Spain's right-wing opposition fights back: Gonzalez on the run as Popular Party battles for the political centre

SPAIN'S general election campaign period was officially designated yesterday as being from 21 May to 4 June, but the conservative opposition leader Jose Maria Aznar lost no time in elbowing his way into the crucial battlefield of the undecided political centre. His Popular Party (PP) was not of the right but of the centre-right, he insisted, and would 'seek enough of a majority to put Spain in shape'. To ensure the elevation of the latter phrase from cliche to campaign slogan, he ran it by his audience of reporters one more time: 'We will put Spain in shape.'

The beleaguered Socialist Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, facing an economic downturn, a corruption scandal and a left-wing mutiny within his Socialist Party, had announced the previous day that early elections would be held on 6 June instead of in the autumn as scheduled. If the Socialists are running scared, the PP is full of confidence.

Voters, though, appear to be hedging their bets. The last opinion poll put the two leading parties neck and neck, but each with less than 30 per cent of planned votes, making a fragile coalition with smaller or regional parties likely. The left-wing United Left and the regional parties in the Basque country and Catalonia will almost certainly hold the balance of power.

The Cortes (parliament) was formally dissolved yesterday with publication of Mr Gonzalez's move in the official state gazette. The new chambers, the House of Deputies and the Senate, would first meet on 27 June, it said, and a new prime minister would have to be named within two months.

Mr Aznar's emphasis on the 'centre' of his party's 'centre-right' was aimed at allaying lasting fears of the right less than two decades after the end of the 40-year Franco dictatorship. Distancing himself just enough from the Franco image, while retaining the vital support of the Francoists themselves, will be the PP leader's balancing-act in the run-up to the poll. For the first time in Spain's recent history, the spreading 'centre', in a reaction to the extremes of the recent past, looks like holding the majority of votes.

With his charisma, sincerity, honest image and choirboy good looks, a freelance Mr Gonzalez might normally walk away with the centre vote. To his thinly disguised disgust, however, he is shackled to an increasingly anachronistic left by party ideologues.

Mr Aznar's problem is the opposite. His party should benefit from voters' desire for a change, but he lacks charisma and has alienated many through his heavy-handed, sarcastic attacks on Mr Gonzalez. There are many who may no longer wish to vote for Mr Gonzalez but are angered by Mr Aznar's lack of respect.

Calling the early poll, Mr Gonzalez blamed a sour political climate which he said was tying the government's hands. The PP accused him of waiting too long to call the election and of eventually acting in his own and his party's interest rather than that of the country. Left-wing trade union leaders put the boot in from the other side, saying the early election would jeopardise their hard-fought 'Strike Law', a controversial, still-pending parliamentary bill that would leave Spain's strike-prone workers with rights that employers regard as 'a nightmare'.

----------------------------------------------------------------- Table: Spanish House of Deputies ----------------------------------------------------------------- Socialists 175 (39.6%) Popular Party 107 (25.8%) CiU 18 (5%) United Left 17 (9.1%) CDS 14 (7.9%) Basque Nationalists 5 (1.2%) Others 14 (11.4%) ----------------------------------------------------------------- Chart shows the number of seats each party won in 1989, according to percentage of votes received. CiU is the Convergence and Union Party, Catalonia. CDS is the Democratic and Social Centre Party -----------------------------------------------------------------

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed