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16 December 2015

Face-to-face between Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy and PSOE’s Pedro Sánchez: who won the debate?

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PP and PSOE’s leaders sized each other up in the last effort to woo undecided voters - almost 41% of the electorate. Sánchez cornered Rajoy over corruption and the Spanish bailout. C’s Rivera and Podemos’s Iglesias said the debate was the epilogue to the two-party predominance in Spain.

By Paula Martín Camargo, Editor

PP’s Rajoy and main contender PSOE’s Sánchez debated Monday night in a formal, classic Spanish debate. The first half of the discussion showed a very aggressive Sánchez, railing non-stop against Rajoy over corruption and leading the debate, while the Spanish PM was rather dubious and nervous. Sánchez even told Rajoy that “the Spanish PM has to be decent. And you are not a decent person”. PP’s leader got very angry at this accusation and responded “You are young, and you’ll lose this election. This is fine, I’ve been there before and you will recover. But what you won’t recover yourself from is that insult, which belongs to the mean, small-minded and despicable person you are.” After these abuses, the spectators, who had been rather respectful on Twitter and analysed the different proposals, raced to the social network to mock both of them. The contenders had taken the debate down to the mud, and from that point on, it was all a ‘you did it worse’ argument and an open dialectical row.

Muddy debate

Even when the moderator asked them about their position towards Catalonia, Sánchez – knowing that Rajoy now stands up for many Spaniards as the bulwark of territorial unity and this is therefore his strong point – went on blaming him for the corruption cases within his Popular Party. This was seen by Ciudadanos and Podemos’ leaders as their opportunity to signal that such a ‘degraded’ way of debating belonged to the ‘old politics’ that Spanish people don’t want to have anymore. C’s Rivera said that this debate had confirmed his decision not to reach an agreement with any of the candidates, and agreed with Podemos’ Iglesias in what the polls on the debate were already saying – that neither Rajoy, nor Sánchez were winners of the encounter (although Sánchez technically won, being second after the ‘None’ option and winning in some of the polls), and the real winners were themselves. Rivera and Iglesias said undecided voters who watched the show seeking to decide on one or the other probably would decide not to vote for either of them and vote C’s or Podemos instead.

Was there a bail-out for Spain or not?

The PP’s incumbent and his Socialist rival got into a fight over the bail-out Rajoy finally accepted from the EU in the summer of 2012. The Prime Minister had denied it being a financial ‘rescue’ for the banking sector ever since, and Sánchez put him against the ropes showing him the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the European Commission and Spanish government as well as newspaper articles such as the FT’s ‘Rajoy hails rescue as a victory’. Rajoy had been accusing former PM Rodríguez Zapatero of leaving Spain at the doors of a bail-out, a threat Rajoy claims to have finally overcome. Sánchez reminded Rajoy that the ‘line of credit with favourable conditions’ – as the PP leader portrayed the rescue – has already cost the Spanish population €25bn.

Latest polls

Monday was the last day allowed by Spanish law to publish the outcome of voter intention polls. A large number of them were released over the weekend by media outlets, TV and radio stations, showing the PP has gained 1-2 points to between 25.3 and 29%, while the PSOE – the leading opposition – fell back to 21% In their worst week during the electoral campaign, Ciudadanos (C’s) slipped - to 18.2% - the lowest since November. Podemos, which had been losing steam since the summer, came back up to almost surpass Albert Rivera’s C’s party (19.1%).


Source: El País - Metroscopia

A coalition between PP and Ciudadanos would probably  not produce an absolute majority of seats in the Congress of Deputies and Rajoy would need a regional party – such as the Basque PNV or the Catalans UDC or CDC –to pass legislation during the next term - as PP and PSOE governments have been doing throughout the Spanish democratic history. But that coalition wouldn’t be the one preferred by Spaniards anyway: 32% of the population preferred a PSOE-Podemos pact as the one they would endorse for a government, as shown in LaSexta network.

Source: La - Invymark

If the polls are accurate, turnout is expected to reach as high as 80 percent, and the December 20th election is already seen as a game-changer, no matter what the outcome. However, almost 41% of the electorate haven’t decided their vote yet.

El Confidencial newspaper - the source for a POLITICO article - talked about the ‘black week’ for Pedro Sánchez, saying that Podemos has recovered in the last weeks and has now overtaken PSOE with 19.1% of the estimated vote over PSOE’s 17%. Sánchez’s party would now be fourth. PP would fall to 26.7% and C’s would be second with 23.2% of the votes.

Podemos, which had been slipping since the summer, has turned into a more mainstream party that centre voters could relate to. Since last week’s four-way debate, Iglesias has been ‘fishing’ PSOE’s votes in an attempt to identify himself with a genuine Socialist – his namesake, Pablo Iglesias, who was PSOE’s founder in the late XIX century, and thus truer to Socialist values and principles than the current party and its leader - Sánchez. Podemos, Ciudadanos and PSOE would now be running neck and neck in the final sprint for the General Election. But – with such a high level of `undecided’ voters – the situation is remarkably fluid.

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