A debate before Sunday’s Spanish general election exploded into an angry row on Monday when the opposition leader accused Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of not being a “decent” man and said he should have quit over a corruption scandal in his party.
The humdrum election campaign burst into drama when Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez attacked Rajoy over alleged high-level corruption and accused him of lying over his government’s economic record. A red-faced Rajoy angrily rejected his charges.
“If you continue to be prime minister, the cost for our democracy … will be enormous, because the prime minister, Mr. Rajoy, has to be a decent person and you are not,” Sanchez said in a televised debate watched by millions.
“You are young. You are going to lose these elections,” Rajoy, 60, told his 43-year-old rival. “You can recover from an election loss, but you can’t recover from the contemptible, mean and despicable statement you have made here today.”
“I am an honourable politician, at least as honourable as you,” Rajoy said.
The debate was a late chance for both men to bolster their support in the face of an unprecedented challenge from new parties to Rajoy’s centre-right People’s Party (PP) and Sanchez’s Socialists, which have together dominated Spanish politics since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s.
Spain’s economy is picking up after a severe economic and banking crisis but unemployment remains over 20 percent and Spaniards are angry over high-profile cases of corruption, some linked to the PP.
Polls show Rajoy’s party ahead but short of a parliamentary majority, while new parties, anti-austerity Podemos (“We can”) or centrist Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) challenge the Socialists for second place.
Many voters remain undecided, but the most likely outcome appears a coalition or minority government.