Spain: Who Really Won?

Adolfo Suarez
Adolfo Suarez; drawing by David Levine

“Spain itself has won her new election”—so went the euphoric slogan on June 15. The Spaniards had not only brought off their first free vote in forty years but had satisfied their suppressed hankering for the new, the modern, the young. Juan Carlos, at thirty-nine, is a young king; President Adolfo Suárez—whose Center coalition (UCD) won with the slogan “vote Suárez, vote Center”—is forty-four. Felipe González, the Socialist leader of the opposition, is only thirty-five.

Suárez won—but then he did not win. His loose coalition of twelve small parties got 33.8 percent of the vote; but the three principal leftist parties together accounted for just over 42 percent. (González’s Socialist Workers Party [PSOE] had 28.7 percent, the Communists 9.2 percent, the Independent Socialists 4.3 percent.) Suárez knows, moreover, that he faces a more severe test when the municipal elections take place at the end of the year. The delegates just elected to the new Parliament, or Cortes, will be much occupied with a new constitution. The municipal elections will give voters a chance to sweep away much of the old bureaucratic apparatus which still heavily controls Spain; and here the Socialists may do better than even they would like.

Still Suárez won a remarkable victory—not against the left but against the right. He put together his assortment of twelve parties, most of them new, in order to have a convincing base from which to defeat the Alianza Popular led by Manuel Fraga. This is the well-financed party in which prominent supporters of Franco were most visible—the party that the London Economist last May estimated would get 20 percent of the vote. Suárez was brilliant in the way he demolished it. During the election the Popular Alliance was turned into the symbol of forty years of Franco. Fraga, Franco’s former ambassador to London, found himself in the role of the ancien régime villain; he lost control of his party, became bitter and strident, and during the last ten days underwent a collapse that reminded some American reporters of Richard Nixon’s.

Cast as Franco’s unpopular heir, Fraga no doubt wondered: why me? After all, Adolfo Suárez, only a few short years ago, was himself secretary of the Falangist party. But when Fraga was Minister of the Interior in Juan Carlos’s first cabinet, he was something of a bully. And running with him in this election were former Franquistas such as Arias Navarro, Franco’s brutal military prosecutor after the Civil War who was fired as premier by the king to make way for Suárez. Some of them openly defended Franco’s record. They could not shake off the smell of Fascism. The Spaniards took their revenge, giving Fraga’s party fewer votes than the Communists (8 percent).

Suárez is younger than Fraga, more quick-witted and agile, less compromised, far more dashing and handsome. More important, he is the king’s man, appointed president by him in 1976…

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