Chaos reigns at Madrid electoral debate, as Pablo Iglesias walks out and program cut short after clashes with far-right Vox candidate

The problems began during the Cadena SER broadcast when Rocío Monasterio refused to rectify comments she had made doubting the veracity of death threats received by the Unidas Podemos leader

From left to right: Rocío Monasterio (Vox), Edmundo Bal (Ciudadanos), Mónica García (Más Madrid) and Ángel Gabilondo (PSOE). Video: Pablo Iglesias leaves the debate (Spanish audio). Jesús Hellín (EP) / Cadena SER

A pre-election debate held at the Cadena SER radio network descended into chaos on Friday morning, with the Unidas Podemos candidate for the upcoming Madrid regional polls, Pablo Iglesias, walking out of the studio almost as soon as the program had begun. The left-wing politician, who recently left his role as deputy prime minister in the national government to contest the May 4 elections, opted to leave given the refusal of far-right Vox candidate Rocío Monasterio to retract doubts she had expressed over whether death threats he had received were genuine.

“I condemn all kinds of violence, but I would have liked for them to have condemned what we suffered in Vallecas,” Monasterio had stated earlier on Friday during an interview with state radio broadcaster RNE, in reference to clashes between Vox supporters, police and protestors at a recent rally held by the far-right group in that Madrid neighborhood. “And well, I believe little of what Pablo Iglesias says, and I think that all Spaniards, every time that we hear Pablo Iglesias say something, we call it into question because he has deceived us vilely over this last year.”

When it came his turn to speak at the Cadena SER debate, Iglesias called on Monasterio to rectify her words about an incident that has just came to light, whereby Iglesias, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska and the head of the Civil Guard were sent threatening letters accompanied by bullets. Monasterio refused to back down, but she did repeat her condemnation of all violence, saying to Iglesias: “If you are so brave, get up and leave.” As the presenter and mediator of the debate, Àngels Barceló, and the other politicians present protested and argued, Iglesias did just that and headed for the exit.

At one point Monasterio called on Más Madrid’s Mónica García to ‘wipe the sourpuss look’ off her face

Barceló tried to prevent Iglesias from leaving by following him to the door and remonstrating with him, but she ended up practically shouting over the noise of Monasterio and the other candidates in an attempt to bring order. “Please, Ms Monasterio, this isn’t a show, this is an electoral debate among democrats!” she said. Monasterio responded by asking Barceló whether she was “a moderator or an activist? Holding [Iglesias] by the hand, the political activist,” in reference to the fact that there was physical contact at that moment between the presenter and the politician. “I’m not an activist, I am a democrat!” was Barceló’s reply.

The other candidates present were Ángel Gabilondo of the Socialist Party (PSOE), Edmundo Bal from center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) and Mónica García from leftist Más Madrid. The candidate for the conservative Popular Party (PP), incumbent Isabel Díaz Ayuso, had opted not to participate after all six politicians appeared earlier this week in a televised debate on regional station Telemadrid.

The politicians voiced their rejection of what had just happened and admonished Monasterio for her attitude. “Are you doing so badly in the polls that you need to put on this little display?” asked García. “To have to bring out the hatred and lies?” García called Monasterio’s refusal to condemn the threats against Iglesias as an “abomination,” while Gabilondo criticized the Vox candidate’s “provocative attitude.” For his part, Bal demanded that Monasterio condemn the violence, and called on Iglesias to return to the debate.

The rest of the discussion, however, continued to be dominated by Monasterio’s tone and interruptions. At one point, for example, she called on Más Madrid’s Mónica García to “wipe the sourpuss look” off her face. García responded irately: “You are an accumulation of a lack of respect and manners!”

After a commercial break, during which the candidates were able to consult with their advisors, Ángel Gabilondo of the PSOE also requested to leave the debate. “I’ve stayed here out of respect for democracy,” he said once back on air. “But we cannot allow for hatred to take root among people.” García backed the calls to end the debate, while Bal “begged” them to stay.

“Dictatorship of SER”

In the end Barceló decided to call the proceedings to a halt, but even during her attempts to make closing comments Monasterio continued to interrupt, demanding to be allowed to speak again. “This is the dictatorship of [Cadena] SER!” she exclaimed, while Barceló tried to make herself heard.

The incident has prompted Más Madrid to announce that it will no longer be taking part in any debates ahead of the polls, which were called unexpectedly by Isabel Díaz Ayuso after she opted to dissolve her government, a coalition of the PP and Ciudadanos that was propped up by Vox. Ciudadanos, meanwhile, has said that it will continue to participate in such events.

The Madrid branch of the PP later published a message on Twitter ironically calling on Iglesias to “close the door on your way out.” The tweet was subsequently deleted after widespread condemnation on social media for ignoring the seriousness of the threats against the Podemos leader. The PP’s national president, Pablo Casado, made a statement condemning the threats against Iglesias. “To not condemn these personal threats is very serious,” he said, calling on the public prosecutor to take action.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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