Spain has entered unprecedented times in its post-Francoist era with the Socialist Party successfully winning a vote of no-confidence in Mariano Rajoy, the leader of the centre-right People’s Party and Prime Minister for the last 6 and a half years, after a string of corruption scandals that had tarred his party for the last few years reached its height with the party Treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, being sentenced to 33 years in prison and other members having a combined sentence of over 350 years worth of jail time. Initial observations suggest that Mr. Sánchez, the Socialist Leader, is the biggest winner from Rajoy’s departure due to the fact he is now the Prime Minister, however this is not the case and the real winners are Ciudadanos and its leader Albert Rivera.
The new Prime Minister has parliamentary approval, however because he led his party to it’s worst result in modern history at the June 2016 election, the Socialists are reliant on the support of seven other parties to pass the reforms that they want to ahead of an early election, these parties include the anti-austerity and democratic socialist party Podemos, as well as Basque and Catalan nationalist parties, the latter of which provides Mr. Sánchez with the biggest headache. If the Socialists are seen to be working too closely with pro-independence parties then that could easily result in Mr. Sánchez being punished at the ballot box, by both voters both in Catalonia and across the rest of Spain.
The Catalonia crisis and Mr. Rajoy’s response to the crisis were deeply criticised, both within Spain and across Europe, and arguably started the erosion of public trust in the then-Prime Minister. All of the main parties support the union and oppose Catalan independence, however the most unequivocal in their support for Spanish unionism is Ciudadanos. Mr. Rivera’s party in the subsequent Catalan regional elections led his party to become the single-biggest party in the legislature, destroying both the People’s Party and Socialists in the process.
In the wake of the Catalan crisis, Ciudadanos have been using another tactic that made well help them into the next election. Over recent months they have started to adopt patriotic policies and beliefs, that arguably ties into support of a unified Spain. Not only do these policies appeal to those in Catalonia who back the union but also appeal to conservative voters who may well be looking for a new political home due to the impact of the scandal on the ruling People’s Party.
The wider political situation also benefits Ciudadanos. As it stands Mr. Sánchez is the only Socialist leader in Western Europe, this is because many centre-left parties have been witnessing a deep decline in support, seen in places like Italy, Germany and France, which arguably did impact Spain, because the 2016 election was the worst results for the Socialists and if Spain were to head back to the polls soon, there is no reason why this could not happen again to the Socialists and leave them in a worse position than they were in 2016, which some polling suggests would happen.
A mix of the People’s Party being scandal ridden, the Socialists and Mr. Sánchez being seen as opportunists and Podemos being hit by a scandal relating to its leader’s €600,000 property, all play into the hands of Mr. Rivera and his Ciudadanos party. With his youthfulness and his party’s support of Spanish unionism, mixed with not being affected by any major corruption scandal. . . Mr. Rivera could possibly be the Prime Minister after the next election and be the first sign of a wider Macron impact on European politics.