Spanish leaders clash over economy in TV election debate

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Spain's ruling Socialist party contender Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba clashed Monday with opposition foe Mariano Rajoy over the economic crisis in a scrappy, one-off televised election debate.

Rubalcaba is limping towards a historic election drubbing in the November 20 election, hammered by popular discontent over the faltering economy and a 15-year record high unemployment rate of 21.52 percent in the third quarter.

The pair accused each other of lying and interrupted each other repeatedly in a feisty, free-flowing duel that defied predictions of a staid, closely controlled exchange.

Rubalcaba, 60, tried to skewer the leader of the conservative Popular Party, accusing him of hiding plans to cut jobless benefits and financing for healthcare and education.

"With you public health and education are not guaranteed," Rubalcaba charged.

But the 56-year-old Rajoy struck back, hammering the government's economic and jobs record and arguing that the best way to protect social welfare was to create jobs and increase tax revenues.

"To guarantee social policies there needs to be a good management of the economy," he said.

The opponents sat facing each other across a podium, separated by a moderator, Manuel Campo Vidal, head of the non-profit Spanish academy of television.

They got equal speaking time and two basketball referees kept track of the minutes during the debate, which cost about 550,000 euros ($760,000) to stage, according to the academy.

Rajoy looked at his notes a total of 585 times, compared to just 48 times for Rubalcaba, according to an tally kept by the online edition of left-leaning newspaper El Pais.

Rubalcaba, the former interior minister and deputy prime minister, is leading the Socialists' campaign after Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero decided to bow out after eight years in power.

He acknowledged that Spain was undergoing a "deep crisis" but argued the solution to Spain's economic woes required more than just austerity measures to rein in the public deficit.

"We have put the patient on a diet and we have gone too far and are giving him anaemia. You don't cure anaemia with a diet but with vitamins," Rubalcaba said.

"I want to re-orient our economy so that there is a balance between controling public spending and providing incentives needed to create jobs, and guaranteeing social services like education and health care."

Political analyst Jose Maria Calleja said Rubalcaba "had managed to pass on the message that he wanted which is: 'If you vote for Rajoy, be careful because public education and health and jobless benefits could be endangered."

"He managed to raise this doubt because his questions he posed about these issues went unanswered by Rajoy," Calleja told public television TVE after the debate.

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 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.

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.

© 2011 AFP

1 Comment To This Article

  • Ricardo posted:

    on 8th November 2011, 09:34:33 - Reply

    Rajoy as usual said nothing of any value. He has never given any details because he has no plan and it will not improve under him unless there is an improvement in the rest of Europe. The high unemployment in Spain is due to the collapse of the tourist industry and with it the construction of holiday homes and apartments. The figures are not as high as quoted because there are a considerable amount of people working black whilst collecting unemployment benefits.