After the Death of General Franco

November 1975

This is the first article in my series on the Spanish Transition to Democracy and briefly describes the political situation in Spain immediately after the death of Franco when Prince Juan Carlos assumed the role of Head of State.


The Political Situation in Spain after the Death of General Franco

Faced with the worsening of the dictator's illness, Prince Juan Carlos assumed the functions of Head of State on October 30th 1975, for the second and last time. On Franco's death, the Council of the Regency, temporarily assumed the role. Two days later, on November 22nd 1975, Juan Carlos became king under the Law of Succession for the Head of State. This was one of the eight Fundamental Laws of the Francoist regime and had allowed the dictator to designate Juan Carlos as his successor in 1969.

Until the onset of Franco's illness, the Prince had remained in a discretely in the background following the guidelines laid down by the general, and few Spaniards imagined how instrumental the young king would be in defining the country's political future. The death of the Franco would allow Juan Carlos, as King of Spain, to promote the implantation of a democratic system in Spain. This project had widespread support both inside and outside the country, from other the western countries, an important sector of Spanish and international capitalism, the majority of the democratic opposition and a growing sector within the Francoist regime itself.

However, the Transition had to overcome resistance cause by the regime itself, a framework of tension caused by radical groups on the extreme left and Francoist groups on the extreme right. The latter counted on a considerable amount of support from within the army and both sectors were a threat to Spain's political stability.

For the successful completion of the project, the opposition had to be able to control its supporters and avoid any kind of provocation. Similarly, it was crucial that the army didn't succumb to the temptation of intervening in the political process in order to save the Francoist structures. This was the double problem that Juan Carlos and his collaborators had to deal with.

The death of the dictator had created a new political situation, in which there were three clearly differentiated positions.

  1. Supporters of the Francoist regime, known as the Bunker, who wanted to maintain Franco's legal system. Despite little social support, the Bunker dominated the Army and the main body within the State administration, the Council of the Realm, as well as having strong support amongst the procurators of the Cortes, the Spanish Parliament.

  2. The democratic opposition was originally organised in two associations of still illegal political parties, the Junta Democrática de España and the Plataforma de Convergencia Democrática. These ended up combining as the association Coordinación Democrática, known as Platajunta. This group favoured a rupture or a clean break with the Francoist regime and to convert Spain into a democratic State as quickly as possible.

  3. The third group was defined by Torcuato Fernández Miranda, who was former interim president of the government in 1973 and Juan Carlos's political law teacher. Fernández Miranda was in favour of reforming the Fundamental Laws of the Movement using its own dispositions in order to achieve democracy without legal gaps. In the words of Fernández Miranda himself, it was a question of moving "from law to law via the law"

Juan Carlos began his reign without leaving the principles of Francoist legality. So, he swore loyalty to the Principles of the Movement, took possession of the crown before the Francoist Cortes and was named Head of State according to the Organic Law of State of 1966. However, in his speech before the Cortes he already showed openly that he was in favour of transforming the the Spanish political system.

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