23 March 2014: The death of Adolfo Suárez, former prime minister, aged 81

A sketch of Adolfo Suárez.
A sketch of Adolfo Suárez. / SUR
  • What happened today?

  • A popular figure, Adolfo Suárez managed to encourage Spain's diverse political factions to come together and create a democratic Spain after the death of Franco

Adolfo Suárez went down in history as the politician who managed, along with King Juan Carlos, to encourage Spain's diverse political factions - Francoists, conservatives, socialists, communists and nationalists - to come together and create a democratic Spain after the death of the dictator Franco in 1975.

In 2014 he did the same thing: he brought together politicians and institutions, with all their differences and quarrels, in this case after his death.

All the political groups represented in the Spanish parliament (with the exception of Basque and Catalan nationalist groups Amaiur and Esquerra); the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and his cabinet; the opposition leader; the three living former prime ministers of the democracy, Felipe González, José María Aznar and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero; the former Catalan president, Jordi Pujol, and the then Catalan leader, secession advocate Artur Mas; respectfully filed past the coffin of the man whose example and courage in the face of political adversity they all praised.

King Juan Carlos, accompanied by Queen Sofía and the Infanta Elena, visited the chapel of rest in the Spanish parliament where he sat in silence for ten minutes. Juan Carlos, who was to abdicate less than three months later, had explicitly asked for some silent time to pay his last respects to a &ldquoloyal friend&rdquo and &ldquoexceptional collaborator&rdquo. The chapel was also visited by Prince Felipe, who said, &ldquoIt's a great loss for Spain. We have everything to thank him for.&rdquo

After the death of Franco, newly crowned King Juan Carlos named Suárez prime minister in 1976 with the responsibility of guiding the country through the Transition to democracy.

He oversaw the passing of the Political Reform, which would allow for democratic elections, through parliament. In 1977, against the wishes of the Francoist ranks and the armed forces, Suárez legalised the Communist party. In 1978 the Constitution was approved by referendum and the following year Suárez became Spain's first democratically elected prime minister after his party, the UCD (formed by 15 parties of different ideologies), won the elections. All his success leading up to the elections, however, started to fall apart soon after he had won his seat. In 1980 the PSOE socialist party, led by Felipe González, proposed a no confidence motion: it didn't succeed but all the same was a symptom of Suárez's weakening as UCD leader. Internal battles within his party led to his resignation in 1981.

Suárez made his last public appearance in 2003 at a PP political rally in Albacete. He made a speech in support of his son, Adolfo Suárez Illana, who was a candidate for president of Castilla-La Mancha. The former prime minister had Alzheimer's disease and signs of his mental deterioration were clear, although it was not announced publicly until 2005. By then he couldn't remember he had been prime minister. In 2008 he was visited by his old friend King Juan Carlos, who presented him with the distinction of the Order of the Golden Fleece, but whom he failed to recognise.