The Falange, known officially as the Nationalist Movement, was the only legally functioning party in Spain during the Franco regime. Founded in 1933 by José Antonio Primo de Rivera, it dated in its later form from 1937, when various right-wing groups were united under Gen. Franco. Nationalists, monarchists, and national syndicalists (Fascists) were the leading groups within the Falange. It lost some of its former power and much of its prestige during the last decades of Franco's regime. On 21 December 1974, the Franco government passed a law conferring a limited right of political association. On 9 June 1976, after Franco's death, the Cortes voted to legalize political parties; by the 1977 parliamentary elections, no fewer than 156 political parties were organized, into 10 national coalitions and 12 regional alliances.
The Spanish political scene is characterized by changing parties and shifting alliances. The Union of the Democratic Center (Unión de Centro Democrático—UCD) was formed as an electoral coalition of smaller moderate parties. From 1977 to 1982, the UCD was the governing political body, headed first by Adolfo Suárez González and then by Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo y Bustelo. In late 1981, the UCD began to disintegrate; it won only 8% of the vote in the 1982 elections and was dissolved in February 1983. A new centrist party, the Democratic and Social Center (Centro Democrático y Social—CDS), was created in 1982. The Spanish Socialist Worker's Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español—PSOE), which traces its lineage to the late 19th century, won absolute majorities in both chambers of the Cortes in October 1982 and June 1986.
The right is represented by the Popular Party or PP, embracing the Alianza Popular, the Christian Democratic Partido Demócrata Popular, and the Partido Liberal; the coalition took 26% of the 1986 vote. An extreme rightist party, New Force (Fuerza Nueva), lost its only seat in parliament in 1982 and thereupon dissolved. The Communist Party (Partido Comunista—PC), legalized in 1977, was one of the most outspoken "Eurocommunist" parties in the late 1970s, harshly criticizing the former USSR for human rights abuses. In the 1986 election, the PC formed part of the United Left coalition (Izquierda Unida—IU), which included a rival Communist faction and several socialist parties; the IU's share of the vote was 4.6%. Nationalist parties function in Catalonia, Andalucía, the Basque Provinces, and other areas. The most powerful are the Catalan Convergence and Union (CIU), the Basque Nationalists (PNV), and the Canaries Coalition (CC).
Despite charges of corruption and economic mismanagement, the PSOE secured electoral victories in 1989 and 1993; however, the party finished 17 seats short of a parliamentary majority in 1993. A noticeable shift toward the conservative PP was evident with a 34-seat gain between 1989 and 1993. PSOE secretary-general Felipe Gonzalez Marquez received endorsement for a fourth term as prime minister, receiving support from the small Basque and Catalan nationalist parties.
In 1996, however, Gonzalez was turned out of power by José María Aznar, a young conservative leader with little international visibility. Aznar, as leader of PP, won reelection as prime minister in the March 2000 elections, the first in which a center-right party won majority control of the government outright.
The results of the March 2000 election for the Congress of Deputies were as follows: PP, 183; PSOE, 125; IU, 8; CIU, 15; PNV, 7; CC, 4; and others, 8. Election results for the Senate were as follows: PP, 127; PSOE, 61; CIU, 8; PNV, 6; IU, 0; CC, 5; PIL (Party of Independents from Lanzarote), 1.