The 1978 Constitution dismantled the political system of the Franco regime and established Spain as a democratic state ruled by law. The writing of the Constitution was a long and arduous task, involving extensive negotiations and compromise. Spain has a history of failed constitutions, and the framers of the 1978 Constitution endeavored to devise a document that would be acceptable to all the major political forces.
In July 1977, the Committee on Constitutional Affairs was formed, made up of thirty-six deputies from the newly elected Cortes. These deputies in turn appointed a seven-member subcommittee that included members of the major national parties and one representative, a Catalan, of the regional parties. This group was to produce a draft constitution, which it completed in December and presented to the full committee. Vigorous debate ensued, and by the time the draft was returned to the subcommittee for final revision in January 1978, individual Cortes deputies and party caucuses had proposed more than 1,000 amendments.
As the seven subcommittee members attempted to address the issues raised by these amendments, consensus began to break down over provisions concerning the Roman Catholic Church, education, labor lockouts, and the regional issue. The PSOE delegate withdrew from the subcommittee in protest on two occasions, and it required delicate diplomatic maneuvering on the part of Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez Gonzalez to surmount the stalemate in the constituent process. Compromise agreements were reached by the end of May, when the text went back to the full committee. By June 20, this committee had completed revisions of the draft document, which was presented for debate in the Congress of Deputies (lower chamber of the Cortes) in July, a year after the formation of the constitutional committee.
The text was passed with negligible opposition, although deputies of the Basque Nationalist Party (Partido Nacionalista Vasco--PNV) abstained because of what they termed the inadequate provisions for regional autonomy. The draft constitution then went to the Senate (upper chamber of the Cortes), where it again received more than 1,000 amendments and was revised by another constitutional committee. At the end of September, the full Senate discussed the text and approved it. Because there were differences between the version passed by the Senate and the one approved by the Congress of Deputies, another committee, including both senators and deputies, was required to resolve the discrepancies. This group also added the stipulation that the prime minister must either call for new elections or seek a vote of confidence within thirty days of the promulgation of the new constitution.
On October 31, 1978, both chambers overwhelmingly approved the text of the new Constitution, which was presented to the people in a referendum on December 6, 1978. Of the 67.7 percent of eligible voters who went to the polls, 87.8 percent accepted the new Constitution, which was signed by the king on December 27.
The Constitution that the Spaniards ratified in 1978 is long and complicated. In their efforts to avoid dogmatism and to gain widespread support, the framers had produced a document that was hailed as a triumph for consensus politics, but at the same time the new Constitution included ambiguous language and contradictory provisions, which gave rise to problems of interpretation in subsequent months and years.
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