Spanish set for life after Gonzalez Socialists

ELIZABETH NASH

Madrid

The two main contenders in Spain's general election concluded their campaigns yesterday with an appeal to uncommitted voters, possibly 20 per cent of the electorate, whose decision tomorrow could determine whether the opposition conservative Popular Party wins an absolute majority.

The PP, under Jose Maria Aznar, has campaigned for change and renewal. In his final message yesterday he insisted on the need for a changeover and promised strong, efficient government. Lifting the concept of fear from the Socialists' vocabulary, he urged voters not to be afraid to opt for "the change that Spain needs".

The Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, has defended what he calls the historical changes his 13-year government achieved. At the climax of a campaign marked by warnings of the return of the right, he recalled the old Republican slogan of the civil war: "No pasaran!" (They shall not pass). The cry still stirs the heart of many Spanish progressives, though younger voters may find it mystifying.

Mr Gonzalez urged left-wingers not to waste their votes on the pro-Communist United Left, led by Julio Anguita, which, by dividing the left, amounted to a vote for the PP. In his final radio interview yesterday, Mr Gonzalez regretted corruption had damaged his government, and admitted it had wounded him. But he defended his former interior minister Jose Barrionuevo, accused by the Supreme Court of masterminding a dirty war against Eta separatists in the 1980s.

In the closing days of the campaign each leader mobilised a claque of show-business figures. Julio Iglesias, an erstwhile Gonzalez fan, mounted the platform at a PP rally to pledge himself to the conservative cause "with my soul and with my head" and passionately kissed Mr Aznar's hand.

The Socialists won the support of the Andalucian-born Hollywood star Antonio Banderas, who sent them a video in which he says "I continue to believe in Felipe Gonzalez as a statesman".

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