Recent Spanish history suggests that elections in this country should be savored, rather than analyzed, since until now most Spaniards have found them rationed at one to a lifetime. Anybody who had voted in a free election before this week's balloting for the Spanish Cortes had to be 62 years old or more.
It was in any event an election told better in sketches than by somber analysis, for Spain is a country where she conquistadores still thunder in the popular imagination and the long Moorish occupation has left its mark. More than any other Western European society, Spain spices its reality with Orient-Like screens and shadows, so that often things political are not what they seem.
Thus, the elections proved General-issimo Francisco Franco wrong - but not only in the way most people assumed: that Spaniards would be shown to be too violent or immature to hold elections again, even this long after the Civil War.
The elections also showed Franco wrong, or at least badly out of date, in believing that power had to be retained through a 1930s-style European dictatorship. This week's fair vote-casting gave control of the Parliament straight back to the government's political party, which used modern campaign techniques, the media and all the leverage of incumbency to win a victory impressive when looked at in the mirror held up by Suarez, but shallow when seen in a harsher light.
In a particular hotel in Madrid there is a particular bellhop whom I always head over to see during a visit to talk politics and to listen to his complaints about the government.
A sharp-featured, smallish man in his mid-50s, the bellhop has always been outspoken, even during the tense days when Franco lay dying in 1975. I think it was then that I concluded he was a plant who was telling me exactly what the government wanted me and other journalists to hear, and nothing more.
With that in mind, the bellhop became a useful sounding board of government concerns. Criticisms establish credibility: Published abroad they might help lead to change internally without direct confrontation. Moreover, deceptive leads could be planted without government responsibility.
But I was totally puzzled last week when the bellhop confidently told me he was going to vote for Felipe Gonzalez, the youthful leader of the Socialist Party and main rival to the government party of Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez. The socialists would win the election, the bellhop added.
In the following three days, a spate of newly established polling organizations, some of them commissioned by newspapers normally friendly to the government, released surveys showing the same result, and it looked as if Suarez was in trouble. Although the polls' data was skimpy and their origins obscure, the surveys dominated discussion of the election.
In short, it had all the markings of an orchestrated scare campaign, to get conservative voters out to the polls for Suarez, overstatd the expected Socialist vote and make the Socialist total look relatively smaller if it fell short of the projected figures.
On this side of the election, the numbers game is being played the other way. Pulling about 35 per cent of the vote, Suarez is winding up with nearly half of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies because of the weighted proportional representation that he put into effect for this election.
The official national news agency, Cifra, stopped giving popular-vote totals and instead stressed that Suarez party was winning 48 per cent of the seats in the Chamber.
Suarez has proved, unexpectedly, to be brillant at this kind of minor manipulation of the modern tools of politics, scorned by Franco who kept Spain not only isolated from the rest of Western Europe, but behind it.
The 44-year-old prime minister, appointed by Franco's chosen successor, King Juan Carlos, took in fact few risks in this election, which served as an educational exercise for the Spanish after four decades of political dictatorship.
Resting in the shade of an arcade of wooden balconies that crown one of Spain's loveliest central plazas, a landowner in the Castille farming town of Chinchon gave one assessment of Suarez's ability to convince his countrymen that they can take politics at a Western European pace now.
"Suarez lost some votes here when he legalized the Communists, that's true. We are a quiet town, and the Communists only have the people with a grudge, people who lost somebody in the war or after, under Franco. We do not like them. But then Suarez went to the United States, and we knew that he wasn't a Communist and that it was all right.
"After that, the right did not have to campaign here," he said, acknowledging the pressure the land-owners can bring by passing out pre-marked ballots to day-workers. "And the result was very good."
In parliamentary and power terms, the result is good for Suarez and his backers. What those backers do not yet seem to have focused on is that the combined popular vote totals for the left, principally the Socialists and the Communists, are 1.5 million higher than those of all right-wing and center-right parties.
A taxi rattles through Madrid near dawn as vote totals are nearly complete, and the inevitable interiocutor for visiting journalists - the taxi-driver - delivers himself of his view on the difference between a learning process and democract.
"It is probably good that Suarez won this time. The country was not ready to go from Franco's rule straight to socialism. In four years, the Socialists will be ready to rule after they win those elections. It is not until then that we will know if Juan Carlos and Suarez are real democrats."
It is an analysis that bears striking resemblance to those being put forward right now by high-priced diplomatic and journalistic talent from other countries. There is a measure of agreement that it is the next set of election that count for Spain, now that a trial effort has gone well.
he Socialists and Communists are gearing up for strong campaigns for the municipal elections, where they expect to win impressively. The mayor of Valencia, a Franco appointee, resigned today, saying that the election results had shown that "I am not the kind of mayor the people want."
Although the Parliament was elected for four years, the next legislative elections could come sooner. It will depend in large part on how fast Suarez moves in getting the Cortes in write a new constitution and dismantle the Franco system completely. The Socialists think that can be done in two years or less. Gonzalez said today that "Spain will be a new country" by then.
Suarez, however,is committed to a four-year stretch for Parliament. Once again, he seems to be finding a common interest in not risking his job rashly and allowing democratic reform to proceed here with all due deliberate speed.