Troubles for 'the local boy': Spain's Prime Minister is losing support on his home territory, writes Phil Davison in Seville

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The Independent Online
ANDALUSIA, the most populous of Spain's 17 regions, is known for producing sweet, juicy oranges, fine, dry sherry and Felipe Gonzalez. The oranges just get sweeter, the sherry never ceases to get finer but the Socialist Prime Minister is one Andalusian export who may have reached his sell-by date.

Since the young Seville lawyer, who had opposed Franco as a young underground socialist codenamed Isidro, took the Socialists to a dramatic victory throughout Spain in 1982, Andalusia has been the most loyal stronghold of his Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE). According to opinion polls, however, the PSOE has lost ground dramatically to the rising conservative opposition and Mr Gonzalez's home region threatens to be what one daily newspaper called 'his Waterloo' in Sunday's general elections.

Demonstrating the vital importance of the region, where more seats are at stake than anywhere else, the opposition leader Jose Maria Aznar held one of his last campaign meetings in Seville last night. Mr Gonzalez plans to play the 'local boy' card to the limit by closing his campaign here tonight, in the city where he was born and brought up. It will be his last chance to brake his party's slide in Andalusia, where 61 of the Madrid parliament's 350 seats are at stake on Sunday. While the two big party leaders are, as always, running in Madrid, their deputies are running in Seville.

Based on the 1989 general elections, the PSOE holds 42 of those seats, Mr Aznar's Partido Popular (PP) 12, the Communist-led Izquierda Unida (United Left) five and the regional nationalists of the Partido Andalucista (PA) two. The polls, however, suggest the Socialists could drop to around 28 seats while the PP could rise to 19 and the Izquierda Unida to 10.

'The road to triumph passes through Andalusia,' said Mr Aznar, unconsciously quoting the Moorish leaders who used to storm through the region.

In the doorway of his home in the working class Seville barrio of Bellavista, grey-haired Antonio Gomez declined to reveal yesterday for whom he would vote. But he was sure it would not be for the man who grew up in the same house: Mr Gonzalez.

Although the Prime Minister remains popular and relatively trusted, his party can hardly make the same claim. It was here in Seville that the first corruption case shook the PSOE three years ago. That was when a businessman called Juan Guerra, brother of Alfonso Guerra, Mr Gonzalez's then deputy prime minister, was found to be using a government office to conduct private business for which he was allegedly relying on his brother's influence. Alfonso Guerra was forced to resign from the government job but remains deputy leader of the PSOE, organised the election campaign and heads the party's list of candidates as deputy for Seville. His brother is on trial.

Mr Gonzalez's wife, Carmen Romero, is running again in the port city of Cadiz. Under the list system - she is number two and the PSOE is predicted to win at least five seats - she will probably be re-elected. Ms Romero has been criticised for having been as quiet as a mouse in the Congress since 1989. But she has a reputation for a hands-on approach at the local level.

Andalusia's regional government, run by the Socialists, has been hit by the recession, increasing criticism of enchufismo ('being connected' or jobs-for- the-boys-and-girls) and by worsening drought. There is a surplus of rainwater in northern Spain, but Mr Gonzalez's government has had trouble creating a system to transport water to the south - partly because of regional selfishness.

Mr Aznar's party has been making most inroads, according to the polls, in Andalusia's cities, while the fruit and vegetable farmworkers in the countryside, reaping the benefits of Socialist- introduced subsidies during their off-seasons, are likely to remain loyal to the local boy.

As in the case of the Barcelona Olympics for Catalans, the euphoria of Expo 92 turned into a hangover for many Sevillians, and opinions are split over whether the extravaganza was a waste of money as the country headed for recession. A phoenix rose from the ashes of Expo in the name of Cartuja 93, a technology park, and the Park of Discoveries, a kind of cultural and amusement park using some of the original Expo pavilions, is to open next week.

Recession or no, Mr Gonzalez remains proud of Expo, which he saw as a symbol of Spain's leap into modernity. It is not by chance that he will close his campaign tonight before thousands of supporters on a site in full view of the Expo island.

Leading article, page 23