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EL PAÍS refuses to accept substitute for Rajoy at upcoming election debate

The leaders of the Socialist Party, Podemos and Ciudadanos will go head-to-head on Monday

Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría
Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría (above) will not be sitting in for Rajoy at the digital debate organized by EL PAÍS. EFE

EL PAÍS has rejected an offer by the governing Popular Party (PP) to have the deputy prime minister replace Mariano Rajoy in the election debate that this newspaper is organizing on Monday at 9pm.

The leaders of all the major opposition parties will be there on November 30, including the Socialist Party’s Pedro Sánchez, Podemos’ Pablo Iglesias and Ciudadanos’ Albert Rivera.

Citizens end up tired of these debates”

PP spokesman Pablo Casado

Because the debate aims to pit the main parties’ top candidates for the prime minister’s office at the upcoming elections of December 20, EL PAÍS has refused to accept a substitute. As such, the PP podium will remain empty.

This newspaper considers that such a debate requires the presence of the top candidates from each party, not their running mates. A televised debate between contenders to La Moncloa prime ministerial palace is not a right of the media, but a right of Spanish citizens.

Rajoy blamed his no-show on “government duties,” and instead tried to send his top aide Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría in his place.

“We have more than 30 requests for debates at newspapers, television and radio stations, and universities. The prime minister cannot be everywhere at the same time,” said PP spokesman Pablo Casado.

But although Rajoy declined the offer citing a full agenda, the prime minister is slotted to appear at the same time on the private network Telecinco, where he will be interviewed one-on-one by the host of the evening news program, Pedro Piqueras.

For now, the prime minister has only accepted a televised debate with Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, an event scheduled for December 14 that is being organized by the Television Academy and will be open to any interested station.

Rajoy's aides say his agenda is too full to come to the EL PAIS debate.
Rajoy's aides say his agenda is too full to come to the EL PAIS debate. REUTERS

When Rajoy signed the decree calling general elections on December 20, he held a press conference in which he said he would not avoid any debate between candidates, as he considered these “my natural grounds.”

Sources at La Moncloa are now justifying Rajoy’s absence from most of the debates by saying that he has a very busy agenda at both the national and international level.

Spokesman Pablo Casado explained it using a bullfighting simile.

“Citizens end up tired of these debates,” he said. “I’ve been to five or six, and when you coincide with the same person from another party, it’s just like the village squares, where you release the bullock and it’s already wise to every trick and folks get bored.”

English version by Susana Urra.

The details of the debate

  • The debate starts at 9pm and ends at 10.30pm on November 30

  • Special coverage by EL PAÍS will begin at 8pm with political analysis

  • Following the debate, this newspaper’s online coverage will include further analysis of the candidates’ performance by political reporters and outside commentators

  • EL PAÍS users may vote for the candidate they consider to be the winner of the debate, and the results will be released

  • The debate is structured around four areas: economy and employment; social policies and the welfare state; territorial affairs; and political reform and regeneration.

  • Each candidate will have two minutes to present proposals in each area, then spend the next nine minutes asking questions of one another.

  • For five minutes they will also take questions from the audience. This is the first time that people outside the candidates’ campaign teams are allowed to such a debate. Around 100 EL PAÍS readers will sit inside the studio and ask questions pulled from social media.

  • Each candidate will then have one last minute to look at the camera and convince viewers to vote for them on December 20.

  • The English Edition of EL PAÍS will be live-blogging the debate in English for its readers.