Suarez reshuffles Spanish Cabinet to earn credibility
Spanish Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez's sweeping Cabinet changes are aimed at reviving the flagging credibility of his minority center government. The most positive novelty of the reshuffle -- the fifth since Mr. Suarez took office four years ago -- is that the new Cabinet includes distinguished members of the ruling Democratic Center Union Party (UCD), who are better known for their expertise than for simply being loyal supporters of Mr. Suarez.
Two of the five new ministers have also been outspoken critics of Mr. Suarez's personal style of government. One is Rodolfo Martin Villa, who is now taking over the key post of minister of the regions.The other is Francisco Fernandez Ordonez, the leader of the more progressive Social Democrat group in the party who is assuming the combined porfolios of minister of justice and minister in charge of constitutional reform.
Mr. Suarez has evidently sought to neutralize his chief opponents in the party by bringing them into the government. He is trying to preempt any possibility of defections by more progressive UCD members to the Socialist Party , the second largest party in the country.
Some of the other changes brought about by the Cabinet reshuffle:
* The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be headed by a loyal Suarez supporter, Jose Pedro Perez Llorca.
* The newly combined ministries of commerce, tourism, and economy will beheaded by Social Democrat Juan Antonio Garcia Diez.
* The post of deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs has been taken over by Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo y Bustelo, former minister of European Community affairs. The community affairs post is going to be held by an outsider -- the UCD deputy for Catalonia, Eduardo Punset.
As a follow-up to the Cabinet reshuffle Mr. Suarez is going to submit himself to a vote of confidence in parliament on Sept. 16, after outlining a new economic program. The main emphasis of his program is to press ahead with liberalization measures, to contain the public sector deficit, and to halt unemployment. With more than 1.5 million Spaniards currently out of work, unemployment has become the government's main preoccupation.
A breakthrough, however, on the political front is what swayed Mr. Suarez's decision to go ahead with the vote of confidence. This concerns an agreement between the government and the conservative Catalan Nationalist Party (Convergencia I Unio), that was ratified Sept. 8.
According to this agreement, the government is going to grant the Catalans considerable autonomous powers and support the election of a left Republican Nationalist candidate as president of the new Catalan parliament. In return, the government, which now has 166 of the 350 seats in Madrid's parliament, is assured of a viable working majority under a pact with the Catalans, who control nine votes. The difficulty of finding a working parliamentary majority has been Mr. Suarez's main political problem for the past seven months. Several developments that seriously undermined the government's credibility, however, made a solution broader than the Catalan pact imperative. The UCD suffered electoral setbacks in the regional elections in Andalusia, the Basque country, and Catalonia earlier this year. Further underscoring the government's weakness , the UCD received no outside support when a censure motion presented by the Socialist Party was voted on in May. Twenty-one potential allies (including the Catalans) abstained.
The last straw came in July when Fernando Abril Martorell, then second deputy prime minister for economic affairs, resigned. Martorell -- along with Marcelino Oreja, the outgoing foreign minister -- was the only minister to have stayed in government during the four years that Mr. Suarez has been in office. He is also a longstanding personal friend of the prime minister.