Spain's Citizens party under pressure over far-right deals

Senior member Toni Roldán renounces seat in parliament, accusing party of betraying its own ideals

The leadership of Spain’s centre-right Citizens party is under growing pressure over its deals with the far right after a senior member quit, accusing it of betraying its core principles.

The party’s economics spokesman, Toni Roldán, announced on Monday that he was leaving Citizens and renouncing his seat in the Spanish parliament in protest at the party’s drift to the right and its willingness to enter alliances with the far right after regional and municipal elections.

Roldán is the latest figure to publicly question the wisdom of vacating the centre as Citizens tries to stake its claim to being Spain’s main opposition party.

The former French prime minister Manuel Valls, who Citizens had backed in his unsuccessful bid to become mayor of Barcelona, had repeatedly urged the party to have nothing to do with the upstart far-right Vox party.

But it ignored his pleas and has enlisted Vox’s help in building coalitions with the conservative People’s party to rule the southern region of Andalucía and run Madrid’s city council.

“For a while now, the leadership of the party to which I belong has taken a strategic decision, which is legitimate, but which is one I do not agree with,” said Roldán.

“I’ve expressed my disagreement at every opportunity … but I haven’t been successful. You can’t spend too long being what you’re not. All political strategies have costs, but in my opinion, the costs for Spain are too high when it comes to the strategy Citizens has chosen.”

Roldán said the party’s recent lurch to the right had violated the three principles on which the party was founded: reform, regeneration and the battle against nationalism.

“How are we going to move past the clash of red and blue – which is what we came to do – if we ourselves turn into blues?” he said. “How are we going to build a liberal project in Spain if we can’t confront the far right?”

Roldán also called on the party’s leader, Albert Rivera, to rethink his refusal to enter into a coalition government with the socialist PSOE party, which won the most votes in April’s general election but fell short of a majority.

Rivera has emphatically ruled out any deals that would help the PSOE’s leader, acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez, return to office.

“How many European countries can only dream of having a strong, sensible, reformist and pro-European majority in the centre?” said Roldán.

The party, he added, appeared to have chosen expediency over the ideals it had once professed.

“I’m not going because I’ve changed but because Citizens has changed,” he said.

“This is not what I signed up for. Politics isn’t a supermarket. We don’t sell products here that can be swapped from one day to the next – we sell ideas.”

Inés Arrimadas, Citizens’ spokeswoman in congress, said she had “only good things to say about Roldán” and wished him all the best on a personal level. However, she also pointed out that the party’s current approach had been unanimously approved by the executive committee – including Roldán.

Javier Nart, a Citizens MEP, resigned from the party’s executive committee on Monday afternoon after its members voted to maintain the party’s veto on facilitating Sánchez’s investiture as prime minister.

Last week, Valls also attacked Citizens, lamenting its failure to live up to its values.

“When I moved to Barcelona a year ago, Citizens was a liberal, progressive, centrist and pro-European party,” he said. “But, little by little, the party with which I had so much in common began to change into something different.”

Valls said Citizens had become a party that did deals with Vox – “a reactionary and anti-European party”.

Citizens, which bitterly opposes Catalan independence, broke with Valls after he eventually threw his support behind Barcelona’s incumbent mayor, Ada Colau, even though her return stopped the Catalan capital from being run by the secessionist Catalan Republican Left party.

One of the party’s founders has also been increasingly critical of Rivera’s strategy and suggested a coalition with the socialists would have been the logical course of action.

“It was a mistake for Citizens to move away from the centre ground,” Francesc de Carreras told the online newspaper

The professor of law had gone further in a recent open letter to Rivera that was published in El País.

“I don’t understand why you’re letting us down now, Albert, or why Citizens is letting us down,” he wrote.

“How has that mature and responsible young man turned into a fickle adolescent who’s performed a strategic volte-face and put the supposed interests of his party above the general interest of Spain?”


Sam Jones in Madrid

The GuardianTramp

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