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Spain marks 40th anniversary of referendum that approved the post-Franco democratic constitution

Prime minister Pedro Sánchez, Queen Sofía, King Juan Carlos, Princess Leonor, Infanta Sofía, Queen Letizia and King Felipe on Thursday.
Prime minister Pedro Sánchez, Queen Sofía, King Juan Carlos, Princess Leonor, Infanta Sofía, Queen Letizia and King Felipe on Thursday. / AFP
  • King emeritus, Juan Carlos, has been given a central role in a week when both constitutional successes and challenges have been at the fore

The Constitution Day public holiday yesterday, 6 December, took on special significance as the country marked the 40th anniversary of the referendum that approved the shape of democracy in Spain after General Franco's dictatorship.

On 6 December 1978, three years after Franco's death, Spain voted 92 per cent in favour of its new constitution, a document with 169 articles that, among many other things, enshrined the monarch as head of state and ushered in the system of devolved regional governments.

This year's annual commemoration has seen additional events and ceremonies taking place across the country. On Tuesday in Madrid, the king emeritus, King Juan Carlos, and Queen Sofía, opened a special exhibition dedicated to the Constitution. Juan Carlos, 80, who abdicated in 2014, was central to the transition to democracy. There was relief from some parts that he was being given a central role in the celebrations, after he had controversially been left out of last year's ceremony marking 40 years since the first post-Franco parliamentary election.

Speaking about his father this week, Felipe VI said the retired monarch was "witness and direct participant" in the "deep and decisive transformation" since 1978 in Spain.

Yesterday (Thursday) politicians and dignitaries, including the royal family, attended a ceremony in parliament. In his speech, King Felipe said that the Constitution was the "living soul of democracy" and the "great pact of coexistence" among the people of Spain.

Challenges

Observers have also commented this week on the increased challenges to the constitutional status quo, including the Catalan separatist question and the irony of the anniversary falling in the week that the anti-constitutional Vox party, which seeks to abolish regional autonomy, made its first political breakthrough in Andalucía.