Euphoria turns to moderation as Spain's Socialists face reality of power

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Despite the euphoria of victory, Spain's Socialist Party led by Felipe Gonzalez has begun to temper its image of idealism and freshness with sober moderation.

The possibility of a military coup seemed to mute the Socialists' celebration , which appeared restrained compared to the dimensions of their historic win. Gonzalez's victory speech was extremely low key and used patriotic terms formerly used only by the right.

Some Socialist leaders have been almost apologetic over their sweeping majority of 201 of the 350 seats in the lower house. They have expressed concern over the disappearance of the center parties as a parliamentary force.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Spanish democracy will now experience a true ''test of fire'' with the first change of power since the first free elections in 1977. Like voters in France and Greece last year, Spaniards voted overwhelmingly for change.

Although the Socialists' economic and social programs have become extremely moderate - termed ''to the right of Hubert Humphrey'' by one American banker in Madrid - there has been some concern in Washington and Brussels over the Socialists coming to power. The party promised a referendum on Spain's membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and a renegotiation of the bilateral agreement with the United States over American bases in Spain.

However, the Socialists have shown increasing ''prudence'' over the NATO question; the changes wanted in the bilateral agreement may be simply ''cosmetic.''

For many Spaniards, a vote for the Socialists symbolized a vote against coup plotters, especially after the discovery early in October of a plot for the Army to seize power the day before elections. The fear of another coup pushed even undecided voters to the polls in a record turnout of almost 80 percent.

By far the most urgent problems facing the new Socialist government will be the defense of democracy threatened by endless coup plots aggravated by separatist terrorism in the Basque region, and unemployment running a staggering 15.5 percent - one of the highest rates in Europe.

The win reminded some Socialist leaders of liberal shifts in the US, such as the victory of John F. Kennedy and ''the new frontier'' two decades ago.

''Now is the time to start 'a new deal' in Spain like you Americans did in the 1930s with Roosevelt,'' Miguel Boyer, a Socialist member of parliament and economic spokesman told this reporter. Mr. Boyer is considered to be the most likely candidate to head the Socialist economic ministries.

But as far as a genuine ''new deal'' is concerned, there have hardly been any concrete promises other than the creation of 800,000 jobs in four years. The Socialist program has avoided promising any nationalizations other than electric utilities.

Still, for the first time since the civil war of the mid-1930s, the left has been voted into power in Spain. But unlike the civil war period, the Socialists represent today a large, relatively new middle class, rather than revolutionary workers. ''I feared that the Socialists will just pile on more taxes for me with social programs,'' said Jose Paniagua, owner of a small, but successful car repair garage. ''I voted for the Alianza Popular (popular alliance) because they said they would reduce taxes.'' However, his wife, Isabel, voted Socialist because ''I think they deserve a chance. Maybe they can change things and make the country work.''

Almost as spectacular as the Socialist victory has been the practical disappearance of the center parties and the impressive tenfold growth of the right-wing party, Alianza Popular, led by Manuel Fraga. From a mere nine seats obtained in 1979, Alianza Popular won 105 seats in the Oct. 28 elections. Fraga congratulated the Socialists and was pleased to be the only major opposition party.

Disillusioned with bitter political infighting, voters punished the former majority center party, Union of Democratic Center, reducing the party's 168 seats of 1979 to a mere 13, evidently forgetting its historical merit of initiating the first democratic period in Spain after the passing of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

But poll after poll has demonstrated to the point of exhaustion that Spanish voters are generally moderate and aligned around the moderate political center, not polarized into left- and right-wing camps. Both the Socialist Party and Alianza Popular have moved toward the center themselves, picking up over 4 million of the former 6 million votes.

This largely Roman Catholic nation has barely had enough time to catch its breath before the arrival of Pope John Paul Oct. 31, who plans to visit 10 cities in 16 days. The timing to the electoral campaign has been so close that many confused children have asked if the Pope is the new candidate for parliament.

On his arrival, the Pope declared he was not on a political visit. The trip to Spain was delayed for the third time to avoid directly coinciding with elections. The Socialists are anxious to avoid any sort of confrontation on the sticky issues of divorce, abortion, and a possible cutback on government subsidies for Catholic education.

Prime Minister-elect Gonzalez is expected to receive the Pope Nov. 3. Although divorce has already been legalized in Spain, the Socialists are expected to keep a low profile on the issue of abortion, which they favored in their electoral platform. Like the question of a referendum on NATO, the Socialists will probably let the abortion issue wait for a while.

On the other hand, the Socialists hope to capitalize on less controversial issues with which presumably the Vatican can sympathize and lend support, such as corruption in public office and a new work ethic.

Mr. Gonzalez, himself educated in a private Catholic school, promised during the campaign to continue state support for religious schools while improving public schools. But a lack of enthusiasm for state financing of religious schools has caused distrust between the church and the Socialists.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...