Spain has gone through its first open political campaign in 41 years with scarcely a mention being made of the man who elimated political choice from Spanish life during his rule. Generalissimo Francisco France.
"It is only foreigners who ask about Franco," said Manuel Bueno, a youthful-looking campaign strategist for the Democratic Center group, as he sipped a soft drink in the center's campaign headquarters this morning.
"The Spanish want to forget that time, to forget him and get on with modern times. There were no votes to be won attacking or defending Franco."
Nineteen months after Franco's death and the coming to power of King Juan Carlos, Spanish voters will go to the polls Wednesday to elect a Parliament that will further diminish Franco's dwindling heritage.
Spain is almost certain to emerge from the balloting with a new political generation replacing the men and women who supported or opposed Franco. The country will also get its first strong opposition party in four decades.
These are two of the most important probably results of an election that will not bring full-fledged democracy to Spain, but will bring the system here more into line with the democracies of Wester Europe and the United States, whose support and economic ties King Juan Carlos is seeking by holding these elections.
The King's powers to rule by decree and to name any prime minister the desires will not be affected by this election. Other safeguards enable him to block any parliamentary moves that threaten his powers.
But the unfettered choice among nine major political groupings ranging from the Communists to neo-fascists that is bring offered to the 22 million voters expected to turn out is having the effect of modernizing Spanish political's life after four decades of hibernation.
The campaigns itself has already helped bring SPain up to date. Candidates have commissioned public-opinion polls, flitted across the country in hired jets and poured millions of dollars into unconvincing radio spots, four-color pamphlets and machine-autographed mass mailings.
Private banks have advanced much of that campaign money in loans under an unusual public-financing scheme that has made the bankers the most important political handicappers on the scene.
The Franco-ers old guard of both the left and the right has done poorly with an electorate whose most salient feature is that no one under 62 has ever voted in a free election.
The two clearly dominant figures of the campaign are the Democratic Center's Adolfo Suarez, 44, who is also the king's appointed prime minister, and Socialist Party leader Felipe Gonzalez, 35.
Bueno and other campaign workers for Suarez predicted this morning that the prime minister would win one-third of the popular vote, which wil give him about 45 per cent of the 350 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.
The weighted proportional voting system being used favors the rural areas, where Suarez expects to do well.
Last-minute public-opinion polls strongly indicated that Gonzalez's Socialists would emerge from the balloting as the largest single party. Estimates of the Socialists' voting power ranged from 20 per cent to nearly 30 per cent of the polls, which appear to be based on small, unscientifically chosen samples.
The Democratic Center is a loosly0knit coalition of 12 small right-of-center parties that joined together when it became clear that none of them had an important following.
Suarez, plucked by the king from the obscurity of the bureaucracy of Franco's National Movement Party and made prime minister last July, originally intended to stay out of the race. His job depends on the king's pleasure, not on election results.
But the strong surge by the Socialists forced Suarez into the race in an effort to rally the Democratic Center, whose continued existence as an organized group after the distribution of seats in Parliament is open to question.
The leading contenders for a third-place finish with about 10 per cent of the popular vote, are the Communists and the right-wing Popular Alliance, headed by former Franco minister Manuel Fraga.
The polls show Fraga's group scoring as low as 5 per cent. It has gone into a nosedive since the beginning of the campaign.
But those same polls show a third of the sample electorate refusing to say how they will vote. Fraga is evidently hoping that he will pick up a large chunk of the esilent voters, who may be apprehensive about saying publicly that they support the man who has most stridently attacked Suarez during the campaign.
Gonzalez has made a favorable impression on many middle-class Spaniards-the natural constituency for Suarez-with his breezy, non-ideological manner, which contrasts sharply with the stiffer, more authoritarian image of Suarez. And however subliminal the Franco issue has been, the prime minister's past connection with the Franco system also appeared to be eroding his position in the final days of the campaign, which ended Monday.
Manuel Bueno of the Democratic Center estimated that the coalition had put about $1.4 million into the three-week campaign, and said the Socialists and Fraga's party had spent at least as much.
Diplomats and Spanish journalists put the spending at much higher levels, with $3 million minimum for each of the three big-spending parties.
Under the campaign law, the state reimburses a party $15,000 for each of its candidates elected and from 22 to 66 cents for each vote cast for all of its candidates. Unofficial estimates put the total bill to the government at about $25 million.