Suárez, Adolfo (b. 1932)

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SUÁREZ, ADOLFO (b. 1932)


Spanish political leader.

Adolfo Suárez was born in the town of Cebreros, Spain, in Ávila province. After studying law in Madrid, he began a career in the administration of Francisco Franco, during which he held a large number and wide range of positions of increasing rank and importance. These included director of Spanish state television's Channel 1, civil governor of Segovia, director general of Spanish Radio and Television, and secretary general of the National Movement, the official party of the Franco regime, which also carried the rank of cabinet minister.

Given this orthodox background, there was great surprise when King Juan Carlos I named him prime minister in July 1976 and charged him with moving Spain from a dictatorship to a constitutional monarchy. The opposition saw Suárez as a Francoist, while the people within the regime who were known to advocate reform saw him as an inexperienced lightweight. One well-known political figure publicly described the choice as a "terrible mistake."

As it turned out, Suárez surprised everybody, and within two years Spain had become a democratic state. The keys to this success were his commitment to steady reform and his willingness to engage the main leaders of the democratic opposition—and their willingness to compromise on key issues, such as the monarchy. In November 1976 he got the last Francoist Cortes (parliament) to approve his Law of Political Reform, which called for democratic elections and a large number of public rights and freedoms. The law was overwhelmingly approved in a referendum held on 15 December 1976. Suárez was also prepared to take the occasional risk to highlight his sincerity: the most significant was his decision to legalize the Communist Party so it could take part in the first democratic elections, on 15 June 1977.

Suárez also succeeded in building a political party that could distance itself from too close an association with the Franco regime and reasonably claim to occupy the center ground of the political spectrum. The Union of the Democratic Center (Unión de Centro Democrático, or UCD) was a coalition of a number of political figures from diverse political currents: Christian Democrats, liberals, and even social democrats. A number of these figures were "notables" in their own right, and the party was always very fragile, held together primarily by Suárez's charisma and his ability to win elections.

Suárez's party comfortably won the first democratic elections, and this legislature saw the drafting and approval, on 6 December 1978, of a new democratic constitution. This marked the end of what was called the period of consensus. Competition among the political parties became more intense, and as the country's economic situation deteriorated markedly, social conflict also increased. UCD again won elections in March 1979, but by then the party's internal cohesion was under severe strain, with many deputies even leaving the party.

Suárez's position at the center of Spain's political life came to a sudden, unexpected, and highly dramatic end in early 1981. Faced with strong criticism from the opposition as well as from within his own party, and amidst rumors of a possible military coup, he resigned as prime minister. On 23 February, as parliament was voting on his successor, Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, a group of Civil Guard burst into the legislature and held the entire parliament to ransom. The attempted coup, which was captured live on television, failed the next day.

By 1982, the conflicts within UCD had reached such a point that Suárez left the party he had founded and led to power to create a new party, the Democratic and Social Center. Suárez himself was elected to parliament in 1982, 1986, and 1989, and his party briefly appeared as if it would become a major force, winning nineteen deputies in 1986, but it declined quickly thereafter. Suárez himself retired from politics in 1991 and returned to practicing law. In 1996 he was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, Spain's equivalent to the Nobel Peace Prize.

See alsoFranco, Francisco; Spain.


Aguilar, Paloma. "The Opposition to Franco, the Transition to Democracy, and the New Political System." In Spanish History since 1808, edited by JoséAlvarez Junco and Adrian Shubert, 303–314. London, 2000.

Gunther, Richard, Giacomo Sani, and Goldie Shabad. Spain after Franco: The Making of a Competitive Party System. Berkeley, Calif., 1986.

Preston, Paul. The Triumph of Democracy in Spain. London, 1986.

Adrian Shubert