Premier Adolfo Suarez today called general elections for March 1 in a move that was designed to complete Spain's transition to democracy.
The premier also put into effect without delay the country's new constitution, which was promulgated today after being approved in a national referendum earlier this month. Suarez set municipal elections for April 3.
The two elections will effectively relegate to history books the last vestiges of the harsh Francisco Franco dictatorship, which kept Spain under authoritarian rule for decades following his victory in the 1936-39 civil war.
Spain held congressional elections 18 months ago, but it has not had nationwide democratic municipal voting since before the war. Many cities are still run by Franco sympathizers, and both foreign and Spanish analysts hold that full democracy will not return to Spain until the cities elect their own local governments.
By going to the people, Suarez and his Center Democratic Union Party expect to obtain a decisive majority so that the moderate social and economic policies they have advocated can be put into effect. The premier, a good campaigner, is expected to use his office to promote his image as the architect of Spanish democracy.
The strongest challenge to Suarez is expected from the Socialists, who have a large following. The Socialists welcomed the premier's decision to hold elections, but they are widely perceived as being unprepared to rule. Many Spaniards who would like to see them in power fear that the military and the bureaucracy would undermine any Socialist government.
Suarez himself has had serious problems with the military over such issues as legalization of the Communist Party and autonomy for the Basque region.