Spanish polls give lead to right: Undecided voters hold key as main parties appear short of majority

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The Independent Online
SPAIN'S opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) would win most votes in next Sunday's general elections but would still be at least 20 seats short of an absolute majority in the 350-seat Congress (lower house).

That was the result of opinion polls published by various newspapers yesterday, which differed only in the margin by which the PP was leading Felipe Gonzalez's ruling Socialist Party.

The polls' most dramatic finding was that between 17 and 34 per cent said they had not yet made up their minds. A surge one way or the other in the final days of campaigning, perhaps after tonight's final television debate between Mr Gonzalez and the PP leader, Jose Maria Aznar, could still create an absolute majority for either party.

A poll published in El Pais gave the PP 34.8 per cent of the vote to the Socialists' 34.5 per cent, for a maximum of 155 seats for the former and 151 for the latter. Another, in El Mundo, suggested a far bigger gap - 155 to 142 - but still left Mr Aznar 26 short of the absolute majority figure of 176.

Most of the polls suggested regional Basque and Catalan nationalists would win at least 26 seats. Both have indicated they would be prepared to join a coalition with whichever of the two main parties won most seats.

Ironically, the polls suggested that a PP led by Mr Gonzalez would walk away with the vote. Despite his party's poor showing, 52 per cent of those questioned in the poll for El Pais said Mr Gonzalez would make the better prime minister, against 24 per cent for Mr Aznar.

Mr Gonzalez, who took a surprise beating from the less- experienced Mr Aznar in the first of two television debates last Monday, took yesterday off from campaigning to prepare for tonight's second leg. Again, Mr Aznar, concerned about Mr Gonzalez's four-and-a-half-inch height advantage, won the right to a seated debate.

The Prime Minister countered by insisting on face-to-face desks, instead of those angled towards the moderator as in the first debate, in response to taunts from Mr Aznar that the Prime Minister had been afraid to look him in the eye.

The increasingly confident Mr Aznar took another leaf from the 'All-American Guide to Election Campaigning' when the PP turned a Saturday night meeting into a highly un-Spanish, strongly US party convention-style extravaganza.

A super-cool Mr Aznar, who had already ditched his tie, limited himself to conservative gyrations - swaying merely an inch or two - as a group called Greta and the Garbos provided the meeting's disco beat. The group, though somewhat taken aback, played bravely on as the audience opted to follow Mr Aznar out after his keynote speech.

It was the most colourful touch to the weekend's campaigning. Except, perhaps, for a 'Backwards March' by Green Party candidates in Alicante. To draw attention to the plight of small and medium-sized businesses, the Greens walked backwards through the streets of the Mediterranean resort to the bemusement of British tourists.

(Photograph omitted)