The most serious corruption allegations against Mr Gonzalez's Socialist Workers' Party until now had been that it was illegally financed before the last general election in 1989 by millions of pounds from big businesses and banks.
That was known as the 'Filesa case', from the company was said to have gathered funds in return for 'phantom' reports that allowed the businesses and banks to balance their books. A report on those allegations, due to have been presented to a judge three days before the 6 June general elections, was suddenly postponed until after the vote.
Yesterday, however, the daily El Mundo, which has strong conservative backing, carried a front-page story accusing the party of illegally financing the 1986 campaign. The paper published copies of documents, including cheques, said to prove that commissions from construction contracts had gone to financing the party in the run-up to the 1986 elections.
El Mundo said the documents showed the Socialists had also illegally financed their 1986 campaign to keep Spain in Nato - a sensitive issue, since Mr Gonzalez had previously argued that Spain should opt out of the Western military alliance. The campaign was successful, Mr Gonzalez completed his about- turn and has been a passionate advocate of Nato membership ever since.
The Socialists quickly labelled the paper's allegations as 'tendentious and malicious'. The party statement indicated that the published documents and cheques were real but had not been illegal at the time. It said the party was considering legal action against El Mundo.
Many educated Spaniards felt the latest allegations were less about serious issues and more about a recent 'press war', in which Spain's newspapers have taken more to attacking each other than covering the issues at an important moment in Spain's history.
Justified or not, the latest allegations raised pre-election tension here as Mr Gonzalez and his arch-rival, Mr Aznar, leader of the conservative opposition Popular Party, prepared for their late-night debate. Analysts said the debate, the first of two, would be the key that would unlock the votes of six million Spaniards - 20 per cent of the electorate - said to be undecided.
Both men took a break from campaigning yesterday to prepare for the debate. Mr Aznar was said to have been 'briefed up to the eyebrows' by advisors, who had studied videotapes of past US presidential debates. Mr Gonzalez was said to be relying on his experience and natural ability.
What most objective Spaniards feared was that the debate would degenerate into a verbal re-run of the Spanish Civil War, a topic brought up by both leaders during their most ill-advised moments - and there have been many - in speeches around the country. The Socialists have raised the spectre of Franco's dictatorship when warning against a conservative victory. Mr Aznar has used the 'we are a whole new generation' theory, but was not helped at the weekend when a couple of people - two, out of many thousands of spectators, witnesses said - shouted 'Viva Franco' during one of his speeches.Reuse content