Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Alberto Núñez Feijóo, leader of the main opposition party, the right-wing People’s Party (PP), took part in a chaotic ‘face to face’ live TV debate on Monday, ahead of the general election due to be held on 23 July.
The debate, watched by around 6 million people, was the first and only between the two main candidates ahead of the election, with the 100-minute unruly discussion seeing both leaders often talking at the same time and accusing each other of telling lies and misleading voters.
The pair tore into each other on a range of topics from the economy, housing, and pensions, to the environment, international relations, and policies towards women, interrupting regularly, waving numerical charts, rolling their eyes and gesticulating furiously.
Feijóo often put Sánchez on the defensive, and both leaders accused each other of pacting with parties they deem dangerous for Spain.
While both candidates pronounced themselves satisfied with the outcome, viewers and analysts said the two parties’ plans for governance were eclipsed by the chaotic performance. Many criticised the programme’s two hosts, Vicente Vallés and Ana Pastor, for failing to rein them in.
With just under two weeks to go until the vote, opinion polls predict Feijóo as the likely winner, although he would probably need the support of far-right party Vox.
Some surveys, though, show the PSOE socialists closing the gap just over a month since Sánchez announced the snap election following regional elections in which his party underperformed.
The candidates cited different metrics of inflation, economic growth and employment to paint the incumbent’s economic stewardship through the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war as either exemplary or disastrous.
Sánchez highlighted that Spain is among only a few European countries that has tamed inflation to below the European Central Bank’s 2% target by 2023. Evidence, he said, that ‘we are going in the right direction’.
Feijóo said Sánchez’s claim that the economy was moving ‘like a motorbike … shows a lack of respect to Spaniards’, citing people struggling to afford their weekly groceries.
Both candidates ran into uncomfortable territory on their policies related to women.
The leftist government of Sánchez was forced to apologise in April for a loophole in a sexual violence law that saw at least 1,155 imprisoned offenders have their sentences reduced or ended early. ALSO READ: Pedro Sánchez apologises to victims over government’s rape law loophole.
Feijóo’s PP has sealed coalition agreements in several Spanish regions and cities with Vox that include reframing gender violence as ‘intra-family violence’. Feijóo himself was recently pilloried for saying a Vox electoral candidate convicted of gender violence had a ‘hard divorce’. ALSO READ: Gender violence becomes key issue in PP-Vox pacts ahead of 23 July election.
Feijóo told Sánchez: ‘Those men who raped in the street are in the street because of you – there are more than 1,000 of them.’
Sánchez responded: ‘In Spain there is indeed a problem of sexual aggression. A legal error is corrected, but a macho statement made knowingly is not an error, it’s something else.’
The pair also clashed over the awkward bedfellows they may have to pick to secure the 176 parliamentary seats they would need to govern after the election.
Sánchez tried repeatedly to get Feijóo to confirm or deny that he would enter into a post-election deal with Vox, a party that is anti-European and opposed to gender violence and climate change laws.
‘What is at stake is whether Spain continues advancing as it has done during these last 40 years or you place us, Mr. Feijóo, in a sinister time tunnel in which who knows where we will end up,’ said Sánchez.
Feijóo underscored the PSOE’s relying on the Basque separatist party EH Bildu – linked to the now-defunct terrorist group ETA – for votes to pass laws.
‘You cannot lecture us on pacts,’ he told Sánchez. ‘Bildu is your partner.’
Sánchez responded by quoting comments made by Vox politicians that were chauvinist or questioned climate change and the validity of Covid vaccines.
‘You have made a shameless exchange of rights for votes,’ he spat, leaving Feijóo momentarily speechless.
The late-night debate was broadcast simultaneously on Antena 3 and laSexta. Both channels are owned by Atresmedia.