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.

The election ended the first phase of democratic reform in post-Franco Spain - the tearing down of the most obvious fascist institutions bequeathed by the Caudillo. Most Spaniards are probably surprised and surely pleased at how easily this has been done. But the next phase will probably be more troublesome and dangerous. The system must mature enough to allow "orderly access to power" to more than just the heirs of Franco - to become, in effect, fully democratic. This kind of change will be difficult and delicate, for there are still powerful forces in Spanish society, most notably the Army, working against the king's promise.


By the time of his death, the 82-year-old Franco and his 36-year-old fascist-like state were long out of date. He ruled Spain in the 1960s and 1970s with a morality, political philosophy, and fierce nationalism molded in the 1930s. Fear, repression, the prosperity of the privileged, the dread of another civil war, and apathy kept him in power.

Spain had changed while he had not. It had become an urban, industrializing society where some sons were finding better jobs than their fathers and some Catholics, especially the young, especially priests, were questioning their faith. In 1950, only 30 percent of Spaniards lived in towns of more than 20,000. By 1970, the percentage climbed to 49 percent, and to more than half by the end of the Franco era. Rigid class lines, in turn, were relaxing. According to careful studies, a third of those working had better jobs in pay and prestige than their fathers and 19 percent of those who were laborers at age 24 had better jobs at age 40. Although the children of managers and professionals still dominated the universities, the rate of illiteracy dropped from 19 percent to nine percent in 30 years and the numbers of students in higher education tripled in 15 years.1

The excitement in the arts that followed the death of Franco added more evidence that his people had long ago left him and his tastes behind. Censors remained at their desks but could no longer withstand the pressures to allow Spaniards to enjoy almost as much freedom as the rest of Western Europe. Dowagers in fur coats and leftist intellectuals rushed to theaters to see plays by Federico García Lorca, Rafael Alberti, Ramón del Valle-Inclán, and Fernando Arrabal. One playwright complained that impresarios were ignoring his best play because it never had been banned by Franco's censors. Spanish movies caught up with the sex and nudity of movies elsewhere. Long lines formed to see Luis Buñuel's Viridiana and Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator; the first had been too irreverent toward God, the second too irreverent toward dictators to be shown while Franco was alive.

The political system of Franco - with its repression of dissent, its fascist labor syndicates, its phony elections, its feeble Cortes, its adulation of a remote, cold leader - no longer felt comfortable. Modern Spaniards could no longer be excited by fears of the red hordes or by the spiritual joy of defending the Church in a crusade. Young, educated, pragmatic Spaniards wanted something new. The barrenness of the old arguments was shown by the crushing defeat of those politicians who invoked them in the elections.

But the dominant vision was not a revolutionary one. The bureaucrats, the industrialists, the professionals, the journalists, even the socialists envisaged a state ruled by a modern, conservative, Christian party with the Left in weak opposition. The people would vote, but their votes were not expected to destroy the basic structures of power and privilege. Power would be taken from the dictatorial, old-fashioned, inflexible Francoists and given to the modern heirs of Franco, not to his opponents.


The first phase of democratic reform was directed by King Juan Carlos and Premier Adolfo Suárez, two young men who never showed any zeal for reform while Franco was alive. Yet, as king, Juan Carlos surprised doubters by his commitment to democracy. This commitment, of course, was reinforced by his desire to secure the restoration of the monarchy. And the best hopes for a secure restoration lay in a respected, democratic constitutional monarchy.

The king's appointment of Suárez as Premier in July 1976 caused consternation among Spaniards hoping for democracy. Suárez was the minister in charge of the National Movement, Franco's fascist-like single party. He was a conservative man, suspicious of the Left, uncomfortable with regionalists like the Basques, overly respectful toward reactionary generals. His understanding of democracy seemed limited.

Yet he also incarnated the modern Spaniard, who was ready to turn his back on the old-fashioned dictatorial Franco state and make Spain acceptable to Western Europe. Intelligent, pragmatic, and loyal, Suárez was ready to serve the king and democracy as steadfastly as he once served Franco and fascism. In short, he was an articulate, charming, energetic heir of Franco smart enough to know that Franco belonged to the past.

The most significant achievement of the king and Suárez was their success in pushing the Political Reform Act through the last Cortes of Franco, a largely appointed body made up mainly of those who could see little wrong with the dictatorship. The opposition-those parties that had actively opposed Franco during the regime - had insisted it could not be done and had urged the king to abolish the Cortes by decree and convoke elections for a constituent assembly that would write a democratic constitution for Spain. But the king and Suárez refused.

The Act convoked elections for a new bicameral Cortes that would have the authority, though not the obligation, to write a constitution. The Cortes would have a Congress of Deputies of 350 members elected by proportional representation, with the number of deputies assigned to provinces in accordance with population, and a Senate of 207 members elected by plurality, with all but three of the 50 provinces having four senators each. In addition, 41 senators would be appointed by the king. The Congress of Deputies would be the more important body of the Cortes, but the Senate would have delaying power on ordinary legislation and significant blocking power on constitutional reforms.

Approved overwhelmingly in a national referendum, the Act was the most significant attempt to change the Franco state, but it was not the only one. All in all, through referendum, legislation and decree in the 11 months between the appointment of Suárez and the elections, the government abolished the National Movement, legalized political parties including the Communist Party, legalized trade unions, abolished the largely appointed parliament, allowed freedom of speech and assembly in an electoral campaign, and convoked partisan elections.


In their early conception of the new Cortes, some Spanish politicians envisioned a body of deputies from many different political parties, representing all shades of political opinion, that would be mainly concerned with writing a constitution. This vision was shattered by the adoption of an electoral system that made it possible for one party to dominate the Cortes, and by the decision of Suárez, with all the advantages of office, to lead a party in the elections.

Suárez promulgated the electoral law by decree in March, basing it on the Political Reform Act, after meeting many times with leaders of leftist and centrist parties. Though the law had an obvious bias, the opposition, anxious for elections, made no protest. In the elections for the Congress of Deputies, the law provided that every province, no matter how small, had a minimum of three deputies. This greatly favored rural, conservative areas and penalized industrial, leftist areas. Thus, the 15 smallest provinces of the country, with a total population of 3.4 million, had a total of 53 seats in the Congress, while the largest province, Barcelona, with a population of four and a half million, had only 33 seats.

The law also provided that the deputies would be elected from each province under a proportional representation system that gave the leading parties a higher percentage of seats than their percentage of votes.

In the Senate, the smallest province, Soria, was given a senator for every 25,000 people, while the largest province, Barcelona, had a senator for every 1.1 million people. In addition, the law provided for plurality election with each elector voting for three candidates. This meant that a party with a plurality, though less than a majority, could still win three out of the four seats in a province.

At the time of the promulgation of the electoral law, only one party seemed strong enough to take advantage of the system. That was the Popular Alliance of seven former ministers of Franco led by Manuel Fraga, Minister of Information under Franco and Minister of Interior in the first post-Franco government of Premier Carlos Arias. The rhetoric of Fraga and the nature of his support convinced many Spaniards that he represented an attempt to keep Francoism alive.

Fraga boasted that he would win at least 35 percent of the vote, a percentage that would have permitted his party, a prime beneficiary under the electoral system, to dominate the new Cortes. Since Fraga insisted that it was only necessary to amend a few of Franco's Fundamental Laws, there would be little chance of a democratic constitution coming out of such a Cortes. To counter this threat the politicians of the Center, who called themselves liberals, christian democrats, and social democrats, turned to Suárez.

In early May, Suárez announced that he would run for the Congress of Deputies as an "independent" candidate joined to a coalition of Center parties called the Union of the Democratic Center. In effect, the UDC allied young bureaucrats of Franco with politicians who had grumbled about Franco but had never actively opposed him.2 In several cases, the politicians had cooperated with the Franco regime or even worked for it. The party had little ideology beyond a commitment to Suárez and his promise of democracy. It is probably best to describe the Suárez party as Center-Right. Indeed, there is strong circumstantial evidence that Suárez had intended for many months to lead a Center party in the election. There was no other way for him and the king to ensure control of the process of constitutional change. The electoral law that Suárez promulgated was tailor-made to fit the kind of party that he finally led. Moreover, by exaggerating the strength of Fraga (whose party finally garnered only eight percent of the vote in June), Suárez provided himself with an immediate excuse for entering the lists. Also, Suárez, before announcing his candidacy, pressured the Center into dropping its most important leader, former Foreign Minister José María de Areilza. That was a strange maneuver for a Premier who claimed he wanted to strengthen the Center against Fraga; Areilza, however, was a potential rival for Premier.

The main opposition to Suárez actually was on the Left. There he faced the Socialist Workers Party of Felipe González; the Popular Socialist Party led by Tierno Galvan, who had a professional appeal to those socialist intellectuals who found González too young and too brash; and the Communist Party which, under the Euro-communist Santiago Carrillo, had announced that it accepted the monarchy and rejected the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Suárez ran a muted campaign, designed both to take advantage of his office and to blunt criticism that he was doing so unfairly. The government, which wanted the election accepted by Western Europe and the United States, was sensitive on this issue. The Union of the Democratic Center staged no mass rallies. Suárez spoke at no public meetings. But his party plastered Spain with photographs of him and the slogan, "To vote for the Center is to vote for Suárez." Suárez spoke on behalf of his party during the time allotted to it on national television. He also sent a letter of appeal to every Spanish voter. On top of this, Suárez had the advantage of appearing on television and on the front pages of newspapers whenever he made news.

In some ways, the Suárez campaign was patterned after the Franco referendums. He evidently believed that the appeal from the top would be decisive in a country conditioned after four decades to take orders from above. Suárez obviously expected to win a majority of seats in both houses of the Cortes and a large enough plurality of the popular vote to make it clear that he was the dominant political figure of Spain. But, after a fair electoral campaign, in which all parties had the right to present their views and even to attack Suárez, many Spaniards broke old habits of obedience and voted for the Left. Suárez fell short of his goal.



(97.43 percent of 18,232,049 votes counted)

Party Popular vote (%) Seats (%)

Union of the Democratic Center 6,220,889 34.71 165 47.14

Socialist Workers Party 5,240,464 29.24 118 33.71

Communist Party 1,655,744 9.24 20 5.71

Popular Alliance 1,503,376 8.39 16 4.57

Popular Socialist Party 804,382 4.48 6 1.71

NOTE: The remainder of the vote and the 25 other seats divided by regional and splinter parties.


Party Seats

Union of the Democratic Center 106

Socialist Workers Party 48

Senators for Democracy1 19

Others 34

Appointed by the king 41

NOTE: The government has not released any national popular vote totals for the Senate.

1 Senators for Democracy were supported by the Christian Democrats, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Communists as joint candidates in some provinces.

SOURCE: These tables were released in July 1977 by the Spanish government.


In the number of seats won in the Congress of Deputies, the Union of the Democratic Center was far ahead of the only other party that made a significant showing, the Socialist Workers Party. Yet the PSOE captured almost 30 percent of the popular vote and 34 percent of the seats in the Congress. Since the Union of the Democratic Center's plurality in the popular vote was so slight, the government-run television news programs stopped reporting the popular vote a day after the election and talked only of seats won, describing the election as "an overwhelming victory for the Union of the Democratic Center."

The Suárez party won large pluralities in most rural areas and small towns, managed a bare plurality in Madrid, did better than expected in the Basque areas and Catalonia, and lost the three large cities of Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla to the socialists. The Socialist Workers Party, led by an Andalusia, swept Andalusia, dominated three of the country's four largest cities and almost won Madrid as well, shared the bulk of the regional vote with the regionalist parties, and scored a strong second almost everywhere else.

The results were probably the best possible for Spain at this stage of its democratic development. While Suárez will now control the writing of the constitution, his position is not strong enough to let him ignore the demands of the socialists. On the other hand, the Suárez victory also averted a crisis. Faced with a victory by the Socialist Workers Party, the king would have been forced into a confrontation with the army. In this circumstance, he might have invoked the Fundamental Laws of Franco and insisted that the premier was responsible to him, not to the Cortes, or he might have tried to persuade Felipe González to join a coalition as a junior partner to Suárez or to some other non-Left premier. Either maneuver would have made Spanish democracy and the king's commitment to it suspect in the eyes of outsiders and most Spaniards.

For its part, the Socialist Workers Party also is satisfied with the results. While the geographic distribution of seats, with its rural bias, hurt the socialists, the electoral system of proportional representation benefited them and established the Socialist Workers Party as the second party of Spain in what could become a virtual two-party system. During the campaign, González only asked the voters to make the Socialist Workers "the democratic alternative" to the present government. The voters did that in a way that probably surprised the Socialist Workers.

The Socialist Workers were in no position to run Spain even if they had won. Most colleagues of González are no older than he. They lack administrative and legislative experience, not surprising after four decades of dictatorship that excluded the Left from government. The socialists do not even have the experience of acting like an opposition. The closeness of the election returns forced the Socialist Workers to realize that democracy means more than a system that tolerates leftists like themselves in opposition and that responsibility and power thus might fall on them uncomfortably soon. Power, however, is seductive, and there is little doubt that González now feels that he would be ready for the job of premier after the next parliamentary elections.

The election may have settled the problem of unity among the socialists. Several socialist groups, including Galvan's Popular Socialist Party, refused to ally with the Socialist Workers Party before the election. Personality and ambition probably caused more of the problem than shades of ideology. The election returns have made the position of the splinter socialists untenable. A socialist intellectual may feel more comfortable with the pedantic Galvan than with the energetic González. But he also knows that he has a chance to oust the government in the next election if he votes for the party of González and will probably waste his vote if he votes for Galvan. Such is the nature of a budding two-party system. Several of the smaller splinter groups already have opened negotiations for union with the Socialist Workers. Galvan is stubbornly holding out, but it is doubtful that he can survive another election as a separate socialist leader.

The internal unity of the Socialist Workers Party also was strengthened by the returns. The party is an amalgam of socialists ranging from social democrats in the Willy Brandt mold to Marxists not much different from Santiago Carrillo. The left wing of the party was not too pleased with an election platform that made no demand for nationalization of industry and promised only to end the excesses of what it called Spain's "plundering capitalism." Yet it is hard to argue with success. The vote for the Socialist Workers Party probably stemmed from its long tradition in Spanish politics (it won the most seats, though far short of a majority, in the 1936 election), the appeal of the dynamic González, and the moderate, unthreatening leftism of its platform. The socialists will not come to power if they upset this formula, and the obvious vote-getting appeal of González puts him in a commanding position in the party.

Another possible problem is that many members of the Socialist Workers Party are more concerned about regional autonomy than about national power or, in fact, socialism. In Barcelona, González forged an alliance with the Catalan Socialist Party to contest the election. Any major disagreement between González and the Catalan socialists over autonomy could destroy that coalition. In fact, little disagreement is expected. In pre-Civil War days, the Socialist Workers accepted autonomy of the regions only with great misgivings, but Franco's repression of the Catalans and the Basques has made the demand for autonomy so urgent and inevitable that the socialists have abandoned their doubts about it. However, workable autonomy in Catalonia depends on an understanding between Catalan nationalists and the Andalusian immigrants to Catalonia who voted for the Socialist Workers only because González was the party leader. A breakdown of the socialist alliance in that region would weaken popular support for the regional movement within Catalonia. In the Basque provinces the Socialist Workers' vote came mainly from non-Basques, not from regionalists.

The election also buried Francoism as a political appeal in Spain. The voters will accept an heir of Franco, like Suárez or his associates, as long as he promises a democratic future and keeps quiet about the past. But the poor showing of Fraga's Popular Alliance made it clear that the voters cannot be moved by appeals to the past; even former Premier Carlos Arias failed to win a Senate seat from Madrid. The overtly fascist parties did even worse than the Popular Alliance. The fascists campaigned the way Franco would have wanted them to campaign, with yokes and arrows and fascist salutes and chants of "Franco, Franco, Franco, Franco." But they failed to win a single seat in the Congress of Deputies or the Senate.

The Communist Party, with only nine percent of the vote, probably did worse than it had expected. Party leader Santiago Carrillo ran a moderate campaign in which he struck out at Fraga but never criticized Suárez or the government. The campaign was aimed at making the Communists seem respectable after four decades of the dictatorship painting it as the heinous enemy. The Communists, legalized only two months before the election, probably achieved that respectability. But without its relatively strong showing in Catalonia the Party would have been shattered. It may have been hurt by the presence of figures from the Spanish Civil War - Carrillo himself and Dolores Ibárruri, better known as La Pasionaria, the 81-year-old honorary president of the Party, who returned from exile in the Soviet Union only a month before the election.

Carrillo was bolstered somewhat after the election by an acrimonious personal attack from the Soviet Union's official publication, New Times, which denounced him for his criticism of the Soviet dictatorship in his new book, Eurocommunism and the State, probably the most extreme statement of Eurocommunist doctrine yet published. Carrillo relished the attack and called a news conference to describe himself as a victim of the Soviet inquisition - lamenting, with a grin, that the Soviet Union had failed to attack him before election day. The Russians obviously waited to make sure he would gain no electoral dividends from them.

The Communist strategy is now obvious. Carrillo, with his respectability, waits in hope both that Suárez will falter and that González will lose his luster as "the democratic alternative." Should both happen, the Communists will have to weigh two very different strategies. They might seek, in the Italian way, to replace the socialists as the main opposition in Spain or, in the French way, make the socialists dependent upon them for a leftist victory. But they start a long way from either objective.


Spain now enters the second phase of its democratic reform with some enormous problems left behind by Franco. In their desire to move through the first phase smoothly, the king and Premier Suárez tried to do no more than tinker with these problems. But they must be faced squarely if Spain is to become fully democratic.

The most obvious problem is the armed forces, which regard themselves as the arbiter of politics and the guarantor of stability. The Fundamental Laws of Franco, still in force, state: "The Armed Forces . . . guarantee the unity and independence of the country, the integrity of her territory, national security, and the defense of the institutional system." This role is reinforced by history, for Spain has experienced a century and a half of coups, mutinies, and pronunciamientos culminating in the uprising of the generals in 1936 that led to the Spanish Civil War.

With 302,300 officers and men (220,000 in the army, 46,600 in the navy, and 35,700 in the air force), the armed forces are disorganized, weak in logistics, poorly equipped, poorly paid, and top-heavy with aged generals and admirals, almost all of whom fought with Franco in the crusade against the Republic. Conservatism runs beyond these Civil War veterans, and many officers are disturbed by the ease with which Premier Suárez has dismantled the institutions of Franco.

The commanders showed this when Premier Suárez legalized the Communist Party on April 9, 1977. Suárez had little choice, for he wanted to make the elections seem democratic to the outside world, to avoid leftist street rioting during the campaign, and to keep down the socialist vote. He probably expected a good deal of adverse reaction from the military, but not as much as he got.

The Minister of the Navy, an admiral, resigned over the issue, and the Supreme Council of the Army proclaimed its repulsion over the legalization. This was probably the greatest crisis of the post-Franco era. In its public statement, the Supreme Council of the Army said, "The legalization of the Communist Party produced a general repulsion in all units of the army. Nevertheless, in view of the national interests of a higher order, the accomplished fact is accepted in a disciplined way. The Council deems it necessary to inform the government that the army, unanimously united, considers it an undeniable duty to defend the unity of the nation, its flag, the integrity of its institutions, and the good name of the armed forces." In short, the army was saying, it accepted legalization out of patriotism but still considered itself a superior political force empowered to monitor decisions of the government and to intervene in some way.

There are a number of troubling and unanswered questions. No one is sure what the army would have done if it had decided not to accept "the accomplished fact." A coup is the obvious answer. But some analysts, both Spanish and foreign, believe the army would have done no more than make a united demand to the king that he dismiss Premier Suárez. On top of this, it is generally believed that lack of coordination between military units and a general shortage of fuel and ammunition - precautions taken by Franco to prevent an anti-Franco coup - make it difficult to launch a coup swiftly. The doubts over the military's will and ability to stage a coup, however, are probably less important than the fact that Spanish politicians act as if one were possible.

The king and Premier have been nudging the armed forces toward a modern defense mission that would take it out of the business of internal politics. The 1976 treaty that continues U. S. bases in Spain also sets up institutions for joint U.S.-Spanish military planning that parallel the institutions of NATO, thus making a possible entry into NATO easier some day. If Spain were part of NATO, in the view of some diplomats, its armed forces would become professional enough to leave politics to the politicians. But there has been a good deal of resistance to NATO in Spain. The generals and admirals do not feel comfortable with the idea of restructuring their commands at their advanced age. Some fear that a modernized NATO system would lead to close civilian control over the armed forces. The government itself is worried about the cost of modernizing the armed services; government officials believe it is possible only if the United States pays much of the bill.

In September 1976, the king and Premier removed a hard-line Francoist as vice premier in charge of defense and replaced him with Lieutenant General Manuel Gutierrez Mellado, a sophisticated professional who accepts change. But most Spanish generals and admirals in high positions remain bastions of Francoism. Premier Suárez has shown that he can cross them as he did when he legalized the Communist Party. But, in general, Suárez shows a deference to the armed forces, perhaps out of fear of a coup, perhaps out of habit formed in the Franco era.


Spain is trying to create a representative system while maintaining a civil service, including the police, trained under fascism. King Juan Carlos and Premier Suárez dismantled those institutions that made the Spanish state seem clearly fascistic. But the government apparatus remained the same. The men who banned books or clubbed leftists under Franco have kept their jobs.

The police are the most obvious problem. There are 63,000 Guardia Civil, the traditional paramilitary rural force; 34,000 Policía Armada, the city riot police; and 10,000 plainclothesmen who mainly ferret out leftist subversion. The uniformed police carry submachine guns, and their constant vigil on city street corners still gives much of Spain the look of a police state.

In the year and a half since Franco's death, the Guardia Civil and Policía Armada have kept busy putting down leftist and regional demonstrations. They have done so with brutality. Not content with simply preventing a demonstration, they have then set upon any group of civilians nearby, whether sympathizers or just bystanders. Moreover, there is a strong suspicion that off-duty policemen have joined roving gangs of toughs that have terrorized towns in the Basque area.

It has become a cliché for diplomats and journalists to say that the Suárez government does not have its police under control. But the problem goes deeper. It is, after all, the Suárez government that banned the demonstrations put down by the police. A government cannot control its police by unleashing them upon its citizens. A more refined police force might club fewer heads and might be more restrained in firing bullets and rubber pellets. But the orders to club and to fire still come from government officials, including Premier Suárez, who were molded during the Franco era.

After the death of Franco, the Cortes, at the request of the Arias government, approved a freedom of assembly law. While proclaiming the right to assemble, the law required Spaniards to apply for a license to do so. As a result, the government has full administrative power to prohibit any meeting it does not want. Using the law, the Suárez government has banned far more meetings than it has allowed. In fact, most of the political deaths in Spain in the post-Franco era have come in police suppression of defiant Spaniards trying to go through with a banned rally.

Premier Suárez appears to see assembly not as a right but as a privilege granted by the government only when convenient. The government banned labor union rallies last May Day, even though it knew the bans would foment violence by the police. The spectacle of red flags flaunted freely in football stadiums on May 1st might have irritated powerful rightists and army generals, and Suárez decided that the avoidance of irritation was more important than the privilege to assemble.


Another major problem is posed by the regional demands for autonomy and the government's reaction to them. The strongest claim for an ethnic identity probably comes from Catalonia, but the most trouble has come from the Basque provinces of the north.

With deep Francoist and Castilian roots, Suárez and his ministers have shown extraordinary insensitivity about the feelings of Basques, whose homeland was treated by Franco for four decades as occupied enemy territory. Almost every Basque attempt to demonstrate against government policy has been suppressed by a non-Basque police force. In the period from the death of Franco to the parliamentary elections, 22 Basques died in confrontations with the police. Basque terrorists have not helped matters either, murdering 21 police and other government officials during the same period.

The overall problem is a legacy of Franco. Infused with fascist ideas about the glorification of the national state, intent on punishing the two regions that opposed him most steadfastly in the Civil War, Franco, a Galician himself, was determined to stamp out Basque and Catalan nationalism and culture. He banned all publications and education in the regional languages. Non-Castilian books were taken out of public libraries and burned. The government demanded that all Spaniards write even their private letters in Castilian. Posters admonished Catalans and Basques, "Speak the language of the empire," or, "Speak Christian," or, "Speak well. Be patriotic. Don't be a barbarian." Parents had to register the names of their new babies in Castilian Spanish. Catalan and Basque street signs were torn down. Celebrations of historical dates in regional history were suppressed by the police. Much of the nationalist fervor in the provinces now has burst out of the fury against Franco.

The Basques and Catalans are demanding what Franco took away from them. The Second Republic allowed some autonomy for both Catalonia and the Basque region during the 1930s. The Catalan Statute of Autonomy, except for allowing Catalan as a second official language, gave Catalonia fewer rights than an American state. The Basques had more autonomy but only because they were separated from Madrid by Franco's armies during the Civil War.

Basque and Catalan nationalists have interpreted the election results as proof of the popular demand for autonomy. The right-wing opponents of autonomy were soundly defeated. The regionalist parties, however, had to share victory in the regions with the Socialist Workers Party. While the Socialist Workers are pledged to support autonomy, they obviously attracted the votes of many immigrants frightened by the stridency of the Basque and Catalan nationalists. The Socialist Workers will probably only support the kind of autonomy that also protects immigrants from other provinces from discrimination. Some Basques, in their present mood, envisage an autonomous Basque state that would be as intolerant of non-Basques as the Franco state was intolerant of Basques.

The strong anti-Madrid feelings of the regionalists are an obvious danger to democracy. If the new Cortes does not settle the issue, the Basques and Catalans could take themselves out of the system, refusing to vote, join the government, or work in the central administration. They could turn their backs on a supposedly democratic Madrid the way they once turned their backs on Franco. Madrid would then have to govern with the enmity of its two richest regions. Moreover, continued frustration raises the possibility of continued and even more intense violence, especially in the Basque provinces. Peace probably depends on Spain permitting at least as much autonomy as Catalonia and the Basque region had under the Second Republic. But some Spaniards, trained by Franco to revere the unity of the national state, may have difficulty accepting this kind of solution.


The success of the democratic experiment in Spain probably depends on the commitment and abilities of three men - the king, the Premier, and the socialist leader. There is little doubt that González has the commitment, for only democracy offers him hope of power, but little is known about his political ability beyond his popular appeal. The king and Premier probably have the political skill to surmount most problems, but there is some doubt about the nature of their commitment and of their understanding of democracy.

González will have to play a delicate role. He must show enough responsibility to seem like a conceivable alternative as premier while persuading his working-class supporters that he has not betrayed them. This will be especially difficult in a period when most of the labor force is still unorganized and Communists will be fighting Socialist Workers for control of new unions.

Under a pre-election royal decree, workers no longer are required to join the government-run syndicates, probably the most fascistic of Franco's institutions. Even before the decree, labor was being organized by the formerly illegal trade unions. The four largest unions claim a total of only 1.2 million members out of a work force of more than 13 million, and their claims are probably exaggerated. It is obvious that recruitment is just beginning, and that the General Union of Workers, allied to the Socialist Workers Party, will be helped or hurt by how workers feel González is representing their interests in the Cortes.

Moreover, the Socialist Workers Party can never be a party of mild reform like the Social Democrats of Germany. The problems of Spain, with its great poverty, increasing unemployment, and enormous gap between rich and poor, are simply too great for that. The demand for radical solutions is strong, and the Socialist Workers, under González, will have to try to meet it. Yet, in dealing with economic issues, González will have to maneuver deftly if he wants both to shore up his responsibility in the electorate as a whole and to avoid losing ground on the Left to the Communists. The road to full democracy would be blocked if González struck the electorate as irresponsible or Communists seemed to be overtaking the Socialist Workers. Power to the Left would seem as inconceivable as ever to the military and other pillars of the establishment in Spain.

The role of King Juan Carlos and Premier Suárez will be even more important in determining just how far Spain will move toward full democracy. It is obvious that the closeness of the popular vote disturbed them and alerted them to the possibility of a socialist victory either in the municipal or parliamentary elections. No date has been set for municipal elections, but they are expected before the end of this year or early next year. Legally, the new Cortes could last for four years, but Spaniards expect it to disband after finishing its job of writing a democratic constitution, perhaps in two years. If the voting trends of June 15 hold, the socialists could take control of almost every major city in the country in municipal elections. Such momentum could lead to a parliamentary victory later, especially if the new constitution eliminates some of the rural bias from the electoral system.

The present strategy of the king and Premier is to embrace some socialist positions as their own, and so to dominate the Center. In his first news conference after the elections, Premier Suárez said, "The Union of the Democratic Center will have a center-left philosophy and will advocate profound changes in the economic, social, cultural and political fields." He has told several interviewers that he now regards himself at heart as "a social democrat." On top of this, spokesmen for Suárez have promised that the Premier will not be inhibited in any future election from campaigning up and down the country and using the advantage of incumbency to the fullest. The gloves will be off, they have said, and Suárez will be a formidable campaigner.

The government strategy will be played out against the three main issues in the new Cortes: strengthening the economy, writing the constitution, and granting regional autonomy. With an inflation rate of 30 percent, unemployment approaching one million, an enormous gap in the balance of trade, and standstill growth, the economic issue is the most sensitive and difficult. A few weeks after the elections, the new Suárez government devalued the peseta and announced a new fiscal program that would tax wealth and would end the scandalous evasion of income tax by the middle and upper classes. The revenues generated by this program would be used to alleviate unemployment through public works and social security. In exchange, the government wanted a "social pact" from labor, i.e., acceptance by the trade unions of wage restraint. The Suárez fiscal and unemployment programs are taken almost completely from the Socialist Workers Party's platform, and it will be difficult for the socialists and the trade unions to refuse wage restraint if the government fulfills its promises about taxing the rich to help the poor.

On the issue of the constitution, Suárez has promised that it will be approved by consensus, not simply by majority vote. In short, he intends to bargain over clauses rather than ram them through the Cortes. He will probably accept the principle of direct responsibility of the Premier to the Cortes and the elimination of some of the rural bias in the electoral system. In turn, the Left will probably accept a constitutional monarchy and the bias toward large parties in the electoral system. The net result would be to eliminate the constitution as an election issue.

Suárez also has read the election returns carefully on the issue of regional autonomy and has promised to support some form of autonomy to those regions that want it. In the euphoria over gaining what Franco denied them so brutally for so long, the regionalists may look more closely at the form of autonomy than the substance. In any case, they themselves are confused over how much autonomy they really want. Suárez could eliminate autonomy as an election issue by granting the regions little more than the idea of autonomy. He could even campaign as the statesman who gave the Catalans and Basques what Franco took away.

The strategy of the king and Suárez could fail. It will be easier for the Suárez government to describe itself as a social democratic government than to act like one. The new cabinet chosen by Suárez after the elections reflects the problem. Most of the key posts were filled by men like Suárez who served the Franco regime as middle-level bureaucrats. Most of the others are businessmen and financiers who took up politics after Franco died. No matter what the will of Suárez and the men around him, it is doubtful that their experience gives them any understanding of the problems of poverty of Spain or the enormous gap between the rich and poor. Unlike the socialists, the politicians of the Union of the Democratic Center did not even mix with working class Spaniards at mass rallies during the campaign.


What if the strategy does fail? Would the king, army and establishment then allow power to pass to the Socialist Workers Party? Would Spain so quickly reach the phase of democracy where opposition is not only tolerated but recognized as the logical alternative to the government? There are no answers to these questions yet. Much depends on the commitment of the king and Suárez to democracy, and there are disquieting signs that they now feel the job has been done, that Spain has moved as far toward democracy as it need go. Throughout the first phase of democratic development, both the king and Premier seemed very concerned about forging a system that the Western world would accept. It was no accident that the king made his promise of democracy to the U.S. Congress instead of the Spanish people. Government officials talked earnestly of joining the European Common Market. Journalists were told this was one way the king could use outside pressure to help him democraticize Spain. Now, the tide of talk has changed.

C. L. Sulzberger, after meeting with the king and Premier Suárez in June, reported that Spain, although it is going through the formality of applying, no longer is so keen about joining the Common Market.3 Sulzberger may have met the king and Suárez while they were in a testy mood. They have been having difficulty negotiating agreements lately with the Common Market, and it is obvious that the Common Market countries, especially France and Italy, with their worries about competition from Spanish agricultural products, do not want Spain in the Market soon. Spanish industrialists themselves are beginning to worry whether their products can compete. But, more important, the recent Spanish hesitation about the Common Market probably reflects a feeling by the king and Suárez that outside pressure is no longer vital for their country; Spain, in their view, has achieved democracy.

Yet the king and Suárez have surprised both outsiders and foreigners before, pushing Spain in directions that were inconceivable a short while ago, accepting democratic doctrines which contradict everything they were taught by their mentors in the Franco era. They could surprise everyone again. Moreover, the king and Suárez may have unleashed democratic forces that they can no longer control. No matter how unpalatable, the prospect of a socialist government may seem more acceptable to them next time around than the alternatives of falsifying the electoral returns or burying democracy by encouraging the army to take over. Spain may have gone too far now to turn back, and circumstances may force the king and Suárez into the role of trying to make the unleashed democratic forces acceptable, especially to the army, rather than the role they now have of controlling these forces.

Spain has changed in countless ways since the death of Franco. There is a good deal of relief there over the ease of that change so far and a good deal of optimism that Spaniards can achieve meaningful democracy. But there are still many ambiguities and unknowns. All an outsider can state with certainty is that Spain has not yet achieved full democracy and doing so will be a much more difficult task than the king and Premier like to admit.


1 Estudios sociológicos sobre la situación social de España 1975, Fundacion FOESSA. Madrid: Eurámerica, 1976.

2 In fact, Suárez took over the Center, assigned his Minister of Public Works, Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, to run the party, and imposed his associates as one fourth of the Center's candidates. Most of these associates were men like Suárez who had served as bureaucrats in the Franco regime.

3 C. L. Sulzberger "No More Room in The Garage," International Herald Tribune, June 20, 1977.

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  • Stanley Meisler is a foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, currently stationed in Madrid, Spain.
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