Spain's Socialists gain ground

Unless the center and right can get their act together quickly, a Socialist Party victory in Spain's October elections seems inevitable.

The ruling Union of Democratic Center (UCD) has splintered into four, with the three breakaway parties probably too new to get organized in time. And the Communist Party has been weakened by infighting.

Premier Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo announced the dissolution of the Cortes (parliament) Aug. 27 and set Oct. 28 as the election date, five months ahead of time. His UCD has been suffering from defections for almost a year, reaching a low point last July when, after some fierce infighting, right- and left-wing defectors broke away, forming the new parties.

From an original 168 parliamentary representatives in 1979, the party had shrunk to a skimpy 123, only six more than representatives of the opposition Socialist Workers Party (PSOE).

In August alone, UCD lost 16 parliamentary representatives who joined with the original founder of UCD and former Premier Adolfo Suarez in his newly created party, Democratic and Social Center (CDS). Another 12 deserters embraced the conservative Christian Democratic ''Popular Democratic Party'' formed last July.

Mr. Calvo Sotelo admitted that the splintering of his party made it impossible for him to govern, but Spanish newspapers speculated that his real reason for calling an early election was to allow the three newly formed parties as little time as possible to organize their campaigns.

The fact the elections will be held just a week after a visit from Pope John Paul II has been severely criticized by most of the political parties who had expected elections to be be set for mid-November, a discreet three weeks after the visit.

The Vatican is reportedly considering delaying the visit to prevent the Pope being used as a campaign personality for the Christian Democrats in PDP or those still in the UCD.

Like the new parties and the seriously disintegrated Communist Party, the right-wing Popular Alliance led by Manuel Fraga, also feel the early date is against their interest, since there may not be time to build coalitions strong enough to form what he calls the ''natural majority'' capable of stopping the Socialists.''

The regional parties and the Socialists, however, could barely conceal their glee. Felipe Gonzalez, in West Germany campaigning for the German Social Democrats, announced that he was confident of a solid majority. However, he insisted that Spanish Socialists would not form a post-electoral left-wing coalition with the Communists if an absolute majority is not obtained.

Recent polls and analyses predict that the Socialists may pick up as many as 1 to 2 million former UCD voters.

Any coalition between center and right-wing parties must be completed quickly since electoral coalitions must be announced two weeks after the election date has been announced, according to the Spanish Constitution. It is still not clear whether UCD will make a final attempt to win its ''erring brothers'' back, or, if they fail, will form a center-right alliance with Fraga and the conservative defecting parties. It is unlikely, though not impossible, that Suarez could still be wooed back.

Meanwhile, the three new parties all claim to be swamped with phone calls from fellow travellers still within UCD who want to desert. Within a week Spanish voters should have a clear idea whether they will be choosing a small ''hinge'' party at the center.

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