10 Jul, 2023 @ 14:30
2 mins read

Sparks set to fly at only head-to-head debate between Spain’s main prime ministerial candidates

Pedro Sanchez and Alberto Nuñez Feijoo
Cordon Press

IN THE ONLY head-to-head debate that they will hold before the July 23 general election, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Popular Party (PP) leader Alberto Nuñez Feijoo will face off against one another this evening, at a televised encounter that will begin at 10pm on Spanish media network Atresmedia. 

Sanchez had proposed as many as six debates with Feijoo, but the PP refused. As such, a lot will be riding on each of the politicians’ performances tonight, and both have reportedly been preparing for many days. Sparks are expected to fly between the two prime ministerial candidates.

The surprise snap election was called by Sanchez the day after the May 28 local and regional elections, at which his party and other leftist groups such as his coalition partner Unidas Podemos suffered heavy losses. 

At tonight’s debate, Sanchez is expected to attack Feijoo for the deals that his party has done with the hard-right Vox party in order to form governments in hundreds of local councils and regions such as Valencia and Extremadura in the wake of those May 28 polls. 

Polling ahead of the July 23 election puts Feijoo as the winner, but without a majority. The only way that he is expected to become prime minister and be able to form a government is if he does a coalition deal with Vox. 

Sanchez will describe the deals with Vox as a ‘backward step’ for Spain, and argue that they are pushing the PP toward the right. 

On Friday Vox released its party manifesto, which contains plans to centralise power in Madrid away from the regions, scrap current abortion and euthanasia laws, and expel any immigrants who arrive illegally in Spain, among other extreme measures. 

Many of the policies set out by the group are opposed by the PP, suggesting that Feijoo could have problems reaching a coalition deal in the case of an inconclusive election result.

Feijoo, meanwhile, is set to attack Sanchez for what he will call ‘shameful pacts’ with other parties since his government was formed in early 2020. 

This is a reference to the fact that the coalition government lacks a working majority in Congress, and as such has had to do deals with smaller parties to pass legislation, including key bills such as the budget. 

Among these parties are Catalan separatists, such as the Catalan Republican Left, as well as EH Bildu. The latter has been most controversial for Sanchez, given that it has historic links to the now-defunct Basque terrorist group ETA, which killed more than 800 people during a more-than four-decade bloody campaign for an independent Basque Country.  

Feijoo will also focus on the fact that Sanchez will likely be unable to return to power without the support of these same parties, as well as that of new leftist alliance Sumar, which has absorbed not just Unidas Podemos but also other left-wing and green groups. 

In recent weeks Pedro Sanchez has been focusing on a media campaign rather than party rallies, appearing on a series of television and radio shows – including those that have been historically very hostile toward him and that he has traditionally avoided. So far, the appearances have been judged by critics as a success. 

Feijoo, meanwhile, is known for being more prone to gaffes and has not appeared so comfortable during his interviews. What’s more, in the regular debates that Sanchez and Feijoo have held in the Senate since the latter became the leader of the PP, the prime minister has nearly unanimously been judged to have come out on top.

Tonight’s debate will be broadcast live on the Antena 3 and La Sexta television channels, as well as radio station Onda Cero, and will start at 10pm.

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