AFTER the petty antics of the December campaign, when prime minister Rajoy refused to condescend to a proper televised debate with his rivals, the leaders of Spain’s four major parties finally faced off on Monday June 13, less than two weeks from the country’s second general election in a matter of months.
Despite the June 26 date rapidly approaching, the atmosphere surrounding the new vote has been markedly uninspired and citizens’ electioneering fatigue seems to have contaminated the weary leaders themselves.
The leaders of the formerly governing Popular Party, traditional left-centre rivals the PSOE, business friendly clean cut upstarts Ciudadanos, and anti-austerity battlers Podemos all stuck to character and said little that might inspire apathetic or wavering viewers to vote for them.
With the inconclusive elections of December still fresh in collective political psyche and most voters having made up their minds as to which side of the political spectrum they fall, the result seems to lie with whether Podemos can continue attracting PSOE voters and energise their base to get out and vote.
Perhaps hoping to stake out turf on higher ground, all three of his younger rivals turned their ire on Rajoy who, if polling trends continue, might just return to power with a minority government.
Arguing that his experience represented the safest bet, Rajoy repeatedly emphasised the point stating that “governing is difficult. It is not work experience,” and “preaching is easy, governing is hard”.
He pointed at Greece as an example of where the folly of idealism and inexperience might lead while defending his own brief legacy since taking office in 2011.
“When I came to power, Spain was threatened with bankruptcy… and now it isn’t,”
“They all say that they’re going to fix things as if by magic, but that’s also what Tsipras said in Greece.
“The Spanish all know that things are better, they’re not good, but they’re better,” he argued to the consternation of his left leaning rivals.
With one interesting moment seeing Podemos’ Pablo Iglesias mutter to PSOE leader Pedro Sanchez that “I am not your rival tonight, Rajoy is”, the two parties battling for the left vote brought the plight of Spain’s dwindling middle class to attention, arguing for an increase in the minimum wage and new tactics to reduce high unemployment.
“If one type of policy does not work, the logical thing to do is to change it, and austerity policies haven’t worked”, said Iglesias, who was forced to defend his party against frequently rebutted allegations of receiving funding from the Venezuelan government.
Iglesias also stood out on the question of Spain’s territorial integrity, arguing that his party had managed to compete with Catalan nationalists at the polls courtesy of Podemos’ support for an independence referendum.
That position is roundly condemned by the two major parties and Ciudadanos who are vehemently in favour of a more integrated Spanish state.
Although the PP retain a glimmer of hope that they might improve on December’s results and secure the necessary seats to form a government, polls consistently indicate that parliament will have to form a coalition unless Spain wants to see a farcical third election in the near future.
Podemos have recently overtaken PSOE to take second place in polling and a coalition between the two is a likely outcome if they muster enough votes not to rely on separatist parties, a deal PSOE is highly unlikely to make.