In a televised address on Monday, the leader of Spain’s liberal Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, resigned on Monday.
One year ago, Spain had one of the biggest liberal parties in Europe and no representative of the far-right. This was one of the biggest newcomers for the liberal family in Europe, second only to Emmanuel Macron‘s En Marche. By Monday morning it became apparent that the third-largest party in Spain was Vox rather than Ciudadanos.
Rivera saw Ciudadanos’ electoral influence sink from 57 seats in April to just 10 in November, forcing him to take responsibility for the party’s “poor result.”
For months, Ciudadanos refused to negotiate with Sánchez to join a coalition government, insisting in an alliance exclusively with the centre-right popular party and the far-right, drawing criticism from Macron. Ciudadanos and Macron’s platform are part of the same political family in the European Parliament. As the French president has identified populist and extreme-right movements as Europe’s main threat, Ciudadanos emerged as the “odd one out” in the group.
Most cities in Spain announced the formation of their local council on June 16. For the first time in decades, the far-right Vox was given the chance to play an important role in Spanish politics with the ultra-conservative and anti-migration party, will not rule a regional government but has become a key player to help other parties reach a governing majority. The most representative example is the case of Madrid, where the conservative Popular Party (PP) will return to power after four years in the opposition thanks to a coalition with Ciudadanos and the external support of Vox.
The turn to the right triggered resignations by four senior party officials and ultimately a crushing electoral defeat. But it is unclear whether this electoral result will suffice for Ciudadanos to change strategy.
The incumbent socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez won a pyrrhic victory on Sunday, securing just 120 seats compared to April’s 123. He may now depend on the goodwill of the remaining 10 liberal MPs to form a government in the 350-seat parliament.
The far-left Unidas Podemos retained 35 of the 42 seats it secured in April. The leader of UP, Pablo Iglesias, called for a coalition government between his party and the PSOE, noting that “what in April was an opportunity (…) is now a necessity.” In July Sánchez offered Iglesias three ministerial positions and a deputy PM post for his support. Iglesias rejected the offer calling the positions offered “decorative.” Sanchez then called new elections rather than concede more power to the left.
To break the political stalemate today, Sánchez will need the support of both the Liberals, the far-left, as well as the backing of several regional parties. That is a tall order.
The big winner of Sunday’s election is Vox leader Santiago Abascal, who celebrates the emergence of his party into the third biggest political force in Spain. Abascal promised on Monday to close nationalist parties, like the Baque Nationalist Party (PNV) and send the Catalan premier Quim Torra to prison.