Embittered by austerity and disillusioned with a two-party system that has been in place in Spain since the late 1970s, Ruíz and millions of indignados (outraged) have taken to the streets — in protests that culminated in January 2014 with the creation of Podemos. Led by the ponytailed political science professor Pablo Iglesias, the party has rocketed to political prominence. Podemos-affiliated parties won mayoral races in Barcelona and Madrid in May and over 100 seats in regional parliaments.
Podemos’ rapid rise — and its bold challenge to the PP and the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) — has been echoed by that of Cuidadanos (Citizens). Founded in 2006 in Catalonia as an anti-separatist party, Cuidadanos is led by Albert Rivera, a charismatic 36-year-old lawyer. The center-right, business-friendly Cuidadanos wants to liberalize the labor market, but it also has plans to strengthen the welfare state.
Ruíz, however, is not tempted to vote for Ciudadanos. “They tell the middle-class people that their lives can become better,” he said. “But we are not middle class. We are poor. They are not addressing us.”
Ciudadanos does appeal to Flor Mercedes, 26, a marketing student in Málaga, on Spain’s southern coast. Last week, an hour before Rivera gave a speech in the city center, she eagerly waited to see the person she hopes will be Spain’s next prime minister. She has seen scores of her friends leave Spain in search of work. Thousands of others have followed their example, according to a report published earlier this year that said about 218,000 young Spaniards left the country from 2009 to 2013.
“Among my close circle of friends, only two didn’t leave Spain,” she said.
Mercedes, too, was tempted to leave, but Ciudadanos’ recent rise has made her more hopeful. She said Málaga University is buzzing in anticipation of Sunday’s general election, in which all 350 seats of the lower house, the Congress of Deputies, are up for grabs, as well as 208 of the 266 seats in the Senate.
She believes Ciudadanos can stop the brain drain. She supports the party’s plans to improve the quality of public schools and to introduce bilingual classes. “Everybody in the whole world speaks English nowadays. It’s time we start doing so as well,” she said. “Rivera really knows how to put the new Spain into words.”
Moments later, when Rivera took the stage, the young crowd greeted him with shouts of “President! President!”