What’s going on with Ciudadanos? The once up-and-coming centre-right party that lurched sharply to the right under former leader Albert Rivera, then had a disastrous showing at the ballot box in the November 2019 general election, appears to be moving back into the political centre of Spanish politics, distancing itself from its conservative Partido Popular (PP) ally and even farther from Spain’s far-right VOX party.
After months of excoriating President Pedro Sánchez in Congress, over the past few weeks Ciudadanos has voted twice to support the Sánchez-led coalition government’s COVID-19 de-escalation legislation, reducing pressure on Sánchez and his Socialist party (PSOE) to make concessions to the Catalan separatist ERC party in exchange for its votes.
Now, Ciudadanos has announced it will also support the government’s upcoming “new normality” legislation, after convincing Sánchez to reduce the social distancing requirement when lockdown ends from 2 metres to 1.5 metres and requiring the mandatory use of face masks in closed public places, on public transport or in open spaces where 1.5 metres distance can’t be maintained — with a fine of 100 euros for failure to wear a mask in these cases.
Support for the new normalcy measures comes immediately on the heels of a surprise 70-point economic recovery agreement struck in the city of Murcia by Ciudadanos, the PSOE and farther left Podemos-Equo. Announcement of the deal came as a shock to the local PP, which Ciudadanoss has been supporting in Murcia, threatening the Partido Popular’s hold on power in the capitol of the Murcia region.
Meanwhile, the Partido Popular-Ciudadanos pact in the regional community of Madrid is under serious strain, with Ciudadanos’ councillor for Social Policy Alberto Reyero publicly accusing PP Minister of Health Enrique Ruiz Escudero for negligence that led to the high number of deaths in senior-care facilities in the region.
As Spain’s Supreme Court considers hearing a lawsuit against the regional government related to the deaths in senior-care homes, the scandal is deepening and the future of the Madrid government led by the PP’s Isabel Díaz Ayuso is hanging in the balance.
With just 10 seats in Congress following November’s election debacle, Ciudadanos appears to be adopting a more pragmatic approach to politics than the hard-line stance assumed by former party leader Rivera against the previous Sánchez government, the result of the Socialists’ pledge to the ERC to negotiate a solution to the political crisis in Catalonia.
Several supporters of Rivera’s hard-line approach have left the Ciudadanos leadership in recent weeks in protest over the decision under new party leader Inés Arrimadas’ to negotiate with Sánchez on the easing of the coronavirus lockdown. Whether the party’s newfound pragmatism will translate into an enduring return to the political centre and abandonment of its governing commitments in coalition with the Partido Popular remain to be seen.
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