Sparks fly in Madrid mayoral debate as top contenders clash on corruption

PP nominee Aguirre accuses Ahora Madrid rival Manuela Carmena of terrorist sympathies The leftist candidate responds by calling on veteran politician to leave politics

The contenders in the race for the Madrid mayor's office faced off on Tuesday.
The contenders in the race for the Madrid mayor's office faced off on Tuesday.Carlos Rosillo

Madrid’s mayoral hopefuls held a second round of televised debates on Tuesday night, when the nominees for majority groups the Popular Party (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSOE) faced off with smaller parties that could hold the key to the City Council.

Speaking on the regional network Telemadrid, candidates brought up corruption, taxes and local services in a series of cross accusations that reached their peak during the face-off between PP hopeful Esperanza Aguirre and Ahora Madrid candidate Manuela Carmena.

This particular debate had been widely anticipated because Aguirre and Carmena are virtually tied in voter-intention polls for Sunday’s municipal elections.

You hug people a lot, you’re very kind, but we haven’t seen your program”

PP candidate Esperanza Aguirre

While Aguirre, a veteran of Madrid politics, had a 10-point advantage over her nearest rival just two weeks ago, Carmena has been quickly eating into her lead. Ahora Madrid is a coalition of leftist groups whose best-known member is Podemos, the anti-austerity party that has been described as a sister to Syriza in Greece.

Carmena, a judge whose face was unfamiliar to voters until her appointment to represent Ahora Madrid, focused her attacks on corruption in the Madrid regional government, which Aguirre headed between 2003 and 2012.

“Our democracy is sick; citizens are estranged from politicians because of corruption, which developed under your government as it turns out,” she said. “You sought out aides who played key roles in the structures of corruption, and they were already involved in it when you picked them out. I don’t understand why you would want to keep governing after all the harm you’ve done. […] It was your government, your team, you are responsible. Really, I’m telling you not to continue, you’ve already done a lot of harm, you must not go on.”

I’m telling you not to continue, you’ve already done a lot of harm, you must not go on”

Manuela Carmena, Ahora Madrid contender

Aguirre, for her part, accused her rival of lacking any specific program – a criticism that has often been leveled against Podemos – and alluded to the party’s alleged ties to authoritarian regimes from Latin America.

“You hug people a lot, you’re very kind, but we haven’t seen your program,” said Aguirre. “Podemos, PSOE and IU [United Left] are running on a single platform: to make sure I don’t get voted into the mayor’s office. And in order to reach that goal, they do what totalitarians do, which is to use lies and disguises.”

The conservative candidate also suggested that Carmena may have sympathies with Basque terrorist group ETA, and said that as a judge she freed a convicted member who “the very next day stated that he did not regret his attacks.”

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“What do you plan to do besides being kind, very kind, extremely kind? And why do you say that ETA members have suffered tremendously?” asked Aguirre.

Carmena fought back with the claim that “everyone knows that I have been fighting my whole life for democracy and freedom.”

Aguirre and the Socialist contender, Antonio Miguel Carmona, also debated with Ciudadanos representative Begoña Villacís, who criticized the “asphyxiation” that higher taxes are producing, and lamented what she sees as insufficient sanitation services in the capital. The PP and Ciudadanos are expected to reach arrangements if the conservatives secure a minority government, although Villacís stated that she will not rule in a coalition with the PP.

There was another debater on Tuesday: Javier Ortega-Smith, the candidate for Vox, a rightist group that broke away from the PP in 2013. Ortega-Smith criticized Aguirre for providing regional funding for some of the 25,000 abortions carried out in Madrid in 2009, when she was regional premier. Aguirre asked Vox to return to the fold of the PP, and warned voters that “casting their ballots for Vox is like voting for Podemos.”

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