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Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his election rival Alberto Nunez Feijo accused each other of failing to protect women, making deals with disreputable colleagues and lying about the economy in a televised debate Monday evening.
The two rivals interrupted, spat and took aim at each other, in a series of testy exchanges, with the Socialist prime minister appearing more irritated on a night that was one of his last chances to rein in the election lead of Feijo’s conservative People’s Party.
After suffering heavy defeats in regional and local elections in late May, Sánchez called snap general elections. Most polls suggest he will lose on July 23, but the race is getting tighter and Feijo will likely need the support of the right-wing Vox party to take power.
The most heated exchange came when Sánchez highlighted the “shameful” agreements already made with Vox to form municipal and regional governments, noting that the hard-right party disputes the notion of gender-based violence.
“There are male chauvinists in this country who kill women, and you are contracting with a sexist party that does not condemn male violence against women. There are consequences, Mr. Feijo,” Sanchez said.
Feijo responded by highlighting one of the coalition government’s biggest mistakes: the passage of an ambiguous sexual consent law last year, which resulted in more than 1,100 convicted sex offenders having their sentences commuted and 117 released early.
“You will go down in history as the prime minister who signed the ‘yes only means yes’ law,” Feijoa said, referring to the law. “Men who rape women are on the streets because of you.”
Sánchez acknowledged the law as a mistake that the government had corrected, but in reference to Vox, Feijon said: “You’re trading rights for votes, principles for seats.”
In response to Sánchez’s warning about the danger of a PP-Vocs national coalition, which would bring the hard-right into government for the first time since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975, Feijo appealed to voters to give the PP full power. the majority
“I want to be prime minister, but it’s not possible anyway,” Feijo said. “A strong majority, without relying on extremes, is necessary to move forward.”
Feijo told Sánchez that if the prime minister’s Socialist Party wins the most seats but falls short of a majority, the PP will abstain from investment votes so it can form a minority government.
He asked Sánchez if he would make the same commitment to the PP, enabling him to govern without Vox, and the prime minister dodged the question.
Sánchez has been attacked, as he has been throughout the campaign, for his alliance with Basque and Catalan separatists, whose votes are needed to pass signature reforms to pensions, labor laws and housing.
While Feijóo said Sánchez’s party indulges “affection” on EH Bildu, a Basque party led by a convicted member of the disbanded Eta terrorist group, he said “the arrogance you treat the main opposition party We are sick and tired of you”.
The two men also clashed over very different views of the economy. Sánchez repeated his oft-used phrase that, with record employment, the economy is “going like a motorbike”. But Feijo said it showed a “lack of respect for the Spanish people”, many of whom were struggling with expensive supermarket bills and rising mortgage costs.
While Feijo criticized Sánchez for increasing Spain’s public debt, the prime minister pointed out that epidemics and war spending in Europe played a large role. “Mr Feijo never talks about Ukraine, about the damaging effects [the war] was,” said the Prime Minister. “What planet do you live on?”
Sánchez then said that Feijo, who led the Galicia region from 2006 to 2022, had overseen an increase in its public debt, which the PP leader said was absolutely false. “You should know that. But you’re not,” said Feijo. “And if you do, you’re lying.”
In his closing remarks, Sánchez quoted Vox leader Santiago Abascal and said Spaniards had a choice to make. “Does Spain continue to move forward, as it has done for the last 40 years, or will Mr Abascal and Mr Feijo take us into a dark time-warp that will leave us who knows where.”