Spain's Calvo Sotelo has trouble filling prime minister's shoes

Despite Spanish prime minister-designate Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo's failure to win an absolute majority in a parliamentary vote of confidence Feb. 20, he is virtually assured of victory in the second round of voting Feb. 23 -- if he wins a majority of the votes cast.

Mr. Calvo Sotelo won the support of only four deputies outside his own party, the ruling Democratic Center Union (UCD), in the first round, leaving him seven short of an absolute majority. He was opposed by four parties (the Communists, Socialists, and the regional parties from the northern Basque country and southern Andalusia). The overall results were 169 votes in favor, 158 against, and 17 abstentions.

This is an inauspicious start for a new government, and especially after the abrupt (and still not fully explained) resignation of Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez Jan. 29. This also comes at a time when a stable parliamentary majority would seem to be a precondition for sorting out the country's serious political, economic, security, and foreign policy problems.

On the other hand, most of the abstentions appear to reflect a lack of confidence in the UCD and not in Mr. Calvo Sotelo himself. Indeed, in the case of Spain's right-wing party and the conservative Catalan deputies, the abstentions simply indicate a desire not to go on record again for supporting a UCD administration -- the sixth in just under four years.

Mr. Calvo Sotelo's program, outlined in parliament last week, reflects a shift to the right. The main changes in the economy are:

* A tight curb on spending in the public sector.

* New incentives for the private sector with tax cuts and a reduction in the contributions private companies have to make to social security.

* A proposal to engage in negotiations with employers and unions on a plan to halt unemployment, which now affects a record 12 percent of the active population.

* Joint negotiations for speeding up the reconversion of industrial sectors (for instance steel, shipbuilding and textiles).

* And an updating of the national energy plan which is aimed at reducing Spain's 70 percent dependence on imported energy and at stimulating a capital goods industry.

In foreign policy, Mr. Calvo Sotelo has clearly affirmed the country's Western vocation and pledged to seek NATO membership. But he has not yet mentioned those issues that are now at the center of divisions in his own party. These are divorce (by mutual consent), a proposed university reform that diminishes the influence of the Roman Catholic Church; and a bill preventing civil servants from receiving salaries for other employment.

This evasion raises a serious question about the durability of the new administration. On all three issues Mr. Calvo Sotelo may well find it impossible to satisfy both the more progressive Social Democrat wing of his party and the conservativ e and Christian Democratic factions.

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