Spain's New Democracy

On June 15, 1977, just a year and a half after the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, Spaniards elected a new, bicameral Cortes with the authority to write a constitution for Spain. It was the first freely contested parliamentary election in Spain since February 15, 1936, and it produced scenes that Franco would have abhorred: Communists brazenly waving red banners, chanting slogans, and singing the Internationale; the young, dynamic leader of the Socialist Workers Party entering rallies with his left hand in a clenched fist salute, his right signaling V for victoria; politicians exhorting Basques in Euskera, Catalans in Catalan, Galicians in Gallego, all forbidden languages a few years before; and newspapers belittling their government and its leader.

Following four decades of repression and fear, more than 18 million Spaniards voted in a peaceful campaign that presented all points of view, no matter how repulsive to the king, the government or the memory of Franco. Taking advantage of a system weighted against the Left, Premier Adolfo Suárez led the Union of the Democratic Center, with 35 percent of the votes, to a near majority of seats in the Congress of Deputies. The results promised stability and a budding two-party system and produced a new and attractive political figure, 35-year-old Felipe González, the First Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), who has time now to persuade Spaniards that he is the obvious alternative to Suárez should the Premier falter.

The election, however, fulfilled only part of the promise that King Juan Carlos had made in his speech to the U. S. Congress on June 2, 1976: "the monarchy will ensure, under the principles of democracy . . . the orderly access to power of distinct political alternatives, in accordance with the freely expressed will of the people." There was little, if any, chance of the king allowing "orderly access to power" to the Socialist Workers Party or any other leftist party if it had won. The possibility of a socialist victory was not even considered by the government or the socialists and such a victory would have caused a crisis had it occurred. Democracy in Spain was too fragile and unformed for such a step.

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