Spanish candidates clash in TV debate
Issued on: Modified:
In a tense televised debate ahead of Sunday's poll, Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and opposition leader Mariano Rajoy focused on immigration, terrorism and the economy.(Report: S.Silke)
Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and opposition leader Mariano Rajoy clashed in a tense election debate Monday, with opinion polls indicating the Socialist incumbent bested his rival by a large margin.
Two polls released by television channels immediately after the live televised face-off, which focused on immigration, terrorism and the economy, indicated Zapatero had scored a massive points victory over the conservative Rajoy.
One by El Cuatro said 50.8 percent of people thought Zapatero had won and 29 percent believed it was Rajoy, while La Sexta reported figures of 49.2 to 29.08 percent respectively.
"Zapatero uses proposals to counter Rajoy's catastrophisms," headlined the centre-left newspaper El Pais on Tuesday.
Rajoy is facing perhaps his last chance to deny Zapatero a second mandate.
The last opinion polls allowed before Sunday's election gave Zapatero's ruling Socialist Party a lead of about four percentage points over Rajoy's opposition Popular Party.
"It's double or quits for Rajoy today in the debate," said the centre-right daily El Mundo, while El Pais described it as his "last chance to reverse the tide."
The opposition has accused the government of mismanaging the economy, which is suffering a slowdown following a construction-led boom, and by vowing to take a hard line on immigration if elected.
A combative Rajoy charged Monday the prime minister had "got his priorities wrong."
"We need a government that provides certainty and security, that takes care of the real problems of Spaniards and does not divide them," Rajoy said, referring to the controversial liberal social reforms of Zapatero's government.
Rajoy said immigration "is not being controlled."
"It is unacceptable that there are Spaniards who lose their social rights because foreigners come with lower incomes, who ask for help from social services," said Rajoy.
Zapatero responded that the only immigrants who can remain are "those who can legally work."
The opposition leader again accused the government of "negotiating with terrorists" in its failed peace process with the armed Basque separatist group ETA.
Zapatero vowed to support whatever government is elected "without conditions" in the fight against terrorism. "I would like to hear him say the same thing," he said.
Rajoy also accused Zapatero of "ignoring reality" over the slowing economy, while Zapatero promised specific measures to revive it.
Zapatero, 47, scored a surprise victory over Rajoy, 52, in a March, 2004 election three days after the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people.
Zapatero drew support from many Spaniards who accused the ruling conservatives of attempting a cover-up by insisting ETA was to blame even though evidence pointed to Islamic extremists angered by Madrid's role in Iraq.
On taking office, he promptly withdrew Spain's troops from Iraq, something he recalled at Monday's debate.
But Rajoy accused the prime minister of lying to the Spanish people by supporting a UN resolution on Iraq just two months later.
It was the second televised debate between the two candidates, following a tense confrontation on February 25.
Opinion polls released afterwards indicated Zapatero scored a points victory but not a knock-out blow.
Opinion polls are banned from midnight (2300 GMT) Monday, five days before the vote.
But a poll published in El Mundo on Monday found 43.4 percent of voters supported the government against 39.3 percent for the opposition.
That would give Zapatero's party between 157 and 171 seats in Spain's 350-seat parliament, compared with 148 to 161 for the Popular Party.
The poll predicted that turnout would be between 76 and 78 percent, more than the 75 percent which some analysts estimate is necessary for a win by the Socialists, whose voters are traditionally less likely to take part.
In the last week before the vote, the Socialists have focused on achieving a high turnout, warning of the risk of a "radical" right-wing government that would reverse Zapatero's liberal social reforms.