Victory in Catalonia’s elections for Inés Arrimadas and Ciudadanos caps a meteoric rise for a politician who has come to represent what many observers have styled as the “silent majority” in the region dominated by pro-independence parties.
Ms Arrimadas’ political career is shorter even than Ciudadanos, the party that was launched just over a decade ago as a direct response to Catalan nationalism.
Now the party has exceeded all expectations by winning the most seats in Thursday’s vote, although its 37 seats and 25 per cent of the vote were not enough to prevent pro-independence forces garnering a combined majority.
In 2012 Ms Arrimadas entered the Catalan parliament virtually unnoticed as a 31-year-old political novice. But she would quickly go on to become leader of the opposition to Catalonia’s government with her plain-spoken arguments against its unilateral drive towards independence.
The former business lawyer who grew up in Andalucía and only moved to Barcelona in her late twenties has become the darling of the mixed Catalan-Spanish suburban classes, making greater political capital from the crisis than leaders of traditional pro-union parties.
Ms Arrimadas has made Ciudadanos’ heart-shaped symbol combining the Catalan, Spanish and European flags her own, capitalising on an unprecedented mobilisation of opponents of independence at two massive Barcelona rallies during Catalonia’s autumn of unrest.
But she has also showed grace under fire, even yesterday having to smile through abuse being shouted at her by secessionists as she spoke to media outside a polling station.
“Catalonia is diverse, Catalonia is plural,” she shouted hoarsely at a euphoric celebration in front of supporters and besides the equally photogenic leader of Ciudadanos at a national level, Albert Rivera.
“The majority of Catalans have shown that they favour union. Let the secessionists never again speak for all of us.”
Ms Arrimadas knows her enemy intimately; last year she married a former member of parliament from pro-independence leader Carles Puigdemont’s PDeCAT party. Both are fans of FC Barcelona, and she has admitted sheepishly to once having pinned up posters of former Barça coach and outspoken independence supporter, Pep Guardiola.
“I feel bad about friends and family that legitimately support independence and have their hopes, but they have been served up this great lie,” she told reporters in Madrid at the start of the campaign.
“I feel sorrow that we have been warning about what could happen for so long, and impotence that we could not prevent what we knew would happen: chaos and an exodus of companies from Catalonia. The independence process has been a debacle for Catalonia.”
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