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Spain The History

Modern Spain 1975 -2013

Extract from the book “The Dream of Spain” by Sven F. Källström


What happened after the death of Franco?

When did Modern Spain begin and where is it now? What cultural and historical baggage did Spain and the Spaniards bring with them at the time of the transition into democracy?
In my view, the period after Franco’s death was the beginning of the creation of a new democratic Spain which I refer to as “The Modern Spain”. The reason the transformation could happen without the break out of a fifth civil war was, to a large extent, that the event had been pre-planned for a long time by Franco himself. The Spaniards were given plenty of time to get used to the idea of change (la transición) regardless if they were Franco loyalists or not. How could Franco remain as Head of State for more than 40 years? Was he good or bad for Spain as a country? I don’t have the answer and I prefer not to sit in judgement on the matter. It is a fact however that he, as all military dictators, used his power as a means to brutally abuse those who didn’t side with him or who openly opposed him.


The Picture of Franco in the Rest of Europe

I am of the opinion that the picture most people have of Franco isn’t entirely correct. Had “the Red” been victorious in the civil war, I’m convinced that they too would have acted in a similar way, committed the same acts of violence, torture and murder, but directed at the Nationalists instead. Just look at what happened in Russia, Stalin came to power and over 20 million Russians lost their lives. Abuse of power is what it is; regardless which political fraction is in power, depriving a country’s people of their freedom is simply unacceptable. But what about Franco and his legacy - was he just evil or was he a necessary evil? We can all draw our own conclusions and arrive at a personal answer to that question. But perhaps it is still early to pass the final judgement, when the last generation from the Franco era has passed away; future historians will surely put all the pieces together and come up with their own answers.  In this chapter, my purpose is not to offer any views on the subject, merely to explain how Spain transformed from dictatorship to democracy in an unusually painless manner when compared to e.g. Russia’s democratic transformation. Let me start by explaining what Spain really is.  

From Dictatorship to Democracy

Spain was declared a monarchy as early as 1947 and in 1969 Franco appointed Prince Juan Carlos de Bourbon, the grandson of King Alfonso XIII, as his successor. Juan Carlos, born in Rome in 1938 and  brought up in exile in the Portuguese seaside resort Estoril, was only 31 years old at the time and the son of one of heirs to the Spanish throne, Don Juan, Alfonso XIII’s third surviving son. Don Juan had spent most of his life living in exile in Italy and Franco was not particularly fond of him and didn’t consider him a worthy successor. His somewhat flamboyant manners were frowned upon by Franco who was known for his frugal life style. With this in mind, Franco instead decided to appoint Don Juan’s son to succeed him.  From 1969 onwards, Juan Carlos education was explicitly aimed at preparing him for his future role and after the General’s death in November 1975, he was declared King Juan Carlos I of Spain. 

Many Spaniards were, understandably, doubtful that Juan Carlos would be up to the task of performing his duties as King and Head of state. From the very beginning, he had always been in Franco’s shadow, lingering in the background whenever the Dictator appeared in public. From Franco’s point of view, Juan Carlos was the long-awaited son he never had. Also, Juan Carlos had given his fellow Spaniards the impression that he wasn’t very clever and this opinion was strengthened by his odd speeches. In reality, that picture couldn’t have been more misleading. Despite his upbringing and background, the King changed the course of his country and steered it with a steady hand towards a democratic constitution, in the style of other Western European nations.

Adolfo Suárez gains power

Spain’s first prime minister was Carlos Arias Navarro, he had been prepared for this role by Franco himself. However, his appointment caused public mass demonstrations and civil unrest and as a result he was replaced by Adolfo Suárez. At that time, Suárez had not yet been democratically elected, though at a later stage, he did get elected by the Spanish people. This photogenic young man had previously been one of Franco’s Ministers and Secretary General of the “Movimiento Nacional” (The National Movement) – Spain’s sole political party. Suárez got Manuel Fraga to assist him as his interior minister. Fraga was an astute Galician politician who would play an important role in Spain’s future democratic development far into the 1990’s. Fraga was at the time in the process of forming a new political party, the conservative Alianza Popular (AP), which in the 80’s would change its name to Partido Popular (PP). It was in June 1976 when Suárez was appointed Prime Minister that the transformation into democracy started in earnest. He became the leader of one of the newly formed political parties, Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD). Within a year of Franco’s death, political parties that had been prohibited under Franco’s regime could once again operate openly and the first general elections were held in 1977. The biggest risk Suárez took, and at the time the entire country was on tenterhooks, was when he, after secret meetings with the Communist leader Carillo legalised the Communist party, which been totally banned for many years, and Carillo was allowed to return to Spain from his exile in Russia and Southern France. UCD finally won the elections, but with only 34% of the votes, PSOE (Social Democrats) had gained support and came second with 29%. The biggest losers were the right (AP) and the left represented by the Spanish Communist Party (PCE).

FELIPE GONZALES begins his political career.

The success of the Social Democrats was largely due to the former party leadership, many living in exile, having been replaced in 1972 with a group of Spanish based activists led by a young lawyer from Seville, Felipe Gonzalez. Gonzales was a few years younger than Suárez, both attractive young men with personality and charm. The new democratic constitution in Spain was declared officially in 1978 by King Juan Carlos and replaced the earlier 1931 constitution. Historically, this was the 12th constitution declared in Spain, none of which had been successful as they were based solely on the politics of the party in power at the time of declaration. This time, all the political parties in Spain contributed in the creation of the new constitution. The Spanish constitution is arguably one of the most liberal in Western Europe. It defines Spain as a parliamentary monarchy, as opposed to a constitutional monarchy. There is no official religion and the power of the military is strictly confined and plays only a minor role. The death penalty is abolished and all citizens above the age of 18 have the right to vote. The dictatorial regime was gradually and peacefully dissembled. In February 1981, Adolfo Suárez and King Juan Carlos decided it was time to declare a new leader, due to the heavy criticism directed at Suárez at the time. His critics thought his leadership as Prime Minister had broken with tradition and the majority was of the opinion that he hadn’t achieved much at all. This is a typical example of the Spanish mentality. In the beginning, when the results of Suárez efforts were apparent, everything was fine. Once the hard work was done, the Spanish lost their grip on real events, as proof of progress wasn’t tangible or obvious anymore. Therefore, in line with the Spanish outlook on reality, it was time for a new leader, someone who could create something NEW, easy to understand and above all, concrete and tangible. The choice fell on Economist Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, nephew of the Jose’ Calvo Sotelo who had been murdered just before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil war in 1936. The country was in chaos and public mass demonstrations became the norm, police and demonstrators were battling it out on the Spanish streets on a daily basis. Where was the country heading? Was it on its way to re-instate the republic or maybe even on the brink of another Civil War?

The Military Coup of 1981

At this time, something happened that could have had serious and long term implications for the future of Spain. Monday the 23rd February 1981 (the Spanish refer to this day as “el 23 F”) the nomination of Calvo Sotelo was due to take place in the Spanish parliament, Las Cortes. Just moments before voting began, at 18.30, a moustached Lieutenant Colonel Tejero stormed the building with a few hundred soldiers and armed officers of the civil guard, firing numerous rounds from submachine guns into the ceiling and took the entire congress hostage for 18 hours, while armoured tanks were being strategically parked in front of the building. Members of congress were ordered to the floor and it is now that the speaker, the thinly framed Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado resists Tejero’s orders and walks straight up to him. He’s brutally beaten but his heroic actions have been shown on Spanish television thousands of times over the years. For the Spaniards, his stance represented the nation’s spirit of resistance which ultimately resulted in the failure of the coup within just one day. The events were broadcast live on National Television and Radio by the assembled media, as they were already in place to report on the election results.  It was a serious and co-ordinated attempt at a military coup and similar events took place in other parts of Spain simultaneously. Tanks took over the streets of Spain and the conspirators had secured allegiance from several high ranking military and politically influential leaders in Spanish society. Had the coup succeeded, it is more than likely that a new dictatorship, or even another violent civil war, had been the outcome. The attempted coup had powerful supporters, among them, the Captain General of Valencia, General Miláns del Bosch and the former military instructor and personal secretary of King Juan Carlos, Alfonso Armada. As a godson of Alfonso XIII, the King’s grandfather, it was he who had been chosen by the conspirators to take on the role of Spain’s new Dictator. The reason the revolt never succeeded was largely due to the decisive actions of King Juan Carlos. Immediately after the coup, he contacted the country’s nine military leaders. Three were supportive of the coup; six were either opposed or undecided. He then proceeded to call his father in Rome and spoke to him at length. Many in Spain are of the opinion that the King, at the time of the coup was not entirely sure which side to support, or at least less so than reported in the official versions of the events. One decisive factor could therefore have been Don Juan’s reply: Do not lend your support to the conspirators, instead, make the Spanish people aware of the strong bond of unity that exists between the Monarchy and democratic values. When General Armada realised he couldn’t count on the King, he too started to have doubts. His close friendship with the King made him unwilling to turn against him. The Spanish people were holding their breath; many packed their suitcases and were ready to flee the country. The King then embarked on a course of action that would lead to the resolution of the crisis and afford him the status of National Hero (though it took almost six hours before he shared his decision with the Spanish people). If he had doubts during the course of that evening, we will never know, but we do know what the end result was. The King informed his people, via Radio and Television, wearing a General’s uniform and in his role as the country’s supreme military commander, shortly after 1 a.m., that the insurgents did not have his support and he urged the population to resist. The previously undecided generals quickly made their minds up and decided to oppose the coup. Colonel Tejero, now in a state of extreme nervousness, decides to surrender and release the hostages. He was sentenced by the Supreme Court of Military Justice to 30 years prison and was the last of the conspirators to be released from jail on 2 December 1996, having then served 15 years in the military prison. In the end, out of the 300 who took part in the coup, only 30 of them were ever convicted.

ETA and the Basque Nationalism

ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) which in Basque means ”The Basque Country & Freedom”, is a Basque separatist movement fighting for the creation of an independent, socialist Basque state consisting of seven Spanish and French provinces in the Pyrenees. The organisation was formed in 1959 by young Basque students as a direct reaction to Franco’s suppression. The students demanded an independent state with Basque as the official language. From 1968 onwards ETA’s actions were aimed at destroying infrastructure and Spanish symbols and to fly the Basque flag in strategic places. In 1968 ETA killed their first Spanish policeman and the death toll started rising steadily. After 1968, recruitment efforts also targeted the Basque minority in France. In the beginning of the armed struggle, under the military dictatorship of Franco in Spain, the group were supported by the Spanish opposition and the Basque population, especially after 1973 when they bombed and killed Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, who at the time was tipped as Franco’s likely successor. By the 70’s, the support was dwindling and by the 1990’s ETA had generally lost all support of the Spanish and Basque populations. Majority of ETA members weren’t from the Basque region, nor did they speak the language. The terrorist acts counteracted the efforts of the Basque people to create a stronger autonomy and independence and by then, most people wanted to put ETA and the entire period behind them. 1980 is seen as the most violent year in ETA’s history, with 118 people murdered in one year. 

ETA has been declared a Terrorist Organisation by the UN, U.S. and EU. Between 1968 and 2003, approximately 800 people were killed in acts of terror committed by ETA. The methods used were mainly bombings and targeted executions of people in authority, intellectuals, businessmen and journalists. Their activities were funded by kidnapping, blackmail, robberies and illegal arms trade. They were in the habit of sending letters to business owners demanding they pay “revolutionary tax” in exchange for protection.

ETA Promises Cease Fire – are they to be trusted?

Autumn 1998 ETA declared a cease fire and in October the same year regional elections were held without a drop of blood being spilt. It looked as if ETA were determined to follow the example of the IRA and continue the struggle by political means. (During the election campaign, Gerry Adams, the Leader of Sinn Fein – the political arm of the IRA - even visited the region). But in November 1999 the cease fire was at an end and by the year 2000, ETA had already started a long campaign of terror attacks and murder. In October 2011, just after an international peace conference in San Sebastian, ETA announced in a press release to the BBC, Berria and Gara that their armed struggle was at an end. Spain’s Prime Minister commented on the decision by proclaiming “Victory of Democracy over Terrorism”. Today, nearly 700 ETA members are serving sentences in Spanish and French prisons.

14 Years of Socialist Rule

At the parliamentary elections in 1982, seven years after the death of Franco, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) were declared clear winners – led by the 38 year old Felipe Gonzalez, a Seville lawyer - with 46% of the votes. PSOE has its roots in the Spanish labour party formed 1879 and as such, it’s the oldest political party in Spain. The consolidation of the democratic process in Spain had already taken place during the first years of Socialist rule, the years 1982-1986. Adolfo Suárez was honoured by King Juan Carlos and given the title Duke in recognition of his efforts dedicated to re-building the infrastructure in the new democratic Spain. Worries that a new military coup could threaten the democratic stability seemed distant and unlikely. After a landslide victory in 1986, when the Socialist party again won a clear majority – though with a million less votes than the last time – and the opposing right wing party, Coalición Popular, suffered a crushing defeat, the Socialist party dared to instigate a careful reform of the higher military leadership. The socialist party led Spain into the EU in 1986 and Nato membership was confirmed in a referendum later the same year. The isolated and historically self sufficient Spain had finally been integrated into the West and the European Union. The parliamentary elections of 1989 were a lot tougher and not without its elements of drama, the PSOE party only barely clung on to power. The ruling party and the opposition won equal number of seats, though the socialist gained the majority in the end, due to one of the deputies of the Basque party, Herri Batasuna, being on the run from police and unable to attend. At the 1991 local elections, the PSOE voters decreased in numbers to 7 million from the 10 million they had in the Parliamentary elections in 1982, which meant that the Socialist lost their power in Madrid, Valencia, Seville and a few other major cities. That the PSOE could remain as the ruling party for 14 years was mainly due to its leader, Felipe Gonzales. As early as 1979 he demanded that any references to Marxism should be removed from the party’s manifest, he succeeded in this only after a fierce struggle. Under his leadership the party was able to gain votes that under normal circumstances would have gone to the conservatives. The party’s liberal politics, supported by the party leader himself, had come under strong criticism from the left wing of the PSOE party. Under many years, the leader of the PSOE left wing was Alfonso Guerra, number two in the party leadership structure. He was forced to resign in 1991 from his role as deputy prime minister, partly because of his brother’s involvement in corrupt business deals, which led to a strengthening of the liberal arm of the government. It seemed nothing could stop the popular and good looking Felipe Gonzales. Despite the frequent scandals that marred the socialist party, the majority of Spaniards saw an improvement in their standard of living during the 13.5 years under Gonzales leadership. During the 1980’s, the Spanish economy grew at fantastic rate and it is interesting to compare Spain’s situation 1983 to that of 1995. During these 12 years the population grew by 1.6 million people and the number of registered foreign residents from 21,000 to 489,000. The number of people serving sentences in prison more than doubled and the unemployment figures rose from 2.3 million (17.85% of the work force) to 3.5 million (27.7%). The last figure most likely a result of the minimum wage having been increased from 32,000 Pesetas to 65,999 Pesetas per month, it suddenly was profitable to be unemployed. (Do we recognise this trend from other countries?) The number of Doctors increased but the number of hospital beds decreased. Lower birth-rate meant a decrease in number of primary school students, but with the increase unemployment, the amount of University students also doubled, it was better to study than to be unemployed. The number of University students per capita in Spain was the highest in the world (as mentioned earlier, likely due to hidden unemployment). The construction of new roads rose from 2,250 km to 7,250 km, much of it thanks to EU subsidies, in preparation for the various events due to take place in Spain in 1992, summer Olympics in Barcelona and the World Fair in Seville (EXPO 92). The investment into new roads brought with it a significant reduction in traffic related fatalities.  However, it also meant that Spain’s deficit rose from 9 billion Pesetas to 45 billion. In retrospect, the events that the Spanish had hoped would bring Spain’s economy a big boost and, by extension, consolidate the country’s final acceptance as a full member of the European Economic “A-team”, instead resulted in what some economists today refer to as “the Spanish Hangover” and the consequences were more severe than anyone could have foreseen. This was the legacy the Socialist leader Gonzales left behind when he handed over the reins to the conservative Aznar in 1996.

Conservative electoral win 1996

In the parliamentary elections on 3rd March 1996, the conservative party, Partido Popular, gained 156 congressional seats against the 141 won by the socialist PSOE. The other eight parties in the Spanish elections shared the remaining 32 seats. For the PP, that was 20 seats too few to gain the absolute majority that would have allowed them to govern independently. In the senate, however, the PP won absolute majority with 132 seats against PSOE’s 96 seats. This gave Aznar, in accordance with the Spanish constitution, two months to choose which party he wanted to collaborate with to form the government. What choices did Aznar have? The Communist party, Izquierda Unida, would naturally vote against PP; he had to turn to other parties for assistance. Among these were the Catalan Nationalist Party, CiU, with 16 seats, the Basque ONV with 5 seats and finally, the nationalistic party of the Canary Islands, Coalición Canaria, with 4 seats. The remaining 5 seats went to smaller nationalist parties who, for different reasons, did not support PP. The Catalan party would play the same strategic game they did in 1993, when PSOE and the socialist also had to ask for them for support. If PP were declared as victors in the elections, the biggest losers were the institutions in charge of the country’s Opinion Polls. Every poll had, until the day before the elections, predicted a landslide victory for the PP with around 10% more votes for the PP than the PSOE. In reality, they were practically neck in neck and it was a severe blow for the credibility of all future opinion polls in Spain. That the socialist in the end gained as many votes as they did was in large part explained by the older generation who, with Franco still on their minds, often saw PP as an extension of the old fascist regime. Those who were unsure therefore chose to give their vote for a continued Socialist Government. During the elections, all the polls had convinced Aznar that he was the sure winner of a clear majority. In particular, his deputy in the party, Alvarez Cascos, was very sure of himself, taking out the victory in advance, being cocky and demeaning towards the other parties, including the Catalan Nationalist Party CiU. That proved to be a big mistake. Aznar had to regret his words and go, cap in hand, and apologise to those he’d previously belittled for him to be able to form a government. He needed 20 seats and his only choice was Cataluña, The Basque country and the Canary Islands. After many meeting and negotiations, Aznar finally gained the support of the Canaries which led to Pujol becoming strategically important as his co-operation would tip the scale, so that the PP wouldn’t have to involve the Basque party. Spanish voters waited with bated breath for the resolution, and so did Gonzales and the PSOE. Pujol’s demand to receive a larger percentage of the so called “corresponsibilidad fiscal” which in this instance means the percentage of income tax paid to the government that is later distributed among the autonomous regions who themselves decide what the money should be spent on. This was the price Gonzales had been forced to pay after the elections in 1993 and that was the price Aznar now had to pay. In order to support the Socialist Government in 1993 Pujol demanded that 15% of the tax paid by the Catalan people should stay in the region before it was divided in Madrid and distributed to other regions. Now he saw the chance to for another “coup” – he demanded 30% of the tax to remain in the region, but intelligently and in a show of loyalty, he demanded the same rate for ALL the other 16 regions in Spain. Spain was holding its breath and only on the very last day of the 60 days of negotiations that Aznar had at his disposal, as outlined in the Spanish constitution, he finally agreed to Pujol’s demands. The conservative government was thereby saved and King Juan Carlos could formally give Aznar the task of forming government, as majority had now been achieved. Aznar formed the government with only 14 ministers, the lowest number since Spain became a democracy. Among the 14 ministers were 4 women, including Isabel Tocino, previously considered by Manuel Fraga (the politician who started the party), for the role of future party leader. She was given the new post of Minister for the Environment.   Spain now had a conservative Government after 14 years of Socialist rule and many Spaniards drew a breath of relief.

The New Ruling party - Partido Popular

What would have happened with the conservative parties after Adolfo Suárez handed in his resignation in 1981? Suárez was the leader of a centre alliance during his time as Prime Minister, after Franco’s death and up to the year 1981, the party then almost ceased to exist. The Conservative Partido Popular was formed under the name Alianza Popular. It was just after Franco’s death that the previous Minister in Franco’s government, Manuel Fraga, started the party which, politically, was far right on the scale. Manuel Fraga was seen as a political genius and had, among other things, been in charge of the Spanish Ministry of Tourism during the 60’s and later, as Minister of Information, during several terms. He was also one of the men who built the foundations of Spain as a tourist destination and the tourist boom that started in Spain in the beginning of the 60’s. When Fraga decided to withdraw as a Party leader he did so for many reasons. The old Franco supporter Fraga had far too many links to the Fascist regime to be a suitable driving force behind the largest opposition party and credible alternative to the Socialist party. Also, his age was starting to take its toll. After the 1986 election his party had also come to the realisation that they never would gain political power in Spain with Fraga as the party leader. To overcome this obstacle, Fraga resigned the presidency of the party in 1987 and handed the reins over to a young lawyer (yet another one) from Andalucía by the name of Antonio Hernandez Mancha. With a nervous disposition and introspective personality, lacking in charm and charisma and with a tendency to become overly aggressive in debates, he was a disappointment to the party and it was not long before his fellow party members understood that he would never constitute a threat to Felipe Gonzales in the forthcoming elections. In 1989, the situation became critical and Fraga had to act quickly, he once again took over the leadership of the party and continued to search for a successor. The next candidate was Marcelino Oreja, a former Minister in Suárez central party, UCD, and secretary general for the European Council. At the same time, the party changed its name to Partido Popular, or PP, as it generally referred to by the Spanish people. Despite Oreja’s stable political background the party was again losing ground.  Parliamentary elections were soon to be held and Fraga was forced to once more to try to find a new party leader. After his closest advisors advised him against his first choice, Isabel Tocino, lawyer and mother of six, he instead opted for the Madrid born former tax inspector, Jose’ Maria Aznar, as party leader. Aznar had an impressive past as President for the region Castilla y León. In the party elections autumn 1989 the party suffered a severe loss but it was at this time Aznar started to develop the “new” party. This was to be the start of the future successes of the party which ended with victory in the parliamentary elections with Aznar as Prime Minister.

1996 – 2000 with Jose’ Maria Aznar

In March 1996, the country’s leadership was taken over by the Partido Popular – (PP) and Jose’ Maria Alfredo Aznar Lopez (which is his full name), with almost half the seats in congress. Aznar decided to liberalise the economy with a program of privatisation, reform the labour market and took steps to increase competition on certain markets, specifically telecommunications. During the first mandate, Spain fulfilled the criteria for membership in the European Monetary Union. During this period, Spain, along with USA and the other countries in the Nato Alliance, participated in military operations in Yugoslavia. Spain also participated in the war in Kosovo in 1999, and Spanish military forces and some units of the Spanish police joined the UN peacekeeping forces in Bosnia (IFOR, SFOR) and in Kosovo (KFOR). The period is remembered as a time of social change through new legislations and political decisions (change of education laws, the war in Iraq 2003, but also the sinking of the oil tanker Prestige in 2002 and the bombings in Madrid in 2004) which some parts of the population strongly objected to.

2000-2004 – Four more years with Aznar

The leader of the Partido Popular, Jose’ Maria Aznar, led Spain as Prime Minister between 4th May 1996 to 1st April 2004. He was the first conservative politician to rule Spain since the days of Franco.

He became leader of the PP in 1990 and his centre politics contributed to the party’s victory in the elections in 1996 when the socialists’ long rein in power was broken. In the elections to the Cortes, (Spain’s parliament), in 2000 Jose’ Maria Aznar’s conservative party won the outright majority and therefore did not have to compromise with regional politicians such a Jordi Pujol of Cataluña, who lost much of his influence. As Prime Minister he worked towards a closer collaboration with the US and privatisation of state run companies and he led Spain during the Iraqi War in 2003. His mandate period was characterized by economic progress, with Spain’s BNP being the fastest growing among the EU countries, at the same time as the country was marred by inflation and unemployment. The bombings in Madrid in 2004, which took place during the elections campaign, contributed to weaken his already precarious position. Since the government wrongly had claimed that it was ETA – previously responsible for an assassination attempt against Aznar in 1995 – who had been behind the terrorist attack, the party lost the elections. He resigned as leader of the party that same year, and before the 2004 elections he appointed the then vice Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, as the new candidate for the PP.

Terrorist Attack in Madrid 11 March 2004.

The 11th March 2004, precisely two and half years after the attacks in the US on the 11th September, a number of bombs exploded on several commuter trains en route to the Atocha station in Madrid, killing nearly 200 people. Aznar’s government immediately blamed the attack on the Basque terrorist movement ETA – but that lie – and the prevailing bitterness over Aznar’s decision to send Spaniards to their deaths in Iraq – was to cost the party dearly. It soon became obvious that the attacks were carried out by Islamic terrorists, many of them from Morocco, as a revenge for Spain’s involvement in the Iraq war. The party, previously expected to win the elections, lost their power to the Socialist Party (Partido Socilista Obrero de España) and the new Prime Minister, the Social Democrat José Rodriguez Zapatero, ordered the immediate withdrawal of Spanish troops in Iraq.

Parliamentary Elections 2004 - José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in power.

PSOE gained parliamentary power in the elections 14th March 2004, three days after the terror attacks in Madrid. José Rodgriguez Zapatero was chosen as Prime Minister. As early as 1986 he was already a member of the party - the youngest Member of Parliament in Spain´s history. In 2000, he was nominated as the leader of a party that, at the time, was severely divided and in deep crisis. The three most important issues dealt with in the beginning of his mandate period were: Ensuring that 50% of ministry posts were allocated to women, withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq and the legalisation of gay marriage. Some are of the opinion that the terror attacks were an important factor in the outcome of the elections, since Aznar had involved the country in the Iraq, and the bombings were a direct response to that decision. Before the attacks, one of the PSOE electoral promises were to withdraw all Spanish soldiers from Iraq and the day after the successful election result, Rodriguez Zapatero announced that all the 1,300 soldiers were to return home from Iraq. During his earlier rein Zapatero also initiated a dialogue with the Basque separatist movement´s terrorist division, ETA, something he later came to regret, after ETA bombed an airport in 2007.

2008-2011 Second Mandate Period with Zapatero

Zapatero remained in power after the parliamentary elections in 2008. Outright majority was not achieved in any of the elections and Zapatero was therefore forced to form coalition governments with the Communist Party and other regional nationalist parties, the Basque Nationalist Party among them. Zapatero´s second mandate period was mainly spent dealing with high unemployment and large budget deficits. At the time of election, Spain had yet not been affected by the economic downturn that at the time had start spreading in Western Europe. However, directly after the elections, Spain´s economy stalled completely. The crisis was further aggravated by the fall of the Lehman Brothers in the US at the same time as Spain´s enormous construction bubble burst and the existing market downturn turned into a full-blown debt crisis. Prime Minister Zapatero tried to put the brakes on the country´s spending which only made the crisis worse. Later in 2010, when he drastically cut public spending, he quickly lost popularity. In 2011 his position as party leader became untenable and he decided to advance the date of the next general election to the autumn of 2011 and at the same time he announced his resignation. The 2nd of April 2001, Zapatero went public with the news that he would not seek another term as Prime Minister in the forthcoming elections and Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba was chosen as his replacement.

Parliamentary Elections 2011- Partido Popular with Mariano Rajoy take Power

The victors in the 2011 elections were the conservatives, Partido Popular, lead by the 56 year old Galician Mariano Rajoy Brey. It was a landslide victory for Rajoy who was appointed party leader in 2003. He had previously held the posts of Minister of the Interior and Minister of Education back in the days when José Maria Aznar was Prime Minister, between 1996 and 2004. The parliamentary elections in 2011, the 10th elections held after Spain´s transition to democracy, were held on the 20th November 2011. The candidate for the Socialists was Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, former Minister of Interior in Zapatero´s Government. The 56 year old Rajoy has often been described as lacking in charisma. At that time the PP had won outright majority with 44% of the vote and 187 of 350 seats in congress. The ruling party, PSOE, were lagging behind with 29%, or 109 seats. Rajoy was now facing one of the nation´s largest challenges ever. During his first years in power the debt crisis deepened. The public spending cuts lead to an increase in unemployment and in the beginning of 2013, 25% of the adult work force was unemployed and 50% of youths. Simultaneously, the conservative party was hit by a serious corruption scandal, but with parliamentary majority, Rajoy could still continue to forge ahead with his own political ideas. However, the crisis lead to the separatist’s movement grew in Cataluña and the Basque country at the same time as confidence for the Government was at an all time low.

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