Politics 10/02/2021

Illa collects criticism in a debate in pursuit of the boundary vote

Pere Aragonès and Laura Borràs confront each other over the politics of pacts while PP and Cs accuse Vox of being "populist"

5 min
The new candidates who participated yesterday in the electoral debate of Tv3.

BarcelonaIn a campaign marked by the pandemic, it is logical that the candidate who only until a few weeks ago was the Spanish Minister of Health, the socialist Salvador Illa, gathered most of the attacks. This also occurred because pro-independence candidates fought to be the most effective anti-Illa politician in order to mobilise their voters. And, on the unionist flank, because almost all parties have a boundary vote with the PSC, who aspires to bring together the anti-independence vote. This dynamic helped Illa to be at the centre of the debate and to be able to present himself as a credible presidential candidate with the aim of "rescuing Catalonia from pro-independence supporters".

However, apart from this general dynamic, the debate turned into a series of bilateral skirmishes between parties who are partners in many areas. Thus, Laura Borràs, candidate of Junts, mentioned the tripartite saying that PSC, ERC and comunes are a "de facto couple" and introduced, as a stroke of effect, the "signing" of Josep Maria Argimon, current director of the Institut Català de Salut (Catalan Health Institute), as a future minister.

Aragonès avoided entering the battle with Borràs from the beginning, and preferred to polarize the debate with Illa: "Between the PSOE and Catalonia, you will always choose the PSOE", he said. The candidate of ERC recalled he was the only one who defended the management of the Government and suffered when he was reminded of the drama of the nursing homes. Only at the end, however, Aragonès revolted against Borràs when she insisted on the tripartite: "Our formula is a broad government with the parties that defend self-determination and amnesty, and this can only be led by the party that weaves agreements. In exchange, you [Junts] talk about unity, but you are alone in this".

Albiach against Borràs

The candidate of comuns, Jéssica Albiach, was very effective when it came to placing her messages and concentrated her artillery on Aragonès and Borràs. To the number two of Junts she reproached him that her party tried to turn Catalonia into an "Andorra of the south" and to have "the fiscal policy of Ayuso". Albiach was the only one who claimed the tripartite with the PSC and ERC and accused Junts of having people in the lists who "call settlers those who come from outside [of Catalonia]".

Àngels Chacón, of the PDECat, knew that her rival was Borràs, and critiziced her for the pandemic management of former president Torra because "he made us choose between the economy and life, and believe me I know what I'm saying". The post-convergent candidate was uninhibited after a rocky start, when she criticized an ambulance concession that Aragonès reminded her came from the time of Artur Mas. Chacón struggled to connect with the classic CiU electorate with economic discourse and defence of state-subsidised schools.

The fight on the flank of the triple right was also very lively. It was striking how the PP and Cs disavowed the demagogic speech of Ignacio Garriga, of Vox. Garriga initially said outrageous things, such as when he said that the money destined to Catalan courses was equivalent to deaths by covid. It was so extreme that the rest of the parties ignored it at first, but, of course, PP and Ciudadanos have votes to win, and so they felt the need to disavow his discourse. The PP candidate, Alejandro Fernández, was especially brilliant when he asked Garriga if - as he had defended closing Parliament and the autonomies -, if the time comes, he would take his position as MP or not. "Will you close Parliament or not? Because if you close it, you won't be able to do all these policies you say you want to do". And further on: "You talk a lot about closing TV3 but you don't stop coming to TV3". Fernández finished with a plea: "No populism".

Carlos Carrizosa, head of list of Cs, had been the first to intervene and had defended that the budget of the CCMA (Catalan news outlets) must be cut in half. However - and of course -, Garriga doubled the bet and defended total closure, an idea that the Cs candidate also described as "populist". Carrizosa accused Vox of being "denialist" and, when he later spoke of Abascal's "chiringuito", he provoked an angry reaction from Garriga, who accused Cs of being "traitors". The ultra candidate, by the way, had no problem claiming to be a "populist".

A fiery intervention of Vox served the CUP candidate, Dolors Sabater, after a hesitant start, to take center stage by asking the moderator not to allow lies to be told in the debate. Sabater proposed that private health should be put at the service of public health as a measure to fight the pandemic, and thus underlined the anti-capitalist character of the candidacy. She also made the most of the CUP's "municipalist experience". This is where Àngels Chacón took the opportunity to mark conservative profile defending "prison sentence for those who occupy first homes". The candidate repeated the acronym "PDECat" whenever she could, to fix the brand in the minds of viewers.

Throughout the debate, Vox gained prominence. Pere Aragonès jabbed Illa, accusing him of not having clearly ruled out being invested with the votes of the extreme right. Illa responded that he would not do it "neither actively nor passively", but in the end he was not absolutely clear about not accepting being invested with the votes of the extreme right-wing.

The ERC candidate, with his pragmatic discourse, made a commitment to link an eventual investiture agreement with new budgets "because Catalonia cannot lose a single second". And he insisted on the idea of a broad government with as much support as possible.

Salvador Illa defended the management of the central administration in the face of Aragonès' accusations of not giving direct aid to companies. Here he had the help of Albiach, who boasted of the furlough scheme agreed on by the minister Yolanda Díaz. "The furlough scheme is of the Spanish government, not of the minister Díaz", Illa reminded her with a smile.

Dialogue table

Regarding the bloc on the Catalan independence bid, the PP and Cs, along with Vox, seemed moderate because they spoke of reconciliation, despite Fernández rejecting "the table of dialogue that speaks of self-determination and amnesty". "What you have done with the dialogue table is extremely serious because it affects the foundations of the rule of law", he said. On the other hand, Albiach made an energetic defence of the dialogue table. Laura Borràs and Pere Aragonès, for their part, defended independence as a way to improve the lives of citizens, whether by strengthening the health system or bringing fibre optics to every corner of the country.

Illa insisted at the end on the need to "turn the page", but without "exterminating any opinions" to seek "a reunion". Aragonès responded that "the reunion that Catalonia needs is the freedom of political prisoners and exiles". The final minutes served to set the messages: here the contrast between Borràs' epic ("we are the ones who make the impossible possible") and Aragonès' vindication of ERC's history ("we are the party of Macià and Companys, of Junqueras and Rovira") was very clear. This will be one of the keys to next Sunday's result.