MADRID Leaders of four Spanish parties locked in a tight race to win this month’s general election traded angry accusations over corruption and the economy on Monday in a lively debate that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy again chose to stay away from.
Rajoy’s People’s Party (PP) and Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists are seeing their decades-old hold on energy threatened by the rise of two new parties, the liberal Ciudadanos (Citizens) celebration and left-wing Podemos (“We can”) following years of economic crisis.
An official poll published final week showed the PP getting most votes in the Dec. 20 election but falling properly brief of a majority in parliament. The polls show Ciudadanos, which espouses organization-friendly, centrist policies, vying with the Socialists to be the second force in Spanish politics.
If confirmed on Dec. 20, Spain could be facing a minority or a coalition government.
For the second time in a week, Rajoy stayed away from a televised debate with the leaders of the other 3 parties. But, in contrast with final week’s debate when organizers left an empty podium for Rajoy, the prime minister this time sent his deputy Soraya Saenz de Santamaria.
Sparks flew when the two-hour debate turned to corruption, which polls show is Spaniards’ greatest concern right after unemployment, which is operating at much more than 20 %.
Fighting off attacks from the other leaders about alleged situations of corruption in the PP, Saenz de Santamaria said: “Situations have been prosecuted (and) justice has been permitted to act.”
Spain’s High Court said in May possibly six men and women would go on trial following an investigation into an alleged slush fund inside the PP.
Rodrigo Rato, a former International Monetary Fund chief and former PP deputy prime minister, has also been caught up in numerous judicial probes.
Rajoy’s absence drew sarcasm from his rivals. Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos which opposes the austerity policies the PP has imposed given that the collapse of a house boom in 2008 imploded Spain’s economy, mentioned it was a shame Rajoy “is not with us, but I am confident he will be interested by the debate.”
Saenz de Santamaria retorted the PP was a team that shared duty. Rajoy will hold a 1-on-one debate with the Socialists’ Sanchez next week.
The economy is now strengthening and the PP mentioned this would allow them to reduce revenue tax if re-elected whilst continuing to minimize the budget deficit. Rajoy, 60, emphasizes his knowledge compared with his rivals, aged in their 30s and 40s.
Sanchez mentioned that if he became prime minister, he would keep the purpose of a 1 % of GDP spending budget deficit at the end of the subsequent 4-year parliament, but would renegotiate with the European Commission the path for getting there.
Spain forecasts a deficit of 4.2 percent this year.
Iglesias, whose party is operating fourth in the polls, mentioned he would make banks that had received state aid pay a “solidarity tax” and he also backed a tax on share, bond and derivative trades.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft Editing by Lisa Shumaker)