Politicians of all stripes came together in Spain’s Congress on Monday to commemorate the life of former Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez, who died in Madrid the day before after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. The spirit of consensus among the Spanish political class reflected the political projects of Suárez, who was the first leader of the post-Franco democratic era.
Former prime ministers and regional leaders were present at Congress, where the coffin of the ex-PM arrived at 10am. The body was received by state authorities, headed by current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Parliamentary spokespersons, members of congressional committees and senators were all in attendance, and awaited the arrival of the king and queen of Spain and Princess Elena, who entered the Congress building at 10.30am exactly.
Spain’s other surviving former prime ministers – Felipe González (Socialist), José María Aznar (Popular Party) and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (Socialist) – were next to arrive, and were received by Rajoy and his wife. Later in the day, Prince Felipe and his wife, Princess Letizia, arrived to pay their respects.
Since the news of Suárez’s death was announced on Sunday, tributes have poured in, highlighting the politician’s success in restoring democracy after the death of General Franco in 1975, and in particular his talent for seeking cross-party support at a time of political upheaval.
“He clearly saw that the wellbeing and the future of Spain relied on consensus, and possessed the ability to leave smaller issues aside in the quest to reach agreement on important matters,” said King Juan Carlos on Sunday, after the death of Suárez was made public.
“Overcoming the political and social differences that Spanish society faced in the 20th century was his primary objective, as it was mine,” added the king.
“He was an example to us all, and proof that the Spanish are capable of overcoming the greatest difficulties and creating, by working together, the best future for all of us,” he said.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy noted that few men are given the opportunity to leave their mark on a period of history, “and fewer still are those who make such a positive contribution behind them.” He described Suárez as a man who was “able to restore grandeur to politics, and to see the idea of a Spain built on concordance come true. For these merits, our first democratically elected prime minister was a channel for reconciliation among Spaniards. Today, we can talk of him not only as a stellar figure in the history of Spain, but also as the protagonist of one of the greatest episodes in history anywhere.”
Alfredo Rubalcaba, leader of the Socialist Party opposition, expressed his “admiration” on behalf of his party, describing Suárez as a man “who knew how to bring together people of different political persuasions who shared the common goal of freedom.”
“Adolfo Suárez had the conviction and courage necessary to resolve the inherent difficulties of opening up a historic new age for Spain,” said Rubalcaba, adding that the Socialist Party was “saddened” by the death of Suárez, “a man who would forever have a place in the hearts of Spaniards.”
Felipe González, who defeated Suárez in the 1982 elections that ushered in 14 years of Socialist Party rule, credited Suárez with guiding Spain through the difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy.
“His willingness to negotiate and make concessions was key to allowing our country to enter a sustained period of freedom and peaceful coexistence, the most important in Spain’s history,” he said.
“I have shared many important moments in our country’s history, and our friendship overcame our different points of view. I will remember him all my life,” added González.
José María Aznar, who won the 1996 elections, consolidating Spain’s two-party system in the process, said that the transition from dictatorship to democracy, “would not have been possible without one of the great figures of history: Adolfo Suárez.”
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, prime minister between 2004 and 2011, described Suárez as “one of the founding fathers of Spain’s modern democratic era, and thanks to whom Spaniards have been able to live in peace and freedom. Our task now is to continue his work, inspired by his example.”
Jordi Pujol, who was head of the regional government of Catalonia between 1980 and 2003, highlighted Suárez’s humanity and personal charm. “He was not only likeable, but also held important human values; at the same time he was courageous, sincere, and generous.” Pujol said that Spain owed Suárez a debt for his achievement during what he described as “a delicate moment in Spain’s recent history.”
Catalonia’s current regional premier, Artur Mas, played politics by speculating what the late prime minister would have done if he was confronted by the Catalan independence issue today.
“Suárez gave face; he didn’t let the problems continue to fester, he didn’t bury them, nor did he run away from them,” Mas said during an impromptu address outside of Congress.
In Manila, where he is on an official visit, Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo issued his response to Mas’s speculation during a news conference by affirming Suárez “would have done the same thing that Rajoy is doing” in insisting that the November 9 status vote will not be held.
Meanwhile, thousands of members of the public lined up outside Congress, where Suárez's body is lying in state, to pay their respects. They came from all parts of Spain and were of all ages.
“This is a good reason to wear a coat and tie: to say goodbye to an historic prime minister,” said 21-year-old José Eduardo, who waited three hours in line with his brother, also dressed in a suit, to file past the casket.
A 94-year-old man from Suárez’s hometown of Cebreros, in Ávila province, told Congress speaker Jesús Posada, who had come outside to greet the mourners, that he knew Suárez when he was a young man and already “you could tell he was headed for big things.”