Posted by Suzanne O'Connell

On Monday 30th November the first online debate in Spanish election history was held. The debate, organised by the Spanish newspaper El País, was missing one crucial voice, that of Mariano Rajoy the Prime Minister. He had declined the invitation being too busy to attend and proposed to send his deputy as a stand in. The podium from where Rajoy would have addressed the nation was empty throughout the debate.

However, rather than accepting a substitute, El País announced that it was the man himself or nothing. Consequently, nothing ensued. However, the TV broadcast debate did feature the three other major contenders for Prime Minister on the 20th December: Albert Rivera for Ciudadanos (centre right); Pedro Sánchez for PSOE (centre left) and Pablo Iglesias for Podemos (left).

The debate was organised into themes: economy and employment; social and welfare; political reform. The debate began with an analysis by the three candidates of the international situation during which they all agreed on the importance of presenting a united front against terrorism.

However, there was disagreement about the bombing of Syria with Pablo Iglesias opposing this and accusing Pedro Sánchez of not having the strength of Zapatero, the previous PSOE leader. Iglesias has announced that if Podemos came to power they would take the prospect of military action to a referendum. However, in spite of Iglesias’ reluctance for military involvement, he did ask for arms trafficking to be curbed.

The debate wasn’t without it’s bickering.  It began with Sánchez and Rivera. Rivera accused the PSOE leader of having nothing new to offer in terms of employment and arguing that his party is the only one to make any really new proposals.

In terms of Catalonia, Pablo Iglesias affirmed that if Podemos is voted in they will allow for a referendum amongst the people as he is sure that the majority would vote against it. However, if Rajoy continues to lead the PP as ruling party, then even the most traditional Spanish communities will want to leave Spain.

Both Sánchez and Rivera are against the idea of a referendum for Catalonia with Sánchez suggesting that the situation should be addressed through constitutional reform.

In terms of social reform, Pablos Iglesias wants to finance pensions partly through taxation and guarantee an income to everyone of €600 a month. Podemos will also get rid of tax benefits for private pension plans. Albert Rivera has suggested a plan for older people to share their experiences with young business hopefuls.

The discussion on education included Pablo Iglesias’s proposal for an inclusive education plan with more of a focus on special needs. The source of money for this plan was questioned by Pedro Sánchez even though he also committed to an increase in spending.

Those within education might have found the views of Albert Rivera quite persuasive here. He has proposed that education policy should not change according to the whims of political parties but be determined outside of the political arena.

It was unfortunate that what started out as an interesting debate did dip towards the end into more of free-for-all with various allegations being made. However, it was a step forward in terms of creating an open political climate in which most leaders are prepared to share their views before the public.

Whilst these three were hotly debating the fortunes of Spain, Mariano Rajoy had a more leisurely opportunity to express the PP party’s intentions during his interview on Telecinco. Without the distraction of awkward questions, it was the perfect podium from which to give a party political broadcast. His main messages included that he would lower taxes and create stable jobs. He also claims to have been very hard on corruption.

Currently the polls are suggesting a three-way split between the PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos. Debates such as this are crucial in giving the public an idea of the main policies of the chief political parties. The impact of last night’s debate on public opinion is yet to be tested but with such a divided nation it could make all the difference to the outcome on the 20th December.  

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