“My grief is great. My gratitude is ever-lasting”, said King Juan Carlos I of Spain in a televised speech last night after the death at the age of 81 of Adolfo Suárez, the country’s first democractically elected Prime Minister, who partnered the King in the transition of Spain into a democracy following the end of the Franco dicatorship.
Born on 25 September 1932, Adolfo Suárez González studied law and came to hold several high posts in the Francoist government and the Francoist party, the National Movement. He came to know Prince Juan Carlos while he worked in the state broadcasting company TVE, whose general director he became in 1969, the same year as the Prince was appointed Franco’s successor.
Following Franco’s death and Juan Carlos’s accession to the throne in November 1975, the King made the bold move of appointing Suárez Prime Minister in July 1976. The appointment of a moderate member of the Francoist party caused anger both to the left and the right of the political spectre, but Suárez managed to find a way that made room for reforms without provoking a military reaction from Francoist hardliners.
A democratic general election in June 1977 was won by his centrist alliance, the Union of the Democratic Centre. The transition continued with the introduction of a democractic Constitution, passed by both houses of parliament in October 1978 and in a referendum the following December.
Suárez won another general election in March 1979, but in the ordinary circumstances that now reigned Suárez distanced himself from everyday politics and rarely appeared in Parliament.
He was, however, present in Parliament on 23 February 1981, a month after his resignation as Prime Minister, when the chamber was stormed by armed soldiers in a military coup that failed, and drew admiration as one of only three MPs who refused to obey the putschists’ order to lie down on the floor and remained in his seat.
The year after his resignation, Suárez formed a new parti, the Democractic and Social Centre, but won only two seats in Parliament in the next election. He retired from politics in 1991. During the past decade he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and was, according to his son, unable to remember that he had been Prime Minister.
King Juan Carlos showered honours over the man who led Spain’s transition to a democracy. He received the Grand Cross of the Order of Carlos III in 1978 and was created Duke of Suárez and a Grandee of Spain upon his resignation in 1981. In 2007 he was made a Knight of the ancient Order of the Golden Fleece and was posthumously awareded the Grand Cross Collar of the Order of Carlos III when King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofía and Princess Elena paid their respects at his lying-in-state in the Parliament building in Madrid earlier today.