Ciudadanos: fighting for political survival after recent collapses

Polls forecast poor results for liberal party who positioned themselves as strongest unionist voice during independence push

Ciudadanos candidate in Barcelona, Anna Grau, speaks alongside Cs MEP Eva Poptcheva at a campaign event
Ciudadanos candidate in Barcelona, Anna Grau, speaks alongside Cs MEP Eva Poptcheva at a campaign event / Miquel Vera
Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields | @pile_of_eggs | Barcelona

May 25, 2023 10:11 AM

May 25, 2023 10:23 AM

Polls forecast poor results for Ciudadanos (Cs) in these municipal elections. The liberal party will be fighting for political survival after a succession of poor electoral results in the past few years. 

Ciudadanos were founded as a new centrist party in the mid-2000s, but it wasn't until the last decade or so when they found popularity before their collapse. 


Cs positioned themselves as the strongest pro-Spanish unity voice amid the Catalan independence crisis, and even won the Catalan election in December 2017, the vote held just months after the independence referendum, under the leadership of Inés Arrimadas. However, the coalition of pro-independence parties were enough for them to keep control of the parliament. 

Four years ago, in the last local elections, they were the 5th-most voted party in all of Catalonia, results which saw them have 239 councilors elected, but that success is unlikely to be repeated this time round. 

Plummeting support

In more recent years they've suffered poor results in Spanish and Catalan elections, plummeting in the number of seats, while membership also dropped off significantly. 

Various former Ciudadanos officials and politicians have left the party to give support to the People's Party (PP) instead. Just one week ahead of the 2023 vote, 14 former officials, including a founding member of the party, Manuel García Bofill, left the party to give support to Daniel Sirera of the conservative party instead. Lorena Roldán, an MP in the Catalan parliament and previously head of Ciudadanos in Catalonia, made the same switch ahead of the 2021 Catalan election

During the event announcing their support for PP, Bofill warned against the fragmentation of the unionist vote and called for people to vote for PP's mayoral candidate in Barcelona, Daniel Sirera, "to strengthen constitutionalism." The party's leader in the Catalan parliament, Carlos Carrizosa, charged back at the People's Party, who he said were looking for support from "discarded" members of Ciudadanos.

Metropolitan area

The party are also highly critical of the current Barcelona administration, with their mayoral candidate, Anna Grau, accusing the current council, led by left-wing Ada Colau of Barcelona En Comú, of misusing public funds. She has vowed to "perform a technical and political audit" if elected, "because everything points to a lot of money from the council going to finance entities that are their friends, to pay for propaganda events," Grau claimed during this election campaign. 

The main territorial focus for Ciudadanos is in the metropolitan areas, as they garner far less support in rural parts of Catalonia. In many towns surrounding Barcelona, they became the strongest right-leaning party, becoming the overall third strongest force behind the Socialists and Esquerra. In 2023, however, their biggest challenge will likely be to remain relevant. 

In terms of policies, they want to be tough on crime, proposing that local police in Barcelona, the Guardia Urbana, be allowed to use taser guns, while they have also defended the use of the Spanish language in institutions, and stand strongly against squatters, which has become a big topic this election campaign. 

Grau has proposed the creation of a "civil rights office" for "the proactive defense of bilingualism," referring to the defence of the Spanish language in Catalonia, which, she says "is ignored." She accused the council of being "Hispanophobic" and added that they "damage the rights of Spanish speakers and put us in a confrontational scenario." 

Battle for right-leaning voters

In the last election, Ciudadanos ran a joint candidacy with Valents, with former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls as the candidate for Barcelona mayor. Valls, however, left the council in the middle of the last term, and now Cs and Valents are competing against each other. 

Both are also expected to compete with the People's Party and far-right Vox for the support of right-wing unionist voters. Ciudadanos have taken swipes at the other parties during this election campaign, with Grau calling for voters to avoid the "gang of traitors and corrupt people who have done nothing for Catalonia or Spain," referring to both PP and Vox, repeating that they were "vomit-inducingly corrupt." 

However, polls are not predicting very positive results for Ciudadanos, with some forecasts even leaving them out of the Barcelona council altogether.