Gonzalez confirms he will run again

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HE HAD kept his supporters on tenterhooks for months. Would he run for a fourth term as Spanish Prime Minister or stand down in favour of new blood? Yesterday, Felipe Gonzalez put them out of their misery, but not until he had put the wind up more than 30,000 supporters packed into Las Ventas bullring to celebrate 10 years of Felipismo.

'After 18 years as secretary-general of the Socialist Party of Spanish Workers (PSOE) and 10 years as Prime Minister, you all know that I think it's good to have renewal among the people who carry out our programme. That doesn't mean I'm tired of working in the party.' There was a sigh, a shocked hush, and the kind of whistling usually produced in the same arena for less- than-brave matadors. Was he finally confirming press reports that he was weary of domestic politics? His timing was perfect. Cutting short the whistles, he continued: 'But if anyone is worried, let me say this. You know you can count on me.'

It was official. Felipe would run again. They leapt to their feet, yelling and cheering, waving party banners bearing the slogan 'The Force of the Future'. Mr Gonzalez acknowledged the ovation like a successful torero and everyone went off for Sunday lunch.

It was an impressive performance from the man who, as the 40-year-old son of a Seville dairy farmer, swept to power on 28 October 1982 to become Europe's youngest leader. The party, clandestine under Franco, won a stunning 46 per cent of the vote that year to take 201 seats in the 350-seat Cortes against the conservative Popular Party's 106 seats. But Mr Gonzalez, focusing his policies around European unity, has seen his popularity fall amid criticism that he has neglected domestic problems, failed to reduce unemployment and allowed corruption to spread within his administration. Like George Bush, he has gazed abroad while neglecting Spain, his critics say.

A poll yesterday suggested the PSOE would win scarcely 37 per cent if a general election were held now, against 32 per cent for the PP. This would force Mr Gonzalez to seek a coalition with smaller parties, even with the PP. Mr Gonzalez must dissolve parliament by next autumn but most expect him to do so in the first half of next year.