The Spanish presidential elections are this November 20th (or as the Spanish media likes to call it the 20-N). Over the past couple of months, there has obviously been a lot of coverage over the two candidates: Mariano Rajoy, the candidate for the Partido Popular aka the PP (and known as the People’s Party in English) and Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, the candidate for the Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol, shortened to the PSOE (the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party).

Spain’s current president Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been president since 2004. He was elected days after the Madrid train bombings occurred.

I don’t have much of an opinion on Zapatero, Rajoy, or Rubalcaba (whose name I remember because it is similar to Rubix cube). I do a horrible job of following politics in my native country so you can imagine I am even more clueless when it comes to Spain. I didn’t even vote in the presidential elections in 2008 because I hadn’t registered yet (and I was also studying abroad in Spain at the time, wouldn’t you know)–though I have now so I fully expect to vote come November 2012.

So to review:

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

This guy is the soon to be former president who decided he got sick of being president. Member of the PSOE.

Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba

Candidate for the 2011 Spanish presidential elections. Member of the PSOE and worked with Zapatero’s administration.

Mariano Rajoy

Candidate for the 2011 Spanish presidential elections. Member of the PP and expected winner of the elections. Can I say it was very challenging to find a neutral picture of this guy? So many pictures of him on Google Images have been photoshopped!

I have been paying more attention to politics lately because these elections are–how to put this without offending Spaniards?–a hot mess. Or at least, this is how I perceive things to be, maybe Spaniards consider this whole situation as organized and completely normal, I’m not sure.

Anyways, this is the gist of it or at least how I understand things to be: In April, Zapatero announced he would not be seeking reelection.I don’t blame the guy–7 years in office is a long time to work in such a high pressure job. And though I can’t say for certain, it seems there is a lot of discontent among the Spanish. There is still an economic crisis going on and they seem to blame Zapatero for not trying to fix it.

In July, Zapatero announced he would be resigning. And this is where things get super fuzzy for me. It seems the elections were moved up from March 2012 to this November. But I’m not sure if that’s because Zapatero requested it because he wanted to resign earlier or because… well I have no idea.

This past Monday, out of curiosity, I watched the first part of the only televised debate scheduled between the two candidates. The first subject brought up was the economy and things definitely got heated between the two candidates. I wasn’t so interested in the content of the debate; I was analyzing the debate’s set up and the candidates’ body languages.

And I have to say it seems like Spanish politicians are still trying to figure out how to do these televised debates. Obviously televised debates are a standard part of US presidential elections. We have several debates for the primaries and between the final two candidates. They’ve been part of the American political tradition for awhile. However Spain is a much younger democracy–from the 1930s to the 1974 it was a dictatorship. Spain hasn’t had many presidents since the 1970s. Televised debates are a relatively new concept.

Spanish presidential debate 2011

A couple of things I noticed:

1. Both candidates were seated at an oval shaped table facing each other with the moderator seated in the middle. The debate lasted about an hour and a half and I guess that is a long time to be standing. This may seem like a small thing but traditionally debates are done standing up. All televised debates in the US have the candidates standing up with a podium in front  of them. For me, it gave the debate a rather informal setting, like both candidates were arguing over some soccer match in a bar.

2. Rajoy read a lot from his notes in his introduction. He got criticized for this by the media and well I guess I have to agree with that criticism. Look dude, this is a debate, you’re supposed to know your stuff! You don’t have to be a great public speaker but you should at least be able to memorize your introduction. It’s a lot of pressure but then being the president of a country is a high pressure job and reading without your notes in public is an important part of the job. An American politician would be crucified in the media for reading off of his or her notes!

3. Rubalcaba is definitely a better public speaker and I could tell he felt more comfortable in front of the camera. However he did blink an excessive amount of times so I have no idea what that means.

4. The moderator was useless. In American debates, if the candidates get a little heated, usually the moderator steps in and shuts them up, trying to get the candidates to take turns. Otherwise the people at home have no idea what is being said. When Rubalcaba and Rajoy talked over each other, the moderator just sat there and said nothing.

5. Rajoy was definitely nervous and mistakenly called Rubalcaba “Zapatero” twice. That’s not bad in the grand scheme of things. However, he brought up several times things he had done in 1992. I wasn’t sure how relevant 1992 was to what is currently going on in Spain in 2011.

There’s probably more I noticed but I am going to stop there. It seems the general consensus among the media that the debate won’t change the expected outcome of the election. It is widely believed that Rajoy will win, simply because the Spanish are sick of the PSOE and want a change of political party. Rajoy already ran against Zapatero in 2008 and while I’ve paid him scant attention over the years, he has been a regular presence on TV since he is the current head of the PP. Just by the way he acts and talks, you can tell the dude wants this very badly.

And I know I can’t vote, but it’s still all rather exciting for me because the fact I even sort of know what’s going on tells me my Spanish has improved so much!