Friday, March 28, 2014

From Dictatorship to Democracy

Franco, the right wing Spanish dictator, who had been responsible for the violent deaths of thousands during and after the Civil War, died, in a hospital bed, on 20 November 1975. After nearly forty years in power his death left a power vacuum. Nobody was quite sure what was coming next.

In 1931 the last King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, had fled. He later abdicated in favour of his son Juan de Borbón. Franco didn't like or trust, Alfonso's son, so he decided to groom Juan de Borbón's boy, the present King Juan Carlos I, to be the next Head of State. Just two days after Franco's death parliament proclaimed Juan Carlos King of Spain. The question on everyone's lips was what sort of King was he going to be – who would he support? They reckon that one of the first clues was the dress. A fuchsia coloured dress worn by Sofia to the coronation of her husband. Hardly a suitable colour for someone in mourning.

What happened next is now called the Transition - the process by which Spain left behind its dictatorial past and became a political, as well as geographical, part of Europe. At first Juan Carlos tried to work with Carlos Arias Navarro the Prime Minister he had inherited but the two men just didn't get on. Arias Navarro resigned in July 1976 and the King surprised everyone by appointing Adolfo Suárez as his new Prime Minister.

As you might imagine talking people out of power was no easy thing but somehow Suarez managed to negotiate The Political Reform Law which put the nails in the coffin of the Francoist regime. The law was put to referendum and accepted in December 1976. When the Communist party was re-legalized at the start of 1977 the whole of Spain waited with bated breath but the Francoists stood by their deal. They had agreed to release their grip on power on the understanding that bygones would be bygones, that there would be no reprisals, no arrests and no accounting for the thousands of Republican dead. The tacit agreement became known as the Pact of Forgetting and it is only in the last few years that the agreement has begun to wobble, just a little.

In June 1977, in line with the Reform Law, a General Election was held. Suarez and his centrist party won but without a clear majority. His main job was to get a constitution written - no easy task when the people sitting around the table, pens in hand, have supported opposite sides in a civil war. Somehow they hammered something out. In fact the constitution they created, with only a couple of teeny changes, is still in use today. On 6 December 1978 the new constitution was accepted in a referendum. That's why we get the day as a national holiday every year.

Seeking outright majority Suarez went to the polls again in 1979. His party won but without a majority. Over the next couple of years Suarez and the King agreed on less and less, the tensions within his party grew and eventually Suarez agreed it was time to go. His successor was Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo and on the day of the parliamentary vote to elect  him, 23 February 1981, a group of Guardia Civil, led by the moustachioed Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero, burst into parliament and took all the MPs hostage. The coup attempt failed largely because the King stood firm alongside the democrats and ordered the army back to barracks. It was the last flourish of the old guard.

In 1982 when the socialist party, the PSOE, led by Felipe González won the general elections the Transition came to an end and Spain could get on with modernising.

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