Spaniards, barely recovered from the wearisome NATO referendum last month, will be trooping back to the polls in two months' time. In a surprise move earlier this week, Prime Minister Felipe Gonz'alez decided to dissolve Parliament and push up the general elections to June 22. The Socialist government's term was to end in October. This will be the fourth time general elections have been held since the return of democracy 10 years ago.
Prime Minister Gonz'alez is not going to carry out his cherished dream of heading the first democratic government since the end of the regime of Gen. Francisco Franco to ride out the full four years of a term. However, the decision to call early elections seems to follow tactical rules.
In explaining the government's decision, spokesman Javier Solana pointed to administrative and budgetary concerns. Government economic advisers, headed by Economy Minister Carlos Solchaga, were instrumental in persuading Gonz'alez to push the elections forward so as not to hinder the annual budget process which begins in the fall.
But there are other reasons. After a rough patch last winter, the ruling Socialists have recovered their popularity, following their remarkable triumph in the public referendum over continuing NATO membership. What's more, according to Spain's leading daily, El Pais, rarely has a ruling party faced such a weak opposition.
The main opposition group, the right-wing Popular Alliance has dwindled in the eyes of the public following a contradictory stance on the NATO issue. Internal divisions in the Popular Alliance have also come to the surface by sharply differing views on the conflict between the United States and Libya.
The only group that could hope to make the Socialists nervous is a left-wing group made up of various communist parties and pacifist organizations, which was responsible for rounding up most of the 7 million ``no'' votes in the NATO referendum. However, the communists are divided and the other groups have not been able to follow through with the impulse gained during the referendum to create, as intended, a new leftist independent platform. With the government's decision, they now have little time to do so before the elections in June.
An opinion poll released last week by the government-sponsored Center for Sociological Studies indicates that the Socialists could maintain an absolute majority in Parliament, equaling their success in the 1982 elections.
Meanwhile, Gonz'alez's party is also eager to take advantage of Spain's entry into the European Community before the expected adverse effects of membership are felt later this year. Fall might bring additional labor conflicts, particularly in transportation, and a tense social climate, as unemployment, now 20 percent of the active population, may keep rising.
The June 22 elections will now coincide with regional elections in Andalusia, the home country of Premier Gonz'alez and Vice-Premier Alfonso Guerra. Local candidates are therefore ensured they will get the full political weight of Prime Minister Gonz'alez behind them.
The electoral campaign may risk losing some of its public attention to soccer, however. The election will also coincide with the World Cup in Mexico.