Seven-way debate offers little hope of viable post-election government

Televised event pits Podemos and regional parties against PP, Socialists and Ciudadanos over the issue of Catalan independence

Participants from the seven parties ahead of Monday night's debate.
Participants from the seven parties ahead of Monday night's debate.Carlos Rosillo

A seven-way debate on Monday evening between representatives of Spain’s national and regional parties with a presence in Congress did little to clear up the future of the country’s stalled political scene ahead of Sunday’s repeat general elections.

Spain has been under a caretaker administration since the general election of December 20, in which no party garnered the 176 seats required to form a government. Attempts at reaching cross-party deals to reach this majority were futile, and new elections have been called for June 26.

The Socialist speaker called Mariano Rajoy’s attitude “a factory for creating new independence supporters”

But the two-hour volley of cross accusations on Monday left viewers wondering if there is any chance that parties will be able to reach post-election deals this time around, or whether Spaniards may be facing a  third election later in the year.

The event, aired live on Monday night by state broadcaster TVE, focused mostly on the issue of Catalan independence and on whether the region should be allowed to hold a referendum to decide if it wishes to remain part of Spain.

The issue of Catalan independence had lately taken a back seat to other voter concerns such as political corruption and the economy. But on Monday it took center stage again, pitting anti-austerity grouping Podemos and regional parties against the Popular Party (PP), the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Ciudadanos.

For two hours, Pablo Casado (PP), Isabel Rodríguez (PSOE), Íñigo Errejón (Podemos), Juan Carlos Girauta (Ciudadanos), Gabriel Rufián (Catalan Republican Left or ERC), Carles Campuzano (Convergència) and Aitor Esteban (Basque Nationalist Party, or PNV) attempted to hold a debate amid multiple cross-dialogues.

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Catalan nationalists insisted they will only support a prime minister who respects their right to decide. Campuzano, of the Catalan party Convergència, said that “without a solution for Catalonia, it will be difficult for Spain to install a government.”

Rufián of ERC added that “there will be no support for those who deny the full sovereignty of the people of Catalonia.”

Meanwhile, the representative for the Basque Nationalist Party said its support in an investiture vote would depend on the resolution of what he termed “the Basque agenda.” His party, which is in power in the northern region, has not called for outright independence but wants the central government to devolve more powers.

“It is necessary to recognize the difference between nationalities,” he added.

The overarching message was that neither the PP nor the PSOE, the two majority parties, will necessarily be able to count on the nationalists to reach the parliamentary majority required to form a government.

Errejón, of Podemos, said his party supports the right to decide, but underscored that it would prefer Catalonia to remain part of Spain.

Casado, representing the acting PP government, reiterated the conservatives’ clear opposition to an independence vote. The Socialists’ Rodríguez directed the discussion towards his party’s defense of constitutional reform that would acknowledge Catalonia’s unique status without expressly granting sovereignty – what the Socialists see as a third way out of the impasse.

Rodríguez also criticized acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for his refusal to budge on the issue, calling his attitude “a factory for creating new independence supporters.”

The speaker for Ciudadanos – which began life as a Catalan party opposed to independence – said that “the red line of sovereignty will never be crossed” and highlighted the corruption of the Pujol family that governed in the region for decades.

The issue of corruption brought all parties together against the PP, which was also attacked over its spending cuts. The conservative speaker again offered the possibility of a grand coalition with the PSOE and Ciudadanos, based on opinion polls showing that the PP will once again win the most votes but fall short of a majority.

A similar offer was made to the Socialists by Podemos, which stands to come in second on June 26. But the PSOE already rejected that offer once before, and is showing no signs of having changed its mind.

English version by Susana Urra.

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