Spain's ruling, opposition foes face off in TV debate

7th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Spain's ruling Socialist party contender Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba will fight to avert a historic election drubbing in a one-off televised debate Monday with opposition foe Mariano Rajoy.

Rubalcaba is limping towards a devastating loss in the November 20 election, hammered by popular discontent over a faltering economy and 15-year record high unemployment rate of 21.54 percent in the third quarter.

Though he is considered a wily, charismatic debater, few believe the 60-year-old Rubalcaba can do anything in the face-off to alter the course of the right-leaning Popular Party's charge to victory.

An overwhelming 46.60 percent of people in a major survey released Friday said they supported the Popular Party compared to 29.91 percent for the Socialists.

That would give 56-year-old Rajoy's party an unprecedented 190-195 of the 350 seats in the lower house of parliament, said the poll of 17,500 by the Centre for Sociological Investigation.

The Socialists would get just 116-121 seats, it said.

The televised two-hour duel begins at 9.45 pm (2045 GMT).

Hosted by the Spanish Television Academy, the terms of the debate have been agreed to the tiniest detail.

There will be no studio audience. The duel will be split into three sections: economy and employment; social policies; and democracy, security and foreign policy.

The opponents get equal speaking time and can use their minutes as they wish during the debate, to be moderated by Manuel Campo Vidal, head of the television academy.

Two basketball referees will keep track of their speaking time during the debate, which cost about 550,000 euros ($760,000) to stage, according to the academy.

A senior Popular Party spokesman said the debate will follow the lines of the two parties' slogans -- "Join the change" for the Popular Party and "Fight for what you want" for the Socialists.

"The Popular Party is going into the debate seeking, as its slogan says, to join. The Socialist Party, also as its slogan says, is looking for a fight," said Popular Party communication official Esteban Gonzalez Pons.

"We are not in the same position," he told public broadcaster TVE.

Rubalcaba, the former interior minister, is leading the Socialists' campaign because Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero decided not to run again after his second four-year term.

He faces an uphill battle in the campaign, which was officially launched on Friday.

Resentment over the economic crisis has boiled over into an "indignant" national protest movement and already helped the Popular Party to crush the Socialists in local and regional polls in May.

The "indignant" activists have now called for a nationwide protest on November 13 and another on the eve of the vote in Madrid's central square Puerta del Sol, birthplace of the movement.

Many people blame the Socialists for reacting too slowly after the economy slumped into recession in 2008, battered by a global financial meltdown and a property bubble collapse, which threw millions out of work.

At the same time, the government has made painful spending cuts to calm financial market fears over its sovereign debt.

Spain has promised to reduce its annual public deficit from the equivalent of 9.3 percent of gross domestic product last year to 6.0 percent of GDP this year, 4.4 percent in 2012 and 3.0 percent in 2013.

Last year, the government raised sales taxes, froze old-age pensions, increased the retirement age, cut public workers' wages by five percent, and made it less costly for firms to hire and fire.

This year the government completed a restructuring of the financial sector and it joined with the opposition to enshrine balanced budgets in the constitution.

But the three major credit rating agencies, Moody's Investors Service, Standard & Poor's and Fitch Rating, all downgraded Spain's sovereign debt last month.

They each warned that high public and private debt levels coupled with the weak economy made the country especially vulnerable to the eurozone debt crisis.

© 2011 AFP

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