By Saba Fatima
The large audience for the electoral debate held on TV3 [primary television channel of Catalan public broadcaster Televisió de Catalunya, a subsidiary of the Catalan Media Corporation (CCMA), the public radio and television company in Catalonia owned by Catalan government] between the Catalan candidates for the upcoming Spanish elections somewhat shattered the myth that there is widespread apathy about the upcoming Spanish general election.
The 25.5% accumulated audience share between the two CCMA channels —TV3 and 324— and the 364,000 viewers who followed it, more than doubled those who followed the debate which took place on the same channels before Barcelona’s municipal elections, which had a 12.1% audience share, or the 12.3% of the seven-way debate held last week by TVE [Spain’s national state-owned public television broadcaster], in which the number twos of the major political parties and the peripheral parties’ leading candidates participated. These figures are a far cry from the Atresmedia debate between Pedro Sánchez and Alberto Núñez Feijóo, which achieved a 45.5% audience share on Antena 3 and La Sexta combined.
In any case, debates are not only measured by the number of viewers, but also by the political consequences they leave behind, which is not exactly the same thing. There has been little dispute that Feijóo’s overwhelming victory in the televised debate that pitted him against Sánchez has had a major influence on the current election campaign. The bullet which the Spanish prime minister intended to use to knock down his rival turned out to be a blank.
It is true that it was soon revealed that the People’s Party (PP) leader had incorporated several fake news stories into his narrative, but in today’s rampant news world, by the time it was made public it did Sánchez little good. The Spanish prime minister was KO’d. Since that debate on July 10th, the campaign seems to have dragged on and, as the polls open on Sunday, interest has been lost. What is known in jargon as “rubbish days” has ended up lasting almost two weeks.
The debate on Barcelona between candidates Xavier Trias (Junts), Ada Colau (En Comú Podem), Jaume Collboni (PSC) and Ernest Maragall (ERC) was also important. Trias was able to engage in a sparring match with Colau, which benefited both of them and hurt Collboni, who, although the polls granted him the lead, began to lose ground. Debates, therefore, are not innocuous if one knows how to take advantage of them, the messages are clear and the spectator can be reaffirmed in his or her political option or in one of those that he or she has voted for at some other time. This always works best, of course, when the contenders have something at stake, in this case the mayoralty. Or, in the Sánchez-Feijóo debate, the presidency of the Spanish government.
In the case of the eight-way debate between the Catalan candidates for the Spanish Congress of Deputies, the distribution of 48 seats out of 350 —which correspond to the four provincial constituencies—, was at stake. It lacked interest, the clashes that took place were practically inconsequential, and if anything was made clear, it was that the pro-independence movement is more divided than ever. I doubt that it moved many votes, or that it mobilised all those who are still wondering whether they should go to vote and who they should put their trust in for the next four years on July 23rd.
In short, proposals for show in the midst of the storm that is brewing ahead of the arrival of the PP and Vox to the Spanish government, which will especially affect Catalonia. However much Feijóo now pretends to be sympathetic and now preaches that he will reduce tensions between Spain and Catalonia. The last person to say this from within his political ranks was his countryman Mariano Rajoy and that ended, as is well known, with the suspension of the Catalan government’s powers, the application of article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which allows the Madrid government to impose its own power over any autonomous region, and with Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría at the head of the Catalan government. The latest precedent does not exactly leave him in a good place. It is well known that words are carried away by the wind. But actions are not.
Produced in association with El Nacional En
Edited by Saba Fatima and Maham Javaid