Spanish Premier Adolfo Suarez has been forced to campaign for the Wednesday parliamentary elections because neither his handsome face on posters nor his record as a Democratic reformer has sparked a groundswell of support for his eight-week-old party, the Center Democratic Union.
The premier, 44, who had promised that he would not be an active participant in Spain's first free political race since the 1936-'39 civil war, has responded with a strong final drive for his favored but stagnant party.
In answer to an appeal from supporters in Barcelona, he flew there yesterday to promote his party in a region where nationalists and leftists are running strong. On Monday he is to speak on nationwide television to promote the party's candidates in Spain's 53 provinces.
Apparently taking advantage of the country's conditioning during nearly four decades of dictatorship to accept government leadership, the Center Democratic Union has mailed letters signed by Suarez to millions of voters. The letters include sample ballots for the Assembly and the Senate.
Saying "government obligations" preclude Suarez's "active dedication to the electoral campaign," the letters ask recipients to vote for Suarez and his party's slate.
The premier also reviewed his record for the past 11 months and expressed his expectations in an interview with Europa Press, an independent Spanish news agency. In written answers to the agency's questions, Suarez said he will not remain in office unless he obtains a "parliamentary majority that will permit me to govern efficiently."
A poster put up all over Spain proclaims: "To vote for the center is to vote for Suarez."
The premier's strong push in the final weekend of the campaign appeared to be in response to opinion polls indicating that many Spanish voters are turning to the Socialist Workers Party and that the Communists are doing better than anticipated, particularly in Madrid and Barcelona.
On Wednesday he went to Cebreros, his hometown in Avila Province, during the Roman Catholic holiday Corpus Christi. It was a totally political trip that got national attention and boosted party morale.
The premier kissed babies, hugged old ladies, went into bars, marched in a religious procession, and drove to town standing up in his bullet-proof limousine and waving at crowds lining the streets.
"Suarez must do more of that sort of thing," said a party leader. "Otherwise we may end up like Thomas Dewey and go down in defeat because of overconfidence."
The problem for the party is whether the premier's popularity among 48 per cent of Spain's 23.6 million voters can be transfereed to his party, a coalition of liberals, Christian Democrats and independents known as "Suarez's 12 Tribes."
When Suarez announced that he was going to run for Parliament early last month, it appeared that a majority of the Spanish voters would follow his lead and give the Center Democratic Union a majority in the two chambers that will be elected Wednesday.
Recent polls indicate however, that the premier's party has stagnated. It is still running first and will no doubt be the top party in the new 350-member Assembly and 209-member Senate. But no longer is it clear that Suarez and his party will have a working majority.
King Juan Carlos will help the party in the senate. He can appoint 43 senators and it is certain that he will not name anybody opposed to the reforms that the premier, with the monarch's backing, has fosted.
Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, who quit the Cabinet to run the party, believes that Suzrez does not need and does not want a parliamentary majority. He has suggested that the premier - who will be appointed by the king - can form a working parliamentary majority with "other groups," presumably leftist Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Prof. Enrique Tierno Galvan's Popular Socialists.
When Center Democratic Union leaders appear on television, behind them is a picture of the premier they don't talk about issues but discuss moderate and say that the road to national reconciliation is that proposed by their party.
Suarez and the Center Democratic Union stress that the primary task of Spain's first free Parliament in 41 years will be to write a new constitution, draft an economic and fiscal reform law, and deal with the self-rule demands of the Basque and Catalan Provinces.
But the party - clearly with the premier's approval - insists that the parliament will not be dissolved after it writes a constitution to replace the one left by the late dictator, Francisco Franco.
The left, however, which is running stronger than expected, is campaigning for new elections after a "Democratic Constitution" is approved.
Although sheltered by the power of office, Suarez has been the target of strong attacks. The most virulent, however, have come from neither the left nor the right - but from Jose Maria de Areilza, a democratic conservative who was the monarchy's first foreign minister.
Areilza has charged that the premier is not bringing democracy to Spanish. He is merely changing the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] dictatorsip. A monarchist [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of France, Suarez and the king. Areilza has criticized the premier's reforms because they give too much power to the monarch and to the government.
Areilza's hostility is both personal and political. He was ousted as a Centrist leader last March to make way for Suarez. The clumsy power-play hurt the center and deprived moderates of one of Spain's most effective public speakers.
The right calls Suarez a traitor for dismantling the Franco dictatorship and for reviving "liberal democracy" in Spain. He is reviled for legalizing the Communist Party and for freeing Basque separatists jailed for political violence.
Manuel Fraga, head of the Francoist Popular Alliance, says that "history" will "judge" the premier for releasing those who threatened the country's unity.
Suarez considered Fraga his strongest political opponent before the campaign began. But Fraga's Francoist rhetoric and rought campaign style have scared off many Spaniards. Polls show that the former Francoist minister and the king's first interior minister has faded sharply in the esteem of an electorate that appears to want to forget Franco and the civil war.