Securing Democracy: Political Parties and Democratic Consolidation in Southern Europe

By Geoffrey Pridham | Go to book overview

Chapter six

Regime consolidation in Spain; party, state, and society

Richard Gillespie


Transition and consolidation

Spain's process of democratic consolidation in the 1980s has proven at times to be one of the most hazardous of recent southern European experiences. Colonel Tejero's dramatic invasion of the Cortes in February 1981 illustrated the fragility of the new regime, which has also been challenged by the violence of the Basque separatist organization, ETA. Yet though political violence has persisted, the consolidation of the post-Franco regime has advanced during this decade, and as it has done so the character of Spain's democracy has become more evident.

Possessing several of the traits of Italy's partitocrazia, such as the abuse of power by governing parties, their penetration of the state, and unsupportive attitude toward independent popular organizations, Spain none the less initially differed from post-war Italy by having a less problematic 'Communist Question' to complicate the process of democratic consolidation. Unlike Italy, moreover, Spanish democracy has thus far managed to maintain single party government. Indeed, for much of the 1980s the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) has been an extremely dominant party, with no clear alternative emerging to challenge it. However, a decade after the first post-Franco elections the party system was still evolving and with the Socialists' popularity eventually declining, it was by no means certain that the 'predominant' character suggested by the general election results of 1982 and 1986 would be confirmed at the following election (see Table 3).

In Spain the issue of one-party predominance was central to the discussion of democratic consolidation, with many holding the liberal view that the existence of a viable alternative to the government was necessary if one were to regard the democratization process as complete. Certainly the post-Franco period has seen a succession of failed attempts to develop an effective centre-right political party. Antagonistic interests and personalities played their part in this failure, as did the political division of the economic elite when confronted with

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