The Union of the Democratic Centre (Union de Centre Democrático) was a centre-right coalition formed under the leadership of Adolfo Suárez in 1977 to contest the general elections of June in that year, the first free elections held since 1936. It brought together Christian Democrats such as Alfonso Osorio, liberals like the Garrigues Walker brothers, and former officials of the National Movement, notably Rodolfo Martín Villa, Landelino Lavilla, Torcuato Fernández-Miranda and Suárez himself. Many of the latter group were simultaneously members of Opus Dei. There was also a small number of social democrats under the leadership of Francisco Fernández Ordóñez.
   Such a cluster of disparate groups inevitably lacked a clear and coherent ideology, but UCD was nevertheless held together by the personal leadership qualities of Suárez, and, above all, by a common commitment to the gradual evolution of democratic political structures through piecemeal reform of the institutions of Francoism. This strategy was vindicated in the 1977 elections, when, in an exceptionally high turnout of around 80 percent, UCD gained 165 seats in the parliament, with 34.3 percent of the vote. This left it comfortably ahead of its nearest competitor, the socialist PSOE, which gained 118 seats, or 28.5 percent of the votes cast.
   The achievements of UCD in government were considerable, and included the Moncloa Pacts with employers and trade unions, agreed in October 1977, and, most significantly, the constitution of 1978, which enshrined certain basic civil rights, and provided the legal framework for the autonomous communities which make up the quasi-federal Spanish state of today. These measures, however, owed more to pragmatism than to ideological conviction, and commitment to them, especially on the right wing of the coalition, was often half-hearted. The promise of economic restructuring contained in the Moncloa Pacts was not implemented, and this led to the resignation in February 1978 of the social democrat Vice-President for Economic Affairs, Enrique Fuentes Quintana. His departure, combined with the sacking in 1979 of Fernández Ordóñez, weaked the social democrat element in UCD and accentuated its right-wing complexion. In addition, the government's attempts to slow down the autonomy process, in response to opposition from the armed forces, lost it support in the regions, notably in Andalusia. The results of the 1979 general election, however, suggested that UCD had maintained, or indeed slightly improved its share of the vote, receiving 35 percent, which gave it 168 seats. Nevertheless, its position relative to PSOE (which won 29 percent and 121 seats) remained the same. The results at national level, moreover, were affected by the perception among the electorate that PSOE was still wedded to Marxist-Leninist dogma, and concealed the fact that grassroots support for UCD was declining. The party suffered serious losses in municipal and regional elections over the next three years.
   To add to UCD's difficulties, internal divisions among the various disparate elements were becoming more acute, not least because of the decision, in October 1978, to impose a single party organization, which threatened the identity of the separate groups. Suárez's attempt to placate the left wing by bringing Fernández Ordóñez back into the cabinet in 1980 as Minister for Justice proved futile. In addition, Suárez's style of leadership was increasingly resented by party colleagues, as he not only tended to favour the most conservative elements in UCD, but also surrounded himself with a clique of close personal associates from his Movimiento days. Eventually, even some of these, such as Lavilla and Martín Villa, turned against him because they considered that his policies were alienating electoral support, and Suárez resigned as head of government in January 1981.
   Between then and the general election of October 1982, UCD began to break up. Fernández Ordóñez's group entered into an electoral pact with PSOE, and he eventually joined the socialists, becoming a successful Minister for Foreign Affairs in Felipe González's government, and subsequently a highly regarded Defensor del Pueblo. The conservative Christian Democrats under Oscar Alzaga joined the Alianza Popular and were later absorbed into the PP (see also Popular Alliance). Suárez himself, embittered by his treatment by the party he had founded, left UCD just prior to the elections and fought under the banner of a new grouping, Centre Democrático y Social (Social Democratic Centre), declaring that he would support PSOE in government. UCD's electoral performance in 1982 was dismal: it suffered the biggest reverse of any governing party in Europe since WWII, with 6 percent of the vote and eleven seats. UCD was undoubtedly an artificial creation, resulting from the peculiar political circumstances which obtained in Spain after forty years of dictatorship. Its spectacular decline was perhaps inevitable once it had fulfilled its purpose of enabling the establishment of democratic structures, but there can be no doubt that its role in that process was crucial.
   Further reading
   - Heywood, P. (1995) The Government and Politics of Spain, London: Macmillan
   - Preston, P. (1986) The Triumph of Democracy in Spain, London and New York: Methuen (the indices to both these volumes enable one to trace the history of UCD).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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