Why is Ciudadanos deep in crisis?

Approaching Socialists while governing with conservatives coupled with a sharp drop in support coinciding with the rise of far-right prompts the exodus of party members

Head of Cs, Inés Arrimadas, and other party members on March 15, 2021 (Courtesy of Cs/Pedro Ruiz)
Head of Cs, Inés Arrimadas, and other party members on March 15, 2021 (Courtesy of Cs/Pedro Ruiz) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

March 19, 2021 03:37 PM

"It looks like we'll make a comeback." Over and over again, unionist Ciudadanos' senior official, Inés Arrimadas, repeated this during the November 2019 Spanish election campaign – but this proved to be untrue: most voters had already decided to abandon them.

Ciudadanos never made a comeback, and as time goes by, it seems more unlikely to occur in the future.  

Not even two years ago, the staunchly anti-independence force achieved historic results in the April 2019 Spanish election, winning an unexpected 57 seats – yet, when a snap election was held six months later, Ciudadanos also made history. This time, however, it was due to an unprecedented blow that saw the party lose 47 seats, prompting leader Albert Rivera to resign a day later.

As such, their decline began less than two years after winning the Catalan election in December 2017 against all odds. This trend continued into the Catalan vote in February, when almost a million out of the 1.1 million votes they amassed in 2017 ended up going to other parties or abstentions, with their parliamentary group shrinking from 36 to 6 seats.

And yet, the straw that broke the camel's back was yet to happen. Ciudadanos is now very deep in crisis. But why is this the case?

Several successes in regional and local elections in 2019 led the party to enter a number of governments, such as those in the regions of Murcia, Madrid, Castile and León, Andalusia, and the local council of Spain's capital – in all cases, as the junior partner of a cabinet led by the conservative People's Party.

Vox gaining ground a Cs dwindles

These positive results were largely due to their hard stance against Catalan independence and against the Socialist-led government in Spain.

Yet, later on in the year, far-right Vox gained ground as Spanish unity and anti-left wing hardliners. Along with the People's Party and the Socialists, the far-right has 'stolen' a big share of Ciudadanos' voters.

This has led the party now chaired by Arrimadas to progressively lose media attention and political influence.

Murcia: where the crisis took a turn for the worse

Yet, Cs made headlines again last week, on March 10, when they put an end to their coalition in the region of Murcia and launched a motion of no confidence with the support of the Socialists.

They had enough votes to overthrow the conservatives, but an unexpected plot twist took place a few days later: half of the Cs MPs decided to reject the motion after the People's Party pledged to let them each head a regional ministry. Arrimadas' leadership calls them defectors and has accused PP of bribery.

Myriad of officials leave party

This move made the motion fail and made it clear that Ciudadanos was split in Murcia – and also in the rest of Spain.

A myriad of officials left the unionist force, criticizing its shift in favor of the Socialists, with some moving to the People's Party, such as senator Fran Hervías, leading to speculation that the party could be absorbed by the conservatives or even be dissolved.

Hervías was among the first to leave the party – but others followed, such as MP Pablo Cambronero, and the leader in Valencia, Toni Cantó.

Another two senators, Ruth Goñi and Emilio Argueso, also left or were expelled.

The loss of support in the past few elections and the fact that some of their representatives have abandoned them also means that the party's public funding has also plummeted.

Madrid region's snap election

Another side effect of Ciudadanos' crisis has been the snap election in Madrid's region called by president Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the People's Party.

With this move, she avoided having Ciudadanos and the Socialists attempt a motion of no confidence against her as they, unsuccessfully, tried in Murcia.

This unexpected election is not the last in a domino effect of events that are shaking Spanish politics as there seems to be unrest within Spain's central government.

On Monday, Pablo Iglesias resigned as Spain’s vice president, leaving the cabinet led by Pedro Sánchez to run in the Madrid regional election as the leading candidate for the anti-austerity Podemos party.

Madrid is heading to the polls on May 4 following a week of political tension among right-wing parties. The stakes are high: left-wing forces will attempt to regain control of Spain’s richest region for the first time since 1995 or will once again lose to conservative parties, this time with an emboldened far right.

In an attempt to avoid being completely swept over by PP and Vox, Ciudadanos has set the senior MP Edmundo Bal as their frontrunner in this vote.