Francisco Franco ruled with absolute control ("the fundamental law") over Spain from 1939 (following the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War) until November 1975.
In the wake of his death, the first national referendum for democracy (after 36 years of oppressive autocracy) was held in December 1976. Out of the 98% of the ballots cast, 95% of the 22 million eligible voters who went to the polls voted yes to changing the Constitution ("Law for Political Reform") paving the way for the first free parliamentary elections to be held in June 1977. Nine out of 10 Spaniards favored a two-house (Senate and Congress) democratically elected Cortes (parliament) system over a one-party state. Congress (or Lower House) had 350 seats and Senate had 207 seats.
King Juan Carlos de Borbon y Borbon appointed Adolfo Suarez Gonzalez Prime Minister in July 1976 (to 1981). "The people will freely choose its representatives by universal, direct and secret vote," one election poster read. Another campaign slogan urged voters, "Get to know the issue well and vote."
The new Spanish Constitution, a 168-article document was accepted in December 1978 laying the foundations for an era of democracy in which a federal system of government under a constitutional monarchy headed by King Juan Carlos would to be established.
One diplomat made the observation in 1980, "Spain is trying to figure out where it belongs in the world. It wants to be European, but it feels it has a special vocation to help in the Arab world and in Latin America." Jimmy Carter remarked, "The growth of Spanish democracy has been a tonic for the entire western world. Spain refutes the false contention that the sweep of history is invariably toward authoritarianism, so Spain is a source of hope and inspiration to democrats everywhere."
A referendum was held in 2005. After 97% of the votes were counted (only 42% of the voters had turned out), it was announced 77% of the Spanish voters endorsed the European Union Constitution (to form a European superstate). Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega declared at the time, "We Spaniards have shown our European partners that Spain is an advanced country and deeply pro-European." Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pointed out the referendum "means opening the doors on a Europe that is more united and stronger". One voter, an actor Ramon Rados added, "We can't be on the outside."
"Spain is one of those countries in which people think that democracy and the EU are two sides of the same coin. The union certifies your democracy,” explained José Ignacio Torreblanca from the European Council on Foreign Relations.