Ciudadanos faces wipeout in Catalan election

Liberal party's very existence under threat just seven years on from topping poll in 2017 vote

Ciudadanos' main candidate, Carlos Carrizosa, on the campaign trail
Ciudadanos' main candidate, Carlos Carrizosa, on the campaign trail / Jordi Pujolar
Lorcan Doherty

Lorcan Doherty | @catalannews | Barcelona

May 2, 2024 12:40 PM

May 3, 2024 01:30 PM

Here lies Ciudadanos, born 2006, died 2024. 

That's a tad dramatic perhaps, but it no exaggeration to say that the very existence of the liberal party founded less than two decades ago in Barcelona – and fiercely opposed to Catalan independence – is under threat.  

Parties need to gain at least 3% of the vote in one of the four constituencies on May 12 in order to enter the Catalan Parliament. 

Realistically, that's the upper limit of Ciudadanos' ambitions this time around, with polls showing it hovering between 1% and 3%

Most polls, in fact, predict that the party will lose all six seats it currently holds in Parliament.

It's been a dramatic fall for Ciudadanos, or Citizens in English, which topped the poll in a Catalan election as recently as 2017. 

After failing to stand candidates in last year's Spanish general election, a total wipeout on May 12 would surely lead to a lot of soul searching from the party on its future. 


'Stop them', 'Jail them' 

Carlos Carrizosa is once again top of the party's list of candidates in Barcelona, running under the slogan 'Detenlos' – which could be translated as 'Stop them', or even 'Jail them' – and usually accompanied by an AI-generated image of Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez and former Catalan president (and Junts candidate) Carles Puigdemont shaking hands. 

Their campaign video also shows an AI-generated Puigdemont behind bars, an image that represents "what many Catalans want," according to Carrizosa.  

El candidat de Cs, Carlos Carrizosa, amb Jordi Cañas, posen una enganxina demanant el vot a la seu del partit, tematitzada amb la imatge del cartell electoral
Ciudadanos use AI-generated images of Puigdemont and Sánchez / Jordi Pujolar

Sánchez and Puigdemont are undoubtedly the bogeymen of the Ciudadanos campaign, with Carrizosa blaming the Spanish PM for enabling Puigdemont to return to domestic politics after five years as an MEP, living in exile in Belgium. 

Puigdemont was "finished politically and cornered judicially," Carrizosa said. "He has a second political life thanks to Sánchez's amnesty." 

"Puigdemont is on the electoral list and is one of the candidates, and we could have him as Catalan president, because Sánchez wanted to grant an amnesty in exchange for seven votes," Carrizosa said, referring to Junts' 7 MPs in the Spanish Congress, which were key for Sánchez's reelection as PM last year

Battle on unionist right 

In the weeks leading up to the election, negotiations took place between Ciudadanos and the conservative People's Party (PP) about standing together on a joint ticket.   

But since those talks came to nothing, Carrizosa has also been attacking the PP on the campaign trail. 

Ciudadanos positioned themselves as the strongest pro-Spanish unity voice amid the Catalan independence crisis, but, according to the polls, it is now the PP, not far-right Vox or Ciudadanos that are likely to gain the most votes among those parties opposed to an amnesty for the independence movement.  

El candidat de Cs, Carlos Carrizosa, amb la imatge del pacte del Majestic, davant l'hotel barceloní, per denunciar els acords del PP amb el nacionalism
Ciudadanos criticize 1996 deal between PP and CiU / Jordi Pujolar

On the campaign trail, Carrizosa has reminded voters that the PP, like the Socialists, have done deals with pro-independence parties in the past, saying there was a "symbiosis" between the two – Spain's "national" parties on one hand, and Catalan "nationalist" parties on the other. 

"They are like organisms that depend on each other and help each other when necessary," Carrizosa said. 

"We are not in this kind of symbiotic relationship with [Catalan] nationalism, unlike the Socialists and the People's Party. This is what I want to remind their voters." 

"I ask all those voters considering voting for PP to vote for Ciudadanos. We're not going to let them down and we're never going to betray them."  

In favor of Hard Rock, against linguistic immersion  

Ciudadanos are vehemently opposed to Catalan independence, but where do they stand on other policy matters?   

On big infrastructure projects, they're in favor of expanding Barcelona Airport, even offering support to the construction of a runway one mile out to sea, as long as it meets environmental requirements and does not harm local residents. 

They also support the construction of the Hard Rock hotel casino complex near Salou in southern Catalonia, a controversial project that triggered the snap election after the government failed to gain support for the 2024 budget

On the other hand, Ciudadanos are against transferring the control of Catalonia's Rodalies commuter rail network from the Spanish government to the Catalan government, labelling it "a crazy move that will not lead to any improvements in the service."  

Ciudadanos are also opposed to Catalonia's linguistic immersion system – ie the policy of using Catalan as the teaching language in classrooms. The party argues more classes in public schools should be taught in Spanish, and that families should have a choice on the matter. 

Fight for survival 

But rather than pushing concrete policies, Ciudadanos' campaign focus is on attacking Puigdemont, Sánchez and the PP. 

They want to appeal to Socialist voters who feel betrayed by the amnesty, but they face an uphill battle against a resurgent People's Party.

Last year, Ciudadanos decided against standing in the Spanish general election. In the local elections, they stood over 9,000 candidates in Catalonia but ended up with just 10 councilors.  

They have modest ambitions for the upcoming May 12 election. Gaining even one seat in Parliament may be beyond them, which would surely raise further questions about the future existence of the party.  

El candidat de Cs, Carlos Carrizosa, en una compareixença a la seu del partit
Ciudadanos' main candidate, Carlos Carrizosa / Jordi Pujolar