Spaniards have started voting in the first general elections since the country became a constitutional democracy last December.
GV Spanish voters casting ballots and Opposition leader, Felipe Gonzalez surrounded by supporters (2 shots)
SV PULL OUT FROM Gonzalez shaking hands with officials as he leaves
SV & CU Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez, casting his vote, surrounded by supporters (3 shots)
GV Voters under umbrellas walking through snow to ballot boxes in San Rafael (2 shots)
SV Voters casting ballots (3 shots)
GV PAN Street in Bilbao
CU Poster on wall PULL OUT TO polling booth was officials standing by
SV & CU People voting (2 shots)
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Background: Spaniards have started voting in the first general elections since the country became a constitutional democracy last December. The first day of voting was on Thursday (1 March) and heavily-armed police reinforcements guarded polling station throughout the country. But there were no incidents.
SYNOPSIS: Opinion polls predicted a tough fight between the ruling centre Democratic Union, led by Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez, and the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, headed by Felipe Gonzalez has earned himself the name "Hurricane Felipe" -- because of his Socialists narrowly behind the Centre Democrats, or UCD. But the youthful Mr. Gonzalez believes he can cause an upset -- and he is promising to take his Socialist party to government for the first time in the forty years.
Campaigning for the election has lasted three weeks. There are some nine thousand candidates contesting 558 Parliamentary seats in Congress and the Senate.
The ruling Centre Democratic Party, under Mr. Suarez, needs 176 seats for an absolute majority. Until now they have returned power with only 158 seats, but this has been achieved mainly through the co-operation of the Socialists and Communists. Many political observers believe that the election will produce little change in the present party structure.
Despite snow and rain over much of the country, voters turned out in large numbers on Thursday to decide who will govern Spain for the next four years. Reports from polling stations indicated that the rate of abstentions would be lower than that recorded in the June, 1977, elections. Centre Democrat officials fear that a high abstention rate would favour the Opposition Socialist and Communist parties. They believe that the more committed followers of leftist parties would go to the polls, despite the bad weather.
In Bilbao -- in the heart of Basque country -- voters turned out in large numbers. There was heavy security in the region where the guerrilla organisation, ETA, claims to have killed eighteen people so far this year
But on Thursday, no violence was reported. If the elections result in neither the Centre Democrats nor the Socialists winning an overall majority in Parliament, many political commentators believe Spain could enter a lengthy period of political uncertainty. Some say it will be May or June before a new government is finally formed.