Four years after it burst onto the national scene, Spain’s Ciudadanos (Cs) party is poised to govern a region for the first time, in a coalition with the uncomfortable backing of the far-right.
Under an agreement sealed late on Wednesday, Ciudadanos agreed to form a coalition government in Andalusia, Spain’s most populous region, with the conservative People’s Party (PP), ousting the Socialists (PSOE) from power after 36 years.
The two parties together won just 47 seats in Andalusia’s 109-seat regional parliament in an election last month.
But after weeks of wrangling, the PP on Wednesday secured the much-needed support of the far-right Vox party, which won a surprise 12 seats in the snap polls.
It will be the first time that Ciudadanos (Cs), (meaning ‘Citizens’), will hold power since it was founded in Catalonia in 2006 as a regional party that aimed to fight independence in the northeastern region.
The party entered the national parliament for the first time after a 2015 general election in which it finished in fourth place.
It currently holds 32 seats in Spain’s 350-seat parliament.
Ciudadanos has also won seats in most regional parliaments in Spain as well as in the European Parliament.
It even concluded a coalition agreement with the ruling Socialists following a 2015 election which ultimately failed, before backing a few months later the investiture of the PP’s Mariano Rajoy as Prime Minister, leading critics to call it the ‘weather vane’.
At the regional level Ciudadanos has supported both governments of the left and the right.
French government criticism
But to arrive in power in Andalusia, Ciudadanos left it to the PP to reach an agreement with Vox to get the far-right party’s support. The PP will hold the post of regional leader of Andalusia.
Ciudadanos’ national leader Albert Rivera aligns himself with liberals like France’s Emmanuel Macron but the party’s willingness to assume power with the support of Vox has shocked the French government.
‘There can be no agreement with a far-right party which defends values which are totally contrary to ours,’ France’s minister for European affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday.
‘I have listened to the initial statement from Vox representatives, saying they want to set back women’s rights. I find it very worrying.’
A cartoon published in Spanish newspaper El Pais on Thursday depicted Macron, with his index finger raised, telling Rivera who is being dragged by the leader of Vox: ‘Attention ‘mon ami’, this path leads nowhere.’
Rivera sought to justify himself on Thursday, saying he was not ‘bound by the agreement’ reached between the PP and Vox ‘because I have not signed it and I have not even analysed it’.
But political scientist Jean-Baptiste Harguindeguy of the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville said that while the PP had done the ‘dirty work’ of negotiating with Vox, ‘people see it almost like a future tripartite government’.
Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, the head of the Madrid branch of the European Council on Foreign Relations said Ciudadanos had shifted to the right ‘with some dangerous friendships’ ahead of municipal, regional and European elections in May and perhaps even an early general election.
Ciudadanos’ strategy consists of ‘identifying the PSOE unequivocally as the enemy to beat and remove it from power’ after having supported the party during the previous parliamentary term in Andalusia, he added.
The problem with this drift to the right is that it paves the way for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist government to ‘reclaim the centre’, the political space which Ciudadanos has sought to occupy since it was founded, he added.