By Eloise Horsfield
THE two contenders for Spain’s top job battled it out on live television last night ahead of the general election on November 20.
The debates between PP leader Mariano Rajoy and PSOE’s Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba drew 12 million spectators on 17 channels – that’s almost as many as the first Zapatero-Rajoy debate prior to the PSOE victory in 2008.
Predictably, the economy and Spain’s 22 per cent unemployment rate – more than twice the EU average – were top of the agenda.
Rajoy, 56, did not hesitate in citing the figures several times – five million more unemployed since Socialists PSOE came to power – and on hearing some of his opponent’s solutions asked, “Why didn’t you do that before?”
The PP leader, who promised he would not freeze pensions like the Socialists had, said: “The key question in this election is whether we will continue with the same politics, or manage things differently. I believe Spain needs change – and needs it urgently.”
For his part, 60-year-old Rubalcaba suggested Rajoy was hiding plans for enormous cuts and privisation, and that a PP victory would not guarantee the protection of health and education.
“If you tell people everything you have in your head, not even your own party members will vote for you,” he said.
The two men seemed to spend much of the 90-minute debate attacking each other rather than laying out clear policies, and PSOE commented afterwards that Rajoy avoided many of the questions put to him.
Surveys on the websites of Spain’s three main newspapers are torn over who won the debate, with El Pais readers putting Rubalcaba in front and ABC and El Mundo voting Rajoy as a clear winner.
The opinion polls are much more decisive, predicting unequivocally that Rajoy will win the general election on November 20 with an absolute majority.
Current PM Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is standing down after eight years in power.