Temperature rises and controversies increase during “the only” televised electoral debate

The only one? Not anymore. Last night, the televised debate among the leaders of the 6 parties with parliamentary representation ended in a compromise for a second debate tomorrow, this time only between the 2 main leaders: Artur Mas from the CiU and the most likely new president, and the incumbent, José Montilla from PSC, who will likely be defeated according to the polls.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

November 22, 2010 10:30 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- Last night is being said to be the greatest night of the campaign. The moment for political fireworks, for those with a more lyrical taste, or the moment for the greatest boxing round, for those who see this campaign as a fight, had to be yesterday. The 6 main candidates sat around the same table with 1 moderator in the only televised debate of the campaign. However, there was a surprise at the end. After weeks of public controversy and disagreements about the possibility of doing one or two TV debates between the 2 main candidates, José Montilla challenged Artur Mas in public. In other words, after weeks of leaked negotiations by their campaign managers, the current Catalan President (Montilla) challenged the leader of the Opposition and the next elections’ clear favourite (Mas) to a 2nd televised debate among themselves. Montilla did so during last night’s televised debate in front of the rest of the candidates. Mas accepted, but they started arguing about when exactly it should be done. Parallel to this, the rest of the candidates were complaining, stressing the fact that Catalonia is not a bipartisan country. This final anecdote completely shadowed the rest of the debate, which was not rich in terms of concrete proposals but was a clear representation of political tactics.

The debate was held on Catalonia’s Public TV. It had the presence of the 6 candidates from the 6 parties with parliamentary representation. They were the following:

- Artur Mas, from the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), current leader of the Opposition and most likely winner of the next elections;

- José Montilla, from the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), current Catalan President, who will be most likely forced to step out of power;

- Joan Puigcercós, from the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC), a party of the current Government;

- Alícia Sánchez-Camacho, from the Catalan People’s Party (PPC);

- Joan Herrera, from the Catalan Green Socialist Coalition (ICV-EUiA), a political force within the current Government;

- Albert Rivera, from the anti-Catalan Nationalism Party Ciudadanos (C’s).

The TV debate started with the parties explaining what they will do to leave the economic crisis behind. This block was dominated by Mas and his proposal to push for a special economic agreement with Spain’s Government for Catalonia, in a similar way to the Basque Country and Navarra. This proposal is at the forefront of the CiU’s electoral programme, especially after the trimming of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy and the consequent massive citizen demonstration on the 10th of July. This economic agreement means that all taxes will be picked up by the Catalan Government, which will then pay a fixed quantity of money to the Spanish Government in concept of solidarity with the poorer regions and the services the Spanish Government provides in Catalonia. The PSC is against it, defending the current funding model and fiscal redistribution, agreed firstly in the Catalan Stature of Autonomy of 2006 and secondly less than 2 years ago with the Spanish Government and the rest of Autonomous Communities with the exceptions of the Basque Country and Navarra, which have this different system that Mas vindicates for Catalonia. The PPC and C’s are also against it, but because they do not recognise the claim that Catalonia receives much less revenue than it produces. ICV did not debate this fiscal agreement but claimed for a model that ensures social redistribution, in a progressive way, in order to make richer people pay more taxes.

Puigcercós, from the ERC, linked the CiU’s main economic proposal to his top political proposal: calling for an independence referendum in the next term (2014 is the year in the horizon). Puigcercós made “a formal offer” to Mas. “I will support the special economic agreement if you publicly engage in supporting the referendum for independence in case Spain does not accept this new economic agreement”. In fact, Mas has been ambiguous about calling the CiU a pro-independence coalition. However, Mas stated in an interview that he would personally vote for Catalan independence from Spain. However, many members of the CiU, in particular from its Christian Democratic branch (Unió, led by Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida), are clearly not pro-independence. Mas answered Puigcercós, stating that he will not accept his offer. He said that calling for a referendum now would be creating a bigger problem, as it would be lost and Catalonia’s society would be divided into 2 groups: pro and against independence. Mas mentioned the case of Québec.

A third moment of tension was the block on culture and language. The CiU, PSC, ERC, and ICV defended the current education model, in which the Catalan language is the language for instruction in schools. They say it is an integration model that does not create 2 separate language communities and ensures the knowledge of Catalan and Spanish by all pupils. They said the model has been recognised by UNESCO and the European Commission, and Catalan pupils get the same result as the Spanish average in Spanish language exams at the Spanish level. The PPC and C’s criticised this model and said that Catalan was being imposed. At this point, the debate’s temperature started to rise. Interruptions were more constant, especially by the members of the PPC and C’s. Mas and Montilla avoided getting involved with them and were instead measuring each other, aware that one or the other will be the next president.

A new debate

In fact, the greatest surprise of the night arrived at the end, when Montilla challenged Mas for to a one-on-one televised debate. Their campaign teams had been negotiating this for weeks without reaching any agreement. Mas wanted 2 debates, both in Catalan. Montilla wanted 2, but one in Catalan the other in Spanish and on a different TV station, as a large part of Montilla’s potential electors do not watch the Catalan Public TV. They did not agree and the idea of the debate was abandoned… until Montilla put it back on the table in the middle of last night’s debate with the other 4 candidates.

Mas accepted the challenge and said that they could do it right now. Montilla said they could do it “tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday”. The moderator asked that they talk about it behind the cameras and he closed the current debate; he also asked the station’s director to come up. Meanwhile, the other 4 candidates were protesting, claiming that a debate only with 2 candidate supports bi-partisanship. After offline discussions at the TV station with many TV staff and journalists present, they agreed to do the debate. The campaign managers would discuss the last details in private. However, last night they left the TV studios without making a final agreement. This morning, the agreement was finally reached: 1 debate, only between Montilla and Mas, on Catalan Public TV, on Tuesday night. The PPC and ICV-EUiA have appealed to the Electoral Commission to cancel the debate. Nevertheless, a 2 candidate debate was already done in 2008 between José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Mariano Rajoy. The Barcelona Electoral Commission refused this evening to decide and passed the issue to the Spanish Electoral Commission.