Spain’s Rising Political Star Aims to Avoid Clegg’s Fate

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Albert Rivera, the Catalan-born insurgent challenging Podemos for leadership of Spain’s political revolution, said he won’t become the junior partner in a coalition government to avoid the fate suffered by British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Like Clegg in 2010, the 35-year-old leader of Ciudadanos has used his television skills to help propel his party’s emergence as a national force as Spain prepares for a general election at the end of the year. While he styles himself as a political liberal like Clegg, he intends to learn from his British counterpart’s difficult experiences in government.

“We won’t make promises we have to break in the first minute, as happened to Nick Clegg,” Rivera said in an interview in Madrid Tuesday. “You can’t be in a government where you don’t know what’s going on.”

Spanish politics, dominated for more than three decades by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party and his rivals, the Socialists, has been transformed by the emergence of Ciudadanos and Podemos over the past year. Podemos has led in several recent polls and Ciudadanos has more than doubled its support since January as voters angered by a seven-year slump and widespread corruption turn against the establishment.

While Ciudadanos won’t enter into formal coalitions, the party is prepared to offer support on a case-by-case basis for initiatives that further its agenda, Rivera said.

Potential Partner

Ciudadanos is already a potential partner for the government of Andalusia, Spain’s most-populous region, and could hold the key to forming governments in Madrid and Valencia after the May 24 regional elections.

At a national level, support for Rivera’s party jumped to 19 percent this month from 8 percent in January, according to a Metroscopia survey for El Pais newspaper. Podemos and the Socialists were tied on 22 percent with the PP on 21 percent.

The U.K. Liberal Democrat Leader Clegg enjoyed a surge in popularity in the run-up to the country’s 2010 general election, after winning the televised election debates.

He’s since been hammered in the polls for backtracking on his electoral promise not to raise university tuition fees after joining the Conservative-led coalition. Clegg apologized for making promises he couldn’t keep in a statement that was later set to music in a spoof video seen almost 400,000 times on Youtube.com.

“When you are in a government as a sleeping partner it’s very difficult to make decisions,” Rivera said. “Ciudadanos won’t be in any government if we don’t win the elections. We’ll be in the opposition trying to get agreements.”

While the fourth-largest economy in the euro region is growing at the fastest pace since 2007, there are still 5.5 million unemployed, compared with less than 2 million in 2007. Rivera said rebuilding the Spanish middle class would be at the heart of his project.

“Our dream would be a come back for the middle class that made the Spanish miracle possible,” he said.

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