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Spain's transformation from an authoritarian and highly centralized regime into a liberal parliamentary democracy with considerable regional autonomy is one of the more remarkable political developments of the twentieth century. That this was accomplished without civil war or revolutionary upheaval and in the midst of unfavorable economic circumstances is all the more extraordinary. Despite decades of living under a repressive dictatorship, most Spanish citizens adapted readily to the new democratic system, and they turned out in large numbers for referenda and elections.

One of the most striking features of Spain's new governmental system is the devolution of power and responsibility to the regions. Regional differences had been the source of longstanding tensions in Spain. The 1978 Constitution addresses these conflicts by providing for an unprecedented degree of regional autonomy, although not all Spaniards have been satisfied with the pace of the devolution process. At the same time, the relationships between the more powerful autonomous regions and the central government remain complicated by the deliberately ambiguous terms of the Constitution.

The dismantling of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco y Bahamonde (dictator of Spain, 1939-75) and the establishment of democratic political institutions did not immediately permeate all levels of society. Reactionary elements within the army remained opposed to democracy, and rumors of coup plots were a persistent feature of the early years of democratic rule, although they subsequently subsided as the government stabilized. The civil service also resisted transformation, remaining almost as inefficient and cumbersome as it was under Franco.

Although Spanish citizens had minimal experience with political involvement prior to the advent of participatory democracy, they took to it enthusiastically, and eventually a viable party system developed.

One difficult problem facing the government in the 1980s was the ongoing menace of Basque terrorism, as militant separatists continued to perpetrate assassinations and bombings in spite of vigorous antiterrorist measures. Also workers were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their diminished earnings and the government's failure to deal with the unemployment problem.

The political changes since 1975 have been dramatic. Spain has benefited from the shrewd leadership of its king and its prime ministers, who successfully presided over the transition to democracy and its consolidation. Nevertheless, Spanish leadership confronted the challenge of sustaining social stability in the face of economic and regional pressures.

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