When Felipe Gonzalez, early in the campaign, was asked whether as premier he would like to be known as "Comrade presidente," he rapidly dispelled analogies with Chile's ill-fated Socialist president, Salvador Allende, replying that he would expect to be addressed as "Senor presidente." The likelihood, however, is that he will continue to known simply as "Felipe."
The Socialist triumph in Spain is above all due to the charisma that Gonzalez has exerted over a population avid for new faces and new inspirations. To the crowds who greeted him during the campaign with the rythmic chant of "Fe-li-pe pre-si-den-te," the Socialist leader projected, aside from his youth and personal charm, an ethical appeal for a compassionate society that transcended the confines of party doctrine.
The feeling among Gonzalez supporters is that Spaniards have elected their favorite older brother, their wise, best friend or their idealized son. Gonzalez's opponents say that the electorate has fallen for a handsome face and a series of vague platitudes. Behind "Felipe's" broad appeal, opponents claim, is a skillful Socialist Party machinery making full use of a perfect candidate.
His socialist commitment aside, Gonzalez would be an ideal candidate for any party. He has a good looking wife, Carmen, who teaches literature at a high school, and three children who go to neighborhood schools -- the youngest, Maria, 3, to a nursery because the Gonzalez household has no domestic servants. Appropriately for a Socialist leader, Gonzalez lives in a small apartment in a respectable but low-income part of Madrid.
His public approvingly views Gonzalez's lifestyle as simple, unpretentious, even austere. It is in keeping with his childhood in a working-class suburb of the southern city of Seville. His father ran a modest dairy farm and Gonzalez was the only one in his family of four to get a college education.
But Gonzalez is at his best as a candidate on the public platform. He delivers an impassioned plea to regain "faith in Spain and in ourselves;" to work "shoulder-to-shoulder, elbow-to-elbow, to build a freer and more just society;" and to be able to say "at the end of each day, each month, each year, things are getting better, we are making together a better Spain for our children." There is no socialist ideology. Gonzalez is the agent for change and hope.
The path to nationwide recognition started under the nom de guerre of Isidoro, used by Gonzalez in his days of clandestinity and known only by a small group of Socialist militants. It was as Isidoro, in the mid-1960s, that he began contacting like-minded leftists in his hometown of Seville where he had set up a labor law office.
In Seville, and its surrounding region of Andalusia, Gonzalez reconstructed the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, which had been decimated by the Franco repression and was out of touch with an aged leadership that had chosen exile in France. From his southern power base -- Gonzalez's friends of the 1960s have been dubbed the "Seville Mafia" and continue to hold senior party posts -- the young lawyer fanned out to the rest of Spain establishing links with pockets of young Socialists in Madrid University and with worker leaders in the northern industrial town of Bilbao, a traditional leftist stronghold.
In 1974, a year before Franco's death, Gonzalez, then 32, wrested control of the party at a secret convention of Spanish Socialists held in Suresnes, a suburb of Paris. Within three years democratic elections were held in Spain and the Socialists captured 30 percent of the vote, second only to the centrists of the Union of the Democratic Center. With Francoist bans on political activity lifted, Felipe replaced Isidoro.
Gonzalez's potential as a leader had been spotted early in the 1960s by his life-long friend Alfonso Guerra, now deputy leader of the party. Guerra, then an arts student at Seville University where Gonzalez was studying law, stresses his friend's ability to communicate: "Felipe can talk to 30,000 people at a rally and make everyone of them think he is talking to them personally."
Another friend from clandestinity, Jose Maria Maravall, then a sociology student in Madrid and now a party executive officer, recalls Gonzalez's persuasiveness: "Felipe was able to bring together a variety of people on the left in the university and make them believe in his projects."
The background of clandestinity is what leads conservative opponents to charge that Gonzalez is unfit for the responsibilities of office. Gonzalez and his team are viewed as rank outsiders in the charmed circle of the moneyed oligarchy that has supplied Spain's political class for generations.
Gonzalez rejects charges of incompetence and immaturity, saying that he has had longer experience of democratic politics than any of his rightist adversaries who carved their careers in the Francoist administration. Gonzalez says that, as the leading Spanish Socialist, he has, for the past decade, had close contact with a wide range of politicians, including Fidel Castro (who supplies him with huge Havana cigars) and Willy Brandt (who has exerted considerable influence on him).
In bringing his party to its position as the chief political force in the land, Gonzalez has shown an ability to keep a tight rein on his rank-and-file and a sense of broadening out to include ever greater segments of society. When asked how it is that within seven years of Franco's death the Socialists are in power, Gonzalez explains that he and his party, far more than any other grouping, mirror "the general post-Franco desire for social, cultural and political change."
In moving toward a broad appeal, Gonzalez, in 1979, threatened resignation to force a party convention to drop the Marxist label.
"Socialism," he told the convention, "cannot assume Marxism to be an absolute value that marks the dividing line between what is true and false, just and unjust."
Among friends Gonzalez develops his theme that democracy and its consolidation comes first and the building of socialism takes a firm second place.
"I had to wait until I was 34 before I was able to vote. I want my son Pablo age 10 to vote in eight years time," he says. "There will be a lot of party members saying isn't it time we started being real Socialist, and they'll be right and it might be time for me to quit."