The Spanish Presidents

04/10/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Since Spain transitioned from Franco's dictatorship to democracy in 1976 five Premiers have presided the Government. The Premier or Prime Minister of Spain is typically referred to as Presidente del Gobierno or President of the Government. Out of the five Presidents, the first two were moderate and the last three have alternated left-wing (two) and right-wing (one) colors.

There are two major differences between the Spanish and the American Presidencies. The United States is a presidential democracy whereas Spain is a parlamentary monarchy. As such the Chief of State is King Juan Carlos I, a Borbon, who holds no executive power. The President of the Government is elected in a general election that selects the members of the Senate (Senado) and the Congress (Congreso de los Diputados). The Congress consists of 350 elected Deputies. In order to be appointed President of the Government a candidate has to obtain a simple majority vote.

Elections in Spain are held every four years or earlier if the President of the Government calls for an anticipated election. The President can run for as many terms as he or she wishes. Thus far former President José María Aznar López has been the only President who has declared in advance he would leave office after two terms. Prior Presidents have remained in office up to 14 years in the case of former President Felipe González Márquez.

The Spanish Congress is located in the very historical center of Madrid between Puerta del Sol and the Castellana Avenue in front of the Palace Hotel. The President of the Government used to live on Castellana 3 but former President Adolfo Suárez González decided to move the presidential headquarters to the Palace of La Moncloa, where Chiefs of State visiting Madrid would stay. La Moncloa is located in the northwest corridor of Madrid about a mile away from the Moncloa subway station, only steps away from Ciudad Universitaria.

The current President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has not yet made explicit whether he will run for a third term. In times of economic turmoil and in a worsening economic environment the Spanish Opposition Leader has forced the current Administration to call for an earlier election. However the Socialist Party lies behind by four to five percentage points in popular vote and is not likely to move forward with an earlier election that would be probably lost to the People's Party.

Adolfo Suárez González was Spain's first democratic President in the aftermath of Dictator Francisco Franco Bahamonde's death that took place on 20 November 1975. President Suárez is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Only recently, when King Juan Carlos I paid him a visit President Suárez could not remember his old friend. Suárez was an average law student in Salamanca after he earned a BA in Law and moved to Madrid. Politically ambitious and savvy President Suárez was able to move upwards in a dictatorial regime where caciquismo and enchufismo were the generality. Issues could be accomplished if one knew the right person in the Administration. Posts were awarded on the same basis. This legacy contaminated by the envidia and the syndrome of the listillo is still dragging Spain's dynamics today.

Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo was Spain's second democratic President and the only one who has not been democratically elected by the electorate. He was President Suárez's substitute after the former resigned in an unstable environment characterized by the intrusion of the then still influential army. While President Calvo Sotelo was being appointed, Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero Molina entered the Congress of Deputies shooting and shouting in a failed coup d'etat that was defeated in a day's time thanks to the vision and intervention of King Juan Carlos I. It was 23 February 1981. Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo would be subsequently inaugurated and would remain in office until his party Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD) -a conglomerate of smaller moderate and right-wing parties- would lose and nearly desintegrate in an upset election that catapulted a very young and talented Felipe González Márquez to the Presidency of the country. President Calvo Sotelo passed away in 2008.

For many analysts, Felipe González Márquez has been Spain's key President in the recent democratic stage. President González won four consecutive terms and moved Spain along the European construction process, leading the country to join NATO (Spain had already joined NATO a year earlier under President Calvo Sotelo, but the electorate approved the decision in a national referendum that took place in 1986), and the European Community in 1986. President González held office with other prominent European leaders whose grandeur and vision are deeply missed in Europe. President González's fourth and last term was close to a nightmare inundated with corruption charges and with two of his Ministers having been accused of building up and maintaining the anti-terrorist group Grupos Antierroristas de Liberación (GAL), whose goal was to fight Basque terrorists using their same methodology.

José María Aznar López won a close election in 1996 after conducting a fierce opposition since 1994 when he coined the well-known phrase Váyase Señor González. President Aznar's first legislature needed the support of Basque and Catalan nationalist parties in order to build up a coalition government. His economic superstar Rodrigo de Rato Figaredo is credited with having conducted the necessary structural reforms that consolidated the country's strong economic growth years characterized by the real estate boom turned into bubble that has only recently crashed. President Aznar's aligned Spain along with George W. Bush's United States and Tony Blair's United Kingdom to strongly support the failed intervention in Iraq in spite of Spain's strong opposition to the invasion and subsequent war. President Aznar's worst nightmare arrived when islamist terrorists bombed eight commuter trains in Madrid killing 191 and wounding thousands on 11 March 2004, three days prior to a general election. After leaving office President Aznar has joined the Board of Directors of News Corporation and has held a Professorship at Georgetown University.

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is Spain's current President of the Government. President Zapatero won an unexpected victory that some have partly credited to the atrocities of 11 March 2004, of which many Spaniards blamed President Aznar's foreign policy for. President Zapatero's first term benefitted from the successful economic management of Finance Minister Rodrigo de Rato Figaredo and was more focused on a social agenda whose main accomplishments were an emphasis on gender equality at all levels and the legalization of gay marriage. President Zapatero's second term has been impacted by the rapidly degrading economic environment to which he has been unable to react on time. His very close ties to trade union leader Cándido Méndez, Secretary General of Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), have undermined his ability to conduct well-needed structural reforms in the labour market. Méndez is unofficially considered Spain's fourth Vice President. President Zapatero's two main economic advisors have left the Government in 2009, including former Finance Minister Pedro Solbes and former Minister of Public Administrations Jordi Sevilla.

Many questions remain open at this time. Will President Zapatero call an early election? Will he run for a third term? If not, who will be his successor? Will his successor be the Spanish Obama? Is there a Spanish Obama? Stay tuned for more hints that will answer some of the above questions.

Find more about Jaime Pozuelo-Monfort at http://Monfort.org