THE EXPERIENCE OF SPAIN FROM DICTATORSHIP TO DEMOCRACY
The democratization after the Franco dictatorship that King Juan Carlos and his collaborators peacefully and legally brought to Spain over a three-year period was unprecedented. Never before had a dictatorial regime been transformed into a pluralistic, parliamentary democracy without civil war, revolutionary overthrow, or defeat by a foreign power.
When Prince Juan Carlos took the oath as King of Spain on November 22, 1975 the rapid democratization that followed with the appointment of Suarez as Prime Minister was impressive, the collaboration between the King and his Prime Minister was crucial in pacifying opposition from both the supporters of the old regime and those who agitated for a more radical break with the past. Whereas Prime Minister Suarez's political expertise and pragmatic approach enabled him to influence the bureaucratic machinery, King Juan Carlos's ability to maintain the allegiance of the armed forces made a peaceful transition to democracy possible during these precarious months.
In July 1976, the government declared a partial amnesty that freed approximately 400 political prisoners. On 10 September 1976, Prime Minister Suarez announced a program of political reform, calling for a legislature based on universal suffrage. In November 1976 with skillful maneuvering Prime Minister Suarez with the encouragement of King Juan Carlos was able to persuade members of the Cortes (parliament) to approve the law, thereby voting their own institution out of existence. The reforms were then submitted to a national referendum in December 1976. The Spanish people voted overwhelmingly in favor of reform: 94 percent of the voters (78 percent of the electorate took part in the referendum) gave their approval. The results of the referendum strengthened the position of the Suarez Government and of the King and represented a vindication for those who favored reform from above rather than revolution.
In the first six months of 1977, significant reforms were enacted in rapid succession. There were further pardons for political prisoners in March 1977; independent trade unions replaced vertical and labor syndicates; and the right to strike was restored. In April 1977 the National Movement was disbanded.
Prime Minster Suarez and the King began to prepare the Spanish people for the first free elections - to be held on June 15, 1977 - since the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The legalization of political parties began in February 1977, and an electoral law outlining the rules for electoral competition was negotiated with opposition political forces and went into effect in March 1977. The government adopted the d'Hondt system of proportional representation, which favored the formation of large parties or coalitions.
A major situation appeared to be in the offing over the issue of legalizing the Communist Party of Spain (Partido Comunista de Espana - PCE). The political parties of the left and the center-left demanded legal recognition or else refused to participate in the elections. Prime Minster Suarez feared a strong reaction from military leaders if such a step were taken. The members of the armed forces had been dedicated to the suppression of Marxism since the time of the Spanish Civil War.
In a bold but very necessary move, Suarez legalized the Communist Party of Spain – PCE April 9, 1977. Some military leaders were upset by the decision and publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with the measure, but they grudgingly accepted it out of patriotism. King Juan Carlos's close relations with senior military officers were a factor in defusing a potentially explosive state of affairs. The King’s earlier efforts to replace ultraconservative commanders of the armed forces with more liberal ones also benefited him when he took this controversial step. The moderation that the communists exercised in accepting the Monarchy in spite of their avowed republicanism also helped to normalize the political situation.
As Spain prepared for elections, a large number of diverse political parties began to form. Only a few of these parties gained parliamentary representation following the elections of June 15, 1977, but none achieved an absolute majority. The Union of the Democratic Center (Union de Centro Democratico - UCD), a centrist coalition of several groups, including Francoist reformists and moderate opposition democrats, led by Prime Minister Suarez, emerged from the election as the largest party, winning 34.6 percent of the vote.
The leading opposition party was the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol - PSOE), which received 29.3 percent of the vote. Having been in existence since 1879, the PSOE was Spain's oldest political party. A group of dynamic young activists, led by a Seville lawyer, Felipe Gonzalez Marquez, had taken control of the party from the exiles in 1972, and their revolutionary idealism, combined with pragmatic policies, enabled the PSOE to appeal to a broader spectrum of the electorate. Both the neo-Francoist right, embodied in the Popular Alliance (Alianza Popular - AP), and the PCE were disappointed with the election results, which gave them each less than 10 percent of the popular vote. Catalan and Basque regional parties accounted for most of the remaining votes.
The election results were a victory for both moderation and the desire for change. The domination of Spain's party system by two relatively moderate political groups marked an end to the polarization that had plagued the country since the days of the Second Republic. The political skill of Prime Minister Suarez, the courage and determination of King Juan Carlos, and the willingness of opposition leaders to sacrifice their hopes for more radical social change to the more immediate goal of securing political democracy helped to end the polarization. The deferral of these hopes led to eventual disenchantment with the Suarez government, but in 1977 it was a key factor in the peaceful transition to democracy.
A formidable array of problems, including a growing economic crisis, Basque terrorism, and the threat of military subversion, confronted the new Suarez government. Long-range solutions could not be devised until after the new constitution had been approved, but in the interim, the socioeconomic difficulties had to be faced. It was apparent that austerity measures would have to be taken, and Suarez knew he needed to gain support for a national economic recovery program. This was achieved in October 1977 in the Moncloa Pacts, named after the Prime Minister's official residence where leaders of Spain's major political parties met and agreed to share the costs of, and the responsibility for, economic reforms. The parties of the left were promised an increase in unemployment benefits, the creation of new jobs, and other reforms; in return they agreed to further tax increases, credit restrictions, reductions in public expenditures, and a 20 percent ceiling on wage increases. The new government set forth a provisional solution to demands for regional autonomy. Pre-autonomy decrees were issued for Catalonia in September 1977 and for three of the Basque Provinces in December, 1977. The significance of these decrees was primarily symbolic, but the decrees helped to avoid potentially disruptive conflict for the time being by recognizing the distinctive political character of the regions and by promising autonomy when the constitution was ratified. The regional issue nevertheless continued to be the government's most intractable problem, and it became even more complicated as autonomist demands proliferated throughout the country. During the early months of the Suarez government, there were disturbing indications that the army's toleration of political pluralism was limited. Military unrest also boded ill for the regime's future stability.
The major task facing the government during this transitional period was the drafting of a New Constitution. Since previous constitutions had failed in Spain because they had usually been imposed by one particular group and were not the expression of the popular will, it was imperative that the new constitution be based on consensus. To this end, the Constitutional Committee of the Cortes in August 1977 elected a parliamentary commission representing all the major national parties and the more important regional ones. This group began its deliberations in an atmosphere of compromise and cooperation. Although members of the group disagreed over issues of education, abortion, lock-outs, and regionalism, they made steady progress. The Cortes passed the document they produced--with amendments--in October 1978.
The new 1978 Constitution is detailed, because of the desire to gain acceptance for the document by including something for everyone. It proclaims Spain to be a Constitutional Parliamentary Monarchy and guarantees its citizens equality before the law and a full range of individual liberties, including religious freedom. While recognizing the autonomy of the regions, it stresses the indivisibility of the Spanish state. The Constitution was submitted to popular referendum on December 6, 1978, and it was approved by 87.8 of the 67.7 percent of the eligible voters who went to the polls.
After the King had signed the new Constitution, Prime Minister Suarez dissolved the Cortes and called another general election for March 1979. It was widely predicted that the results would show an erosion of support for Suarez and the UCD (which had begun to show signs of fragmentation) and a gain for the PSOE. The PSOE was experiencing its own internal crisis, however. The party's official definition of itself as Marxist hampered Gonzalez's efforts to project an image of moderation and statesmanship. At the same time, the party's more radical members were increasingly resentful of Gonzalez's ideological moderation. Contrary to expectations, the PSOE did not improve its position when Spaniards went to the polls on March 1, 1979. The election results were not significantly different from those of 1977, and they were seen as a reaffirmation and a consolidation of the basic power structure.
1975: General Franco dies and King Juan Carlos becomes the Head of State of Spain.
1976: Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez begins the process of serious reform.
1977: The Government repeals the articles of the Law of Associations which gave it power to refuse the legalization of any political party. Spain and the Soviet Union announce the establishment of full diplomatic relations. Ten parties are legally recognized, including the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), the Popular Socialist Party and the Christian Democrat Party. A Royal Decree practically dissolves the National Movement. The Government recognizes the Communist Party of Spain (PCE). The Union of the Democratic Centre (UCD) obtains a majority in the general election (June). Three decrees which restore to a limited extent the self-government of Catalonia are signed by the King. The Government approves the provisional pre-autonomy of the Basque Country.
1978: The Spanish people approve by an 88% majority the new Constitution, which defines Spain as a Constitutional Parliamentary Monarchy.
1980: The Basque Country and Catalonia legally become autonomous regions.
1981: Suarez resigns as Prime Minister and is replaced by Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo. The decline of the UCD and the change of the Prime Ministers coincided with the death throes of the authoritarian regime to defend itself against democracy. A group of Civil Guards burst into the parliament and held the deputies as hostages while the General-in-Chief of one of the country's military regions supported the coup by ordering his troops to occupy Valencia. The decisive intervention of the King aborted the attempted coup, and democracy saved.
1982: On October 28, new general elections were held. The PSOE obtained an absolute majority. Felipe Gonzalez is invested as Prime Minister. This event can be considered as the culmination of the transition period and it represented the definite consolidation.
1986: Spain joined the European Community, making it the Community of Twelve.
1989: Spain joins the Exchange Rate Mechanism.
1992: World Expo in Sevilla and Olympics in Barcelona. Madrid is the European Capital of Culture.
2002: Spain joins the Euro along with Belgium, Germany, Greece, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Finland.