Left, not right

Inés Arrimadas faces a choice. Does the newly-elected president of centrist Ciudadanos take the party further to the right, thus continuing a transition that began under her predecessor Albert Rivera? Or should she re-establish Ciudadanos' centrist, progressive credentials and distance the party from far right Vox and the conservative People's Party (PP)? Either way, Arrimadas' overarching challenge will be to regain some of the party's former glory: in less than a year, Ciudadanos has slipped from third to sixth in the national party rankings, losing 47 of its 57 seats in congress in last November's general election, a disastrous result that prompted Rivera's resignation days later.

"Spain needs a centrist, liberal force more than ever," Arrimadas tweeted on Sunday night, after her appointment as party leader was announced (the 38-year-old lawyer won 77% of Ciudadanos' internal poll on who should replace Rivera). In its first incarnation in late 2015, when it burst onto the national scene with 13.9% of the vote, that's precisely what Ciudadanos was: a dynamic new force in the centre of Spanish politics, slightly to the right of the Socialists (the PSOE) but left of the ailing PP.

With clearly-defined stances against corruption and Catalan independence, Ciudadanos enjoyed widespread popularity in the two years that followed 2015's election. Under Arrimadas' forceful leadership in Catalonia, it secured the largest share of the vote (25.4%) in the north-easterly region's December 2017 elections, although a pro-independence bloc eventually formed the administration.

After last April's general election, Ciudadanos had an opportunity to join forces with the Socialists and form a national government with an absolute majority - the only combination of forces that would have enjoyed that luxury. It would have been a strong, centrist leadership, with Ciudadanos' liberalism balanced by the PSOE's socialism and much common ground shared by the two.

But the idea was rejected by Rivera, who showed an inflexibility for which he paid dearly afterwards. Three senior Ciudadanos members resigned over what they saw as a lurch to the right and a missed opportunity to form a progressive government with the Socialists. They also criticised Rivera for allowing a Ciudadanos-PP partnership to be propped up by Vox in Andalucía.

It seems clear, then, which way Jerez-born Arrimadas should take Ciudadanos if it's to start regaining some of its former prestige. Her ascent to the presidency itself could symbolise a return to progressive values: aside from Rosa Díez, head of a centrist group that gained five seats in congress in the 2011 general election, she is the first woman to lead a major political party in Spain. Now, Arrimadas has the opportunity to drag Ciudadanos away from the fringes and back to the epicentre of Spanish politics - a feat she can only achieve by retreating from the territory dominated by the PP and Vox.