On November 30, between 9pm and 10pm, EL PAÍS will host the first major election debate of the democratic era to be broadcast via the internet. The pioneering initiative represents a milestone in the history of political debates in Spain, and will fire the starting pistol for the race to reach La Moncloa prime ministerial palace for the lead candidates from three of Spain’s major political parties: Pedro Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE); Albert Rivera, from Ciudadanos; and Pablo Iglesias, from Podemos.
The debate will be broadcast from a set with a live audience, and those who are present, as well as those who are watching via the EL PAÍS website, will be able to put their questions to the candidates. The event will be produced in-house in a TV-debate format, but will benefit from the advantages offered by the web – the broadcast will be interactive. Those watching via the internet will be able to access graphics related to the issues that will be dealt with during the different sections into which the program will be structured. These are just some of the elements that have been agreed with Óscar López, Íñigo Errejón and José Manuel Villegas, who represent the PSOE, Podemos and Ciudadanos, respectively.
The debate will be broadcast from a set with a live audience, and viewers will be able to put their questions to the candidate
The candidates for prime minister from these three groups will have the chance to send out their messages via television, mobile, and any other platform that has internet access. The destination is an electorate that is more fragmented than ever ahead of the polls on December 20. Millions of people will be able to follow the debate, in Spain and in any other part of the world – but especially in Latin America, where more than a third of EL PAÍS readers are based.
As well as Sánchez, Rivera and Iglesias, EL PAÍS invited the prime minister, who is also the Popular Party’s candidate for re-election, Mariano Rajoy, but he declined the offer. To choose the participants, the following criteria were followed: the results of different elections held over the last year-and-a-half, and the opinion polls published in recent months, which give the candidates who will be taking part a clear advantage over the other hopefuls.
During election campaigns, debates are the factor that have greatest influence on the vote. According to EL PAÍS editor-in-chief, Antonio Caño, “debates like this one can change the course of elections, given that they generate acceptance or rejection of candidates.
“They serve to paint a picture of them, observe their dialectic capacity and measure their line of defense or attack in the face of their opponent; the reality is that they help the voter decide whether or not they can see that candidate as prime minister.
The internet broadcast takes advantage of the enormous penetration of that medium among young voters” EL PAÍS editor-in-chief Antonio Caño
“The fact that this debate will be broadcast via the internet,” Caño adds, “also takes advantage of the enormous penetration of that medium among young voters, as well as the multiple narrative possibilities that are part of the digital environment.”
In Spain, the majority of such debates have been preceded by controversy, and they have never been celebrated while the Popular Party is in power. In countries such as Sweden, however, the law requires them to be held and in the United States, campaigns revolve around such televised meetings. In Spain, the two head-to-heads between Felipe González (PSOE) and José María Aznar (PP) in 1993 were the first in this format. Of the two debates the first (on Antena 3) attracted 9.6 million viewers, while the second (Telecinco) was seen by 10.5 million people. Today, two decades later, technology offers the chance to reach a universal audience.
Some minor parties have expressed their disagreement with the selection of the opponents. Andrés Herzog, UPyD candidate, has requested via Twitter that his party be present in the electoral debates and has rejected that they be limited to the PP, PSOE, Ciudadanos and Podemos. For its part, United Left (IU) believes that the “rest of the parties should demand more plural debates, in line with a more democratic proposal.” According to sources from the party, “the problem lies with the groups themselves, who accept exclusive debates that do not represent the democratic plurality of the country.”
Caño explains that these parties will get adequate coverage via other EL PAÍS platforms, and explains that the real possibilities the participants have in terms of presiding the next government have been taken into account. “The opinion polls are clear in that respect. Podemos was leading at the start of the year. Now the surveys reflect a three-way tie between the PP, the PSOE and Ciudadanos. These are the main options for the voter, without taking anything away from the other, minor parties, who have a role that is just as necessary and dignified as the others.”
The controversy over debates is a question that is yet to be resolved in Spain, where the Central Electoral Board obliges public television stations to bring together all of the parliamentary groups (there are currently seven in Congress). This is an exception. In other countries debates are only held between the candidates who have real options of governing. For the first time in decades in Spain, parties other than the PSOE or the PP have that chance.
English version by Simon Hunter.