Gonzalez party in poll row: Divisions bedevil ruling Socialists

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The Independent Online
IT IS neck and neck in Spain's general election race. And that is only within Felipe Gonzalez's ruling Socialist Party. Seven weeks before election day, and five weeks before official campaigning opens, Mr Gonzalez's pressing problem is to find a balance within the party between his own liberal wing and traditional left-wingers.

In an attempt to control his own campaign, Mr Gonzalez surprised the left-wingers on Thursday by including in his election campaign committee his right-hand man, the Deputy Prime Minister, Narcis Serra, a liberal from Catalonia. The radicals were not amused. During tough inter-party bargaining last weekend, they said, Mr Gonzalez had not mentioned Mr Serra. The Prime Minister had given the distinct impression that the left- wing faction would control the campaign committee, they said. A supporter of Mr Gonzalez, struggling to keep a straight face yesterday, responded with a Spanish phrase roughly equivalent to 'tough luck'.

The continuing Socialist Party squabbling did not augur well for a meeting of its national leadership on Monday, at which Mr Gonzalez is to be formally appointed candidate for his fourth term as Prime Minister. Mr Gonzalez believes the party must move more towards the centre while the left-wingers, led by the deputy party leader Alfonso Guerra, say the left holds the key to election victory.

There is no question that Mr Gonzalez would be named candidate under normal circumstances. Without his leadership, the party would probably be doomed to defeat. The question is: will circumstances be normal on Monday? Will the left back down with a view to the 6 June elections, or do they feel strongly enough to question Mr Gonzalez's leadership with an eye on the next elections four years hence? Mr Gonzalez has said he would not run then and has hinted he may stand down in mid-term, should he win this time.

Meanwhile, both leading parties, the Socialists and the conservative Popular Party (PP), began jettisoning, or trying to dump, members whose names had been linked with corruption. Carlos Collado, the Socialist Prime Minister of Murcia, one of

the country's 17 autonomous regions, resigned as the party prepared to dismiss him. He had been accused of lining his own pocket in a land deal involving the American multinational company General Electric.

The PP Prime Minister of another regional community, Cantabria, was refusing to resign yesterday, despite pressure from his party. Juan Hormaechea, accused of diverting public funds, hinted that if he were not listed as a PP candidate, he would run for a smaller party.