Spain’s first electoral debate for fifteeen years was held yesterday evening, and according to the polls published this morning, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero beat Mariano Rajoy by a small margin. The debate was marked by accusations from both leaders on the subjects of terrorism and immigration.
The first part of the debate centred on the economy, social policy and terrorism. The second half was on institutional politics and challenges for the future.
As far as the economy was concerned the leader of the PP talked about rising prices and the cost of housing to which Zapatero replied that the economy had grown by 3.7% above expectations and that his government presided over the lowest unemployment rate ever. He also reminded Rajoy that in the yearly State of the Nation parliamentary debate, the Popular Party leader had dedicated just three minutes to the issue of the economy.
When it came to the subject of immigration Zapatero talked about integration and equality.
He also said that the government was working with the EU to tighten border controls. Rajoy accused the government’s law on dependants as being a complete failure. Zapatero replied to this saying said that while the PP were in power they didn’t invest any money in dealing with immigration. Moreover he pointed out that while Rajoy was Home Office Minister he attempted to control immigrants by legalising their situation in Spain on the strength of whether or not they possessed a bus pass, whereas the Socialist government required immigrants to have a legal work contract in order to legalise their residence in Spain.
One of the most tense moments during the debate was on the subject of terrorism. Rajoy accued Zapatero’s government of giving oxygen to ETA who were at their weakest when PSOE took power. He also accused Zapatero of politically negotiating with ETA.
Zapatero replied saying that it had been the PP who had played politics with terrorism when in March 2004 they lied to the Spanish people about who they believed to be behind the M-11 bombings. He also went on to point out that he had supported Aznar in his fight against ETA and now the PP was the only political party in the world that didn’t give its backing to its national government the fight against terrorism. When Rajoy accused Zapatero of attacking the victims of terrorism Zapatero repeatedly replied that he would not tolerate this remark.
The debate ended on the topic of challenges for the future. Rajoy said the biggest challenge for any Spaniard was to buy their own home. In reply to this Zapatero reminded Rajoy that house prices rose by historic levels while the PP were still in government.
Zapatero talked about education and said he was proud of having increased grants to students and invested money in research projects.
He said that there were now 40,000 more researchers in Spain than when the PP were in government.