The liberal Citizens party has risen to the top of the polls in Spain, receiving 26-27 percent support in two recent surveys against 23-25 percent for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative People’s Party.
Support for the mainstream Socialists is unchanged at 22 percent while the far-left Podemos has gone down from 21 to 15 percent since the last election.
The People’s Party started to lose support around the time of the independence referendum in Catalonia in October, which Spanish courts had ruled unconstitutional.
Although Rajoy suspended Catalonia’s autonomy when the regional government attempted to break away from Spain, nationalists felt he took too long to intervene.
The Citizens, originally from Catalonia, take a harder line against the independence movement.
They won the Catalan elections in December, but almost all their gains came at the expense of Rajoy’s allies. The separatists still have a majority.
Macron and Trudeau
Leader Albert Rivera believes his party’s newfound popularity is about more than the crisis in Catalonia.
In an interview with El País, he points to Emmanuel Macron in France and Justin Trudeau in Canada to argue that liberal progressivism is on the march around the world. “Ciudadanos is part of that.”
Like Macron, Rivera calls for labor reforms that would shrink the gap between typically older workers on long-term contracts with full social benefits and youngsters who can only find temporary or underpaid gigs.
He also wants to introduce portable unemployment benefits, to help freelancers, and an earned income tax credit, to help the working poor.
“We have to consider how to implement progressive policies without hurting the economy,” he told El País.
Real change is not about toppling what works, but rather questioning what doesn’t work.
Rivera said he couldn’t form a coalition with Rajoy in 2016 because the People’s Party is a “spent project”.
We are convinced that a new political project cannot happen with Rajoy.
But he also pointed out he has made deals with both the People’s Party and the Socialists, possibly making the Citizens indispensable to the formation of the next national government.