The press is currently in a frenzy about the irruption of new parties in the Spanish political landscape, namely Podemos and Ciudadanos.
One key aspect analysts focus on –this is an example– is the sharp contrast between these estimated recent surges in popularity and the fact that ‘older’ small parties, such as IU and UPyD, have failed over these last few years in their mission to erode the political preeminence of the two leading characters in our –imperfectly– bipartisan system: PSOE and PP.
However, this argument misses an important point. Yes, Podemos is a newly created party. And yes, when IU faced less competition it was never able to draw enough left-wing voters away from PSOE, paving the way for a newcomer to capitalize on the current general crisis-related discontent. But, when it comes to Ciudadanos and UPyD, the story is rather different; more complex.
Ciudadanos –a lot of people seem to forget this now– was founded before UPyD, not the other way around. Ciudadanos already had three representatives in the Catalan parliament –elected in November 2006– when UPyD was founded by a group of public figures led by Rosa Díez in September 2007.
In addition to this, since the very beginning the Ciudadanos leadership, headed by Albert Rivera, expressed a clear preference to join forces in one single political project. Nobody in his right mind could seriously split the blame in equal parts for this not happening. UPyD’s political leadership simply chose not to. They –this is my personal read– thought it all too easy to monopolize the space, projecting the image of being the only truly national option for voters. Ciudadanos “was different”, they said from the day they decided –with really unsportsmanlike manners, by the way– that they would fight rather that establish any sort of alliance. I know it well. I was there at the time.
I only bring this up because if after more of eight years of an attrition war of sorts, with its tiring episodes of failed negotiations in between, it turns out that Ciudadanos manages to capture the ‘reformist’ political territory, turning UPyD into a quasi-zombie party, as some recent polls seem to point to, it would be –no one seems to appreciate this– one of the most amazing cases of bad political karma unraveling that I can recall in my lifetime.
The battle is still very much taking place, and there are key elements such as the distorting maths imposed by our current electoral law that still have a lot to say in how this story ends, but few TV writers could think of a much more interesting plot to follow.