Change of Power

1975- King Juan Carlos gains power from Franco, a strict nationalist, and helps the country transition to a democracy.

Following the death of Francisco Franco, a ruthless general who ruled for close to 40 years King Juan Carlos comes to power.  The grandson of King Alfonso XIII, he was the technical heir to the throne.  After gaining control he  helped the country transition to a democratic form of government. Franco ruled as a dictator, coming into power after the civil war.  Upon entry Juan Carlos stated “that he was the king of all the people and that he was an instrument of national reconciliation” (   Because Spain had been somewhat democratic before Franco’s rule, the switch to democracy was fairly easy.  Juan Carlos aimed to restore individual freedom to his people and work through peaceful negotiations.  Many of Spain’s regions had been autonomous and desired the return to their previous freedoms of individual rule.  The king worked to create an agreement that would balance power between the 17 regions and a central government.

In this way he was able to keep the loyalty of Spain’s armed forces which aided the reformation.  He and his Prime Minister, Adolfo Suarez Gonzalez, set about freeing political prisoners and allowing citizens to choose their own political party.  Not long after, in 1977, the first public election was held since Franco was in power.  This was one way ” to install a new government in a country that was still largely divided along the same lines that fought its civil war in the 1930’s’ (NPR).  The Union of the Democratic center won the majority of votes and showed Spain’s support for the new democratic government.

Juan Carlos strove to maintain peace between the new varying political parties and worked to balance the power of individual regions with that of the national government.   His efforts to transition were not met without resistance.  He even earned the nickname of “Juan Carlos the Brief” to suggest he and his ideas would not last (  One such group that opposed him was the ETA, a Basque nationalist group with similar views to Franco’s.  This group carried out several terrorist attacks throughout Spain for years, going back and forth on an agreement to a cease fire.  They were unable to have a significant impact in discouraging Spaniards to get on board with the new government.   In 1978 a new constitution was released after much discussion with the goal to support each citizen.   Having both a Prime minister and a king, Spain’s government is set up as a constitutional monarchy.  While the king is head of state and the military, having more power than the prime minister, the second in command offers  a balance to the king’s control.


Juan Carlos saw Spain through their devastating economic crisis and maintained a good reputation all through his time as king.  Unfortunately he lost some of his credit when he was seen racking up frivolous personal expenses during the recession.   He continued to rule Spain until 2014, when after experiencing some health issues, he made public his decision to abdicate and pass the throne on to his son Prince Felipe.