November 5, 2015 / 6:24 PM / 2 years ago

Spain could clean up its act quickly, says rising party Ciudadanos

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s prospects could be turned around with a “big bang” at the start of a new parliament, zeroing in on ending corruption, overhauling education and creating jobs, the Ciudadanos party said as it campaigned ahead of December’s vote.

Polls show Ciudadanos (Citizens) is set to become kingmaker in Spain’s fragmented parliament. It is the quickest-growing party after a long economic crisis has left Spaniards with a distrust of politicians.

It says a political and economic “big bang” is possible by focusing on three key elements: erradication of corruption and cronyism from institutions, new labor market regulation to boost job creation and reduce job insecurity, and an overhaul of the education system.

“There are things that require (new) laws, and that should be discussed and agreed, but there are plenty of things that are just a question of political will, and can be changed at no cost at the start of the legislature,” Luis Garicano, head of Ciudadanos’ economic program, told Reuters.

Garicano, an economics professor at the London School of Economics and one of the most vocal critics of corruption in the ruling party, said Ciudadanos would overhaul Spain’s public sector and take the politics out of the justice system.

The ruling People’s Party (PP) has implemented unpopular austerity measures, which it says has nursed the economy back to health, and is expected to win the election but fall short of a majority.

It is not clear, however, if market-friendly Ciudadanos will form a pact with the PP or with the Socialists, the second-biggest party, to form a government after the Dec. 20.

The biggest CIS state poll published earlier on Wednesday also showed there were still many voters to be won over, with the number of undecided voters up almost 2 percentage points to near 32 percent.

“Our role as a catalyst for change is going to happen ... We see these changes as ready to go, really our society demands it,” he said.

Headed by telegenic communicator Albert Rivera, Ciudadanos has gained traction in recent months to emerge as a real rival to both the PP and the Socialists, while Podemos, an anti-austerity party, appears to have peaked.

Garicano, who could be candidate for economy minister if the party strengthens further, said it would work to improve the quality of education and, perhaps most controversially, introduce a single employment contract to do away with Spain’s two-tier labor market.

Spain’s jobs market leaves newly hired workers with precarious contracts and few rights, while permanent employees have few mobility incentives and are expensive to dismiss.

Unemployment has fallen to 21 percent from a peak of near 27 percent in the first quarter of 2013, but is still far and away the biggest problem as perceived by the public, the CIS poll showed.

Writing by Elisabeth O'Leary

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