spoken… as soon as the elections are over and there is a new (regional) government, then we will begin talking,” said a statement.

“The government remains willing to start the process of dialogue with the Catalan institutions to resolve the political conflict.”

The talks had been agreed as part of a deal with ERC in exchange for its support in getting Sanchez through a key investiture vote earlier this month.   

But the delay was swiftly denounced by the ERC as a “flagrant breach of the agreement which was completely irresponsible,” its party spokesman Sergi Sabria said.

Sanchez, who himself is in a fragile position at the head of a minority coalition government, still needs ERC's support to pass Spain's own much delayed national budget.

In a radio interview Thursday, Torra said he would bring up the right to self-determination and amnesty for the nine jailed Catalan separatist leaders when he meets Sanchez — both of which have already been rejected out of hand by the Socialist leader.