The First Democratic Spanish Elections after Franco

June 15th 1977

This seventh article in my series on Spain's Transition to Democracy covers the first democratic elections in Spain after the death of Franco

The elections were held on June 1th 1977 and the main parties standing were the right-wing Alianza Popular, the centre right UCD, the social democrat PSOE and the communist PCE.

The results gave a victory to the centre right and left parties, UCD and PSOE, and gave rise to an imperfect two-party system that also included the Basue and Catalan nationalists.


The Democratic System

On March 18th, the government released a decree-law to regulate the elections that were going to held in June. For the Congress of Deputies, it established a proportional representation electoral system corrected by the application of the D'Hondt Method and fixing a minimum of two deputies for each province, which favoured rural areas over the more populated urban and industrial areas, with closed blocked lists.

For the Senate, there would be a majority electoral system with open lists, in which 41 out of 207 seats were not elected but rather designated by the King. Two months later 111 parties had applied for registration, out of which 78 were legalised.

The Political Parties

On the left, the panorama was dominated by the historic parties, PSOE and PCE. Although it hadn't been legalised yet, the much less established PSOE had managed to hold its 37th Congress in Spain in December 1976 after 40 years, thanks to the tolerance of the government. PSOE reaffirmed itself as a marxist republican party, although its immediate programme was moderate and was based on beginning a series of reforms that would allow Spain to have the same level of welfare and social protection as Northern European countries with social democrat governments. At the Congress, under the slogan "Socialism is freedom", which attended by important European socialists, such as Willy Brandt and Olaf Palme, the leadership of the Seville group, headed by Felipe González and Alfonso Guerra, was confirmed.

Competing for the "socialist space" was the Partido Socialista Popular led by professor Enrique Tierno Galván as well as various regional socialist parties, such as the Moviment Socialista de Catalunya, which comprised the Federación de Partidos Socialistas (FPS). These groups finally decided to stand as Unidad Socialista PSP-FPS rather than joining PSOE, which refused to form a coalition with them.

The PCE, the dominant anti-Francoist party, had abandoned marxist-leninism and its dependence on the Soviet Communist Party, and now supported the so-called Eurocommunism, along with French and Italian communists, alhough it hadn't abandoned the Leninist model of the Revolution of October 1917. Together with PCE competing for the communist space were numerous small groups and extreme left parties, which weren't legalised and couldn't stand under their own name - Movimiento Comunista, PCE (marxista-leninista), Partido del Trabajo de España, Liga Comunista Revolucionaria, Organización Revolucionaria de Trabajadores, Organización Comunista de España (Bandera Roja), etc.

On the other hand, the republican parties, with little support, also weren't legalised and had to stand for the elections in other forms. This was the case of Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña.

On the right the situation was more confusing than on the left. On the extreme right, the Francoist Bunker was fragmented between various falangist groups and Fuerza Nueva, which for the elections under the name of Alianza Nacional del 18 de Julio.

Amongst the reformist Francoists, Manuel Fraga Iribarne ended up leading the sector that thought that Suárez's reform had gone too far with the legalisation of the PCE and the consideration that the new Cortes would be constituent. The result of this was the formation in October 1976 of Alianza Popular comprising seven of Franco's former ministers known as the Matgnificent Seven: Manuel Fraga, Laureano López Rodó, Federico Silva Muñoz, Cruz Martínez Esteruelas, Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora, Licinio de la Fuente and Enrique Thomas de Carranza. Fraga's aim was, according to Javier Tusell, "to vertebrate sociological Francoism". A view shared by Julio Gil Pecharromán.

Similarly, in November 1976, the Francoist reformers who supported Suárez founded a party called Partido Popular, whose name was inspired by European Christian democrat paties. Led by Pío Cabanillas and José María de Areilza, it favoured the centrist option "with the aim of avoiding the politisation of the Spanish life into two antagonistic blocs" according to its manifesto. From this party came the idea of forming a great coalition that would include moderate opposition parties, such as the liberals of Ignacio Camuñas and Joaquín Garrigues Walker, Christian democrats of Fernando Álvarez de Miranda, and social democrats of Francisco Fernández Ordoñez. This how the coalition that finally became Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD) began. UCD was eventually led by Suárez and the main government ministers, the president's men, displacing the Partido Popular founders and José María de Areilza was forced to leave.

The only moderate democratic opposition that didn't integrate in UCD were the Christian democrats of Izquierda Democrática of Joaquín Ruiz Giménez and Federación Popular Democrática of José María Gil Robles, who were allied to the regional Christian democrat parties, Unió Democrática de Catalunya and Unió Democràtica del País Valencià, which formed the Equipo Demócrata Cristiano del Estado Español. The Basue nationalists of PNV and the Catalan nationalists of Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya, led by Jordi Pujol, didn't join UCD either.

The Results

The elections were held without incident on June 1th 1977 with a high participation of around 70 of the census. They were won by UCD, although without an absolute majority in the Congress of the Deputies. They won 34 of the votes, which was 16 seats leaving them 11 short of the absolute majority. The reason for the victory was partly that the coalition had capitalised on the enormous popularity of the president and also the enormous advantages conceded by the only television channel in Spain at the time (TVE) as well as generous loans conceded by the banks to finance the election campaign.

The other winner was PSOE, who by winning 29.3% of the votes and 118 deputies became the dominant party on the left. PCE only won 9.4% of the votes and 20 deputies despite having been the main party in the fight against Francoism. PSOE also beat Tierno Galvan's PSP, which only won 6 deputies and 4% of the votes.

Along with the PCE, the other big loser was Manuel Fraga's Alianza Popular, which only obtained 8.3% of the votes and 16 deputies, 13 of which had been ministers under Franco. The Christian democrats led by Ruiz Giménez and Gil Robles fared even worse and didn't obtain any deputies at all. This was partly because the Catholic Church didn't give them their support but also because their programme didn't make an impact on voters.

Similarly, neither the extreme right, which only won 192,000 votes all together, nor the extreme left won any parliamentary representation.

The two main parties or coalitions (UCD and PSOE), who were both in the centre of the political spectrum, had won 63% of the votes and 80 of the seats (83 out of 350). Two more parties, AP on the right and PCE on the left, had much less support. The exception to this imperfect two-party system was the Basque Country, where PNV won 8 seats, and Catalonia, where Pacte Democràtic per Catalunya led by Jordi Pujol won 11.

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