Ciudadanos party calls on Madrid premier to quit over degree scandal

PP’s Cristina Cifuentes counted on support of center-right group to govern, but accusations of falsification of a masters qualification have strained relations to breaking point

Cristina Cifuentes at a PP national convention.
Cristina Cifuentes at a PP national convention.CRISTINA QUICLER (AFP)

Madrid regional premier Cristina Cifuentes, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), has lost the support of center-right party Ciudadanos and is facing possible dismissal after her group refused to back a committee into allegations she fraudulently obtained a master’s degree. On Monday, Ciudadanos spokesperson Ignacio Aguado told the Madrid regional assembly that “we have lost confidence in Cristina Cifuentes,” and demanded the PP put forward a new candidate to lead the regional government.

The PP heads a minority government in the regional assembly and relies on the support of Ciudadanos, which has has made the fight against corruption one of its key policies both on the local and national level. The move is likely to force the resignation of Cifuentes, who cannot govern without the backing of Ciudadanos.

Ciudadanos has called for Cifuentes to resign after the PP refused to support an investigative committee into her master’s degree

“Ideally Cifuentes will [resign] today,” said Aguado.

Ciudadanos supported Cifuentes in 2015 on the condition the PP agreed to a battery of measures against political wrongdoing, including calling for resignations in the case of falsifications of CVs or qualifications. The recent scandal over Cifuentes’ master’s degree has “broken this trust,” said Aguado.

Cifuentes is accused of using her influence in her role at the time as central government delegate in Madrid to obtain a master’s degree from King Juan Carlos University (URJC) in 2012. The regional leader has denied the charges and refused to resign despite revelations she did not attend classes, take exams or defend her thesis – a copy of which no one has yet been able to produce.

In light of the damning evidence, Aguado issued a 48-hour ultimatum on Saturday to the PP: support an investigative committee into Cifuentes’ master’s degree or Ciudadanos will force her to resign. The PP did not back the commission before the deadline and in response, Ciudadanos withdrew its support for the regional leader.

Ideally Cifuentes will resign today Ciudadanos spokesperson Ignacio Aguado

In a message on Twitter, Aguado explained that “the PP has said no to opening an investigation [...]. There is no remedy. They will continue putting their interests ahead of the people of Madrid. Cifuentes must resign and make way for an interim leader until 2019.”

The PP retaliated that they had agreed to the committee if certain changes were made: “We could not accept a committee that infringes on the rules of the assembly," said PP spokesperson Ossorio Creso.

“Cristina Cifuentes is a great leader. Ciudadanos will do what it has to do and we will also do what we have to do,” continued Creso, who added that there was “no reason” to ask Cifuentes to resign.

In the meantime, the Socialist Party (PSOE) has filed a no-confidence motion against the (PP) leader with support from the leftist Podemos. Ciudadanos has not indicated whether or not it will support the motion.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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