Auteur: Peter Teffer
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy stayed away from an election debate Monday (30 November), less than three weeks before voters will decide whether to allow his centre-right party to remain the largest in the country's parliament.
Spain is expecting a dramatic election on 20 December, with the two establishment parties being challenged by two strong newcomers, Ciudadanos and Podemos, neither of which is currently represented in the national assembly.
Rajoy's Popular Party (PP) is polling at 22 percent, neck-and-neck with the centre-left socialists, and the centrist Ciudadanos party. Left-wing Podemos had 17 percent of support from those responding to the most recent poll.
The prime minister said he was invited for over 30 debates and could not “spend all day in debates”.
His absence was felt in the debate organised by newspaper El Pais, which had decided to leave a symbolic empty lectern.
It was also an easy trope for Rajoy's opponents.
“Rajoy has been absent. He looks the other way while problems grow,” said socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, according to a summary of the debate by the paper.
Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera criticized Sanchez for attacking Rajoy, referring to the former socialist prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
“Zapatero and Rajoy's labour model have both been failures,” noted Rivera, adding: “Spain is waiting for solutions, not that you fight between each other even when one of you isn"t here.”
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias predicted that another Rajoy government will push away the northern region Catalonia. Rajoy's government has legally challenged the recently launched Catalan bid for independence.
“I've been in Catalonia, and there are a lot of people there who want a different relationship with Spain … Four more years of Rajoy, even Valladolid [a Spanish city] will want to leave Spain,” said Iglesias, adding this movement is “the only political force that can ensure the unity of our country”.
Rivera noted that he was “proud to be Catalan, Spanish and European."
“But we have to stop asking ourselves what we are. … We have to address the majority of Catalans, and not just Artur Mas,” said Rivera, referring to the Catalan politician leading the independence movement.
There are several more election debates scheduled, the next one on 7 December.
Rajoy was also invited but decided to send his deputy prime minister.
The sitting PM did confirm his presence in a one-on-one debate with Sanchez on 14 December, however.