Zapatero, Rajoy face each other in tense Spanish debate
Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and conservative opposition leader Mariano Rajoy faced each other late Monday in a tense live television debate ahead of 9 March elections.26 February 2008
MADRID - Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and conservative opposition leader Mariano Rajoy faced each other late Monday in a tense live television debate ahead of 9 March elections.
Analysts speaking on the national television channel TVE after the debate stressed the self-confidence of Rajoy, whose aggressiveness was seen as having taken Zapatero by surprise.
However, an instant poll of viewers found that 45 percent of those surveyed thought that Zapatero won, compared to 33 percent for Rajoy.
The 90-minute event was Spain's first debate between the two top candidates for prime minister in 15 years.
More than 10 million Spaniards were estimated to have watched the debate, which was aired by a large number of national and regional television channels.
Rajoy attacked Zapatero over rising unemployment and inflation, his failed attempt to negotiate with the militant Basque separatist group ETA and what he described as an avalanche of undocumented immigrants into Spain.
Zapatero defended the government's economic performance, including what he described as the increased purchasing power of lower-income citizens.
He stressed measures carried out to give more rights to women, homosexuals and immigrants and accused Rajoy's People's Party (PP) of having acted immorally in not supporting the government's anti-terrorism policy toward ETA.
The debate was expected to play a key role in the neck-and-neck race, in which low turnout would more likely harm the Socialists, according to analysts.
Zapatero's performance may not have been sufficient to mobilise all potential Socialist voters, analysts said.
Rajoy, on the other hand, came under criticism for what was seen as a tactic of just attacking Zapatero instead of explaining the programme of his own party.
The last such debate was in 1993 between Socialist then-premier Felipe Gonzalez and his conservative challenger, Jose Maria Aznar, who lost the election but won in 1996.
The Socialists have a slight lead over the conservatives in polls.
[Copyright dpa 2008]