Freelance Spain
The Political Scene

Who's who in the Spanish political arena.

Since the death of Francisco Franco in 1975 and the drafting of a new constitution in 1977-8 brought an end to nearly four decades of dictatorship in Spain, the country's political scene has evolved towards a bipartisan system, with added interest provided by the increasingly influential regional parties representing some of Spain's Autonomous Communities.

The two main national parties are the historical Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, the left-of-center social-democratic party) and the right-of-center Partido Popular (PP). While the first started out as a Marxist socialist party and the second can trace its origins to the bureaucracy of the Franco regime, the ideological gap between the two has narrowed to the point where it is almost imperceptible, although the PP is identified with the Catholic Church on such issues as education.

The PSOE, that gained by majority in the general elections of 2004, has its power base in rural society and in the populous regions of Andalusia and Catalonia. The PP holds sway in the major cities. Meanwhile, the Communist Party has gradually lost its influence at a national level.

Regional parties such as the Basque-based PNV (Partido Nacionalista Vasco) and Catalonia's Convergencia i Unió and Esquerra Republicana. Todos ellos han influido, o influyen, en el rumbo de la política del país. While the PP won a relative majority in the 1996 general elections and got support of the Catalonian nationalists of right-of-center (CiU), in the present legislature the Spanish Socialist Party, gaining also by simple majority, has supports of the nationalists of left (Esquerra Republican) among others groups.

In March 2000, aided by to buoyant Spanish economy, the Popular Party won go absolute majority, and most regional parties had gains, while the Spanish Socialist Party and Izquierda Unida suffered heavy losses at the polling stations. Nevertheless, in March 2004 the Spanish Socialist Party gained the general elections by a relative majority, after a management of the conservative government marked by the at favor to the war in Iraq and the islamic attacks of March 11 in Madrid.

The Spanish prime minister (called the Presidente del Gobierno, or President of the Government) is not chosen by direct ballot, but is elected by the members of the Spanish parliament, who in turn are voted to office in general elections every four years.

Those who feared - or hoped - that Franco's death in November 1975 would usher in a period of turmoil and revolt were soon disabused. Spaniards, enjoying middle class prosperity and familiar with modern ideas thanks to travel and films, were more than ready to join the mainstream of European society. Much of the credit for Spain's smooth transition to a modern democracy goes to King Juan Carlos I.

Time cover by Robert RoyalHe had been appointed by the dictator Franco himself to succeed him as Head of State, and to all intents and purposes it seemed he would play the role of puppet to a right wing regime. But he had merely been hiding his true convictions, and on Franco's death he maneuvred the rubber-stamp parliament into voting itself out of office, providing him with leeway to give shape to a new transitional government, headed by a hitherto obscure bureaucrat, Adolfo Suárez.. The first democratic general elections followed in 1977, and the newly-elected parliament drafted the Spanish constitution, approved in 1978. When in 1981 a band of Francoist die-hards burst into the parliament building and held the assembled representatives hostage in a misguided attempt to turn back the clock, it was largely thanks to the King's intervention that the coup failed.

Spain was confirmed as a modern western democracy when the incumbent centrist party handed over power to the PSOE after their victory in general elections in 1982. The socialist party's personable leader, Felipe González, became the youngest premier elected to office in Europe. He would go on to become the continent's longest-governing premier.

Economic bouyancy in the 80s bolstered the government's popularity, but scandals involving corruption in the administration gradually chipped away at the credibility of the PSOE government. The president of the Bank of Spain and the head of the Civil Guard corps were among those chastised for their shennanigans. The most serious case involved the GAL, a shadowy organization set up by officials within the government to wage a dirty war against the Basque terrorist group, ETA, using kidnaping and assassination as their tactics. Several top officials were sentenced for their involvement.

While no responsibility was ever pinned on Felipe Gonzalez himself, his image and that of his party were tarnished beyond repair and the socialists lost the general elections in 1996. Another reason the PSOE loss was González's failure to groom a suitable successor.

TIME cover photograph by Robert Royal.


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