THE FIRST parliamentary elections in more than 40 years were held in Spain last week, and they were almost as notable for what they didn't produce as for what they did. Consider just a few of the (happily) missing developments: widespread violence . . . massive and obstructive leftist street demonstrations . . . military intervention leading to either a right-wing-led coup or a resumption in some form of the Spanish civil war. These were among te worst-case prospects widely discussed and worried about since the death of General Franco and the ascension to power of the young King Juan Carlos put Spain - belatedly - on the road to democratic self-expression.

That none of it happened, and that the election seems to have produced a progressive, moderate centrist basis for a new government, is in large part owing to the political good sense and sensitivity of Juan Carlos and his appointed Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez. Acting for the king, Mr. Suarez - whose own Democratic Center group did best in the elections - went very far in permitting genuinely free and open elections. Notably they granted the Communist Party a degree of freedom and legality sufficient to participate in the elections and do badly, which it did. The far left just did not have that fake, romantic issue it loves to exploit, namely, a claim that its working class minions are being repressed and rendered voiceless by the outlawing of the Communist Party. Mr. Suarez also managed to co-opt the strongly Francoist-oriented right-wing Popular Alliance of Manuel Fraga. He did this by running himself.

Mr. Suarez is 44 years old. Felipe Gonzales, the powerful and committed young democratic socialist whose party came in second, is 35 years old. However Spain's political parties shape and reshape themselves in the days and months ahead, it seems fairly certain that the forces - center right and center left - which these two relatively young men represent - will dominate Spanish politics and define its main arena of combat. This is an important fact to hold onto as you contemplate, perhaps with a certain irony and nostalgia and sense of the historical moment, the return to Spanish politics of such legendary warhouses as Santiago Carillo and La Pasionara herself, the two prominent, aging Communists who were elected to parliament.For what the Spanish voters seemed to be saying in this election was that they are no longer haunted or mesmerized by the civil war and its politics. They have chosen modern people to tackle modern problems: the drafting of a new constitution; the fashioning of an economic program to deal with the familiar woes of foreign debt, unemployment and inflation; the negotiation of their way into Europe. A lot can yet be reversed. A lot can go wrong. But, provisional though it may be, the news from Spain last week was good.