26 February 1981: Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo becomes Spanish PM

Calvo Sotelo being sworn in in front of King Juan Carlos in 1981.
Calvo Sotelo being sworn in in front of King Juan Carlos in 1981. / EFE

  • Three days earlier there had been fears that democracy in Spain had been short-lived when parliament was held hostage in an attempted coup

Forty years ago today, on 26 February 1981, Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo was sworn in as prime minister of Spain. Not an extraordinary day in politics, one might think, but only three days previously, when Calvo Sotelo's election was due to be confirmed in a second round of voting, there was an attempted coup d'état by Lieutenant General Antonio Tejero and around 200 armed Civil Guard officers, who held everyone in the parliament building hostage for 18 hours. The attempted coup came to an end when the insurrectionists surrendered, following intervention by King Juan Carlos.

Calvo Sotelo was born into a prominent political and entrepreneurial family in Madrid on 14 April 1926. His uncle José, who had been a Minister of Finance in the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, was assassinated in the run-up to the Spanish Civil War.

Leopoldo, who had a degree in civil engineering, had previously been the president of the national railway company Renfe, among other appointments. Following the death of Franco in 1975, he was appointed Minister of Trade in the first government of the monarchy, led by Carlos Arias Navarro, and went on to become Minister of Public Works when Adolfo Suárez was prime minister. He was also Minister for Relations with the European Economic Community from 1978 to 1980.

After Suárez resigned, Calvo Sotelo was proposed as candidate for prime minister. During his tenure, Spain became a member of NATO. On 27 August 1982 he dissolved the government and new elections took place on 28 October. His party, the UCD, suffered a major defeat by PSOE and Felipe González became prime minister.

In 2002, King Juan Carlos gave Calvo Sotelo the hereditary title of Marquis de la Ría de Ribadeo and made him a Grandee of Spain to honour his service to the country. He died of natural causes at his home in Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid, on 3 May 2008, aged 82.