On this day in 1936, Manuel Azaña was elected as the second president of the Spanish Second Republic.
Following the election of the Popular Front alliance into government, the rise of Azaña to the presidency, replacing the conservative politician Zamora, consolidated the swing of Spanish politics back towards the left of the political spectrum; a volatile trend within an increasingly polarised political system. In many ways, the victory of the presidency for Azaña served to strengthen the power of Republican government, entrenching the existing revival of left wing ideology and policy principles within positions of political prominence.
Despite the symbolic significance of such a figure in the role of president, such a state of affairs arguably exacerbated the fragmentation of political society, aggravating the fears of reactionary forces and serving to escalate the adversarial attributes becoming synonymous with the politics of the Spanish Second Republic. Furthermore, the association of Azaña with his prior political record as prime minister; adopting stances perceived as anti-clerical (dis-establishment of the Catholic Church), endorsing minor nationalisation of land (e.g. Agrarian Reform Law 1934) , seeking to improve the position of workers; deterred conservative forces. Indeed, Azaña’s leadership, both as Prime Minister and President, oversaw a period of significant instability with ever escalating political violence on the streets, the necessitation of a state of alarm allowing for enhanced powers of government, steady rates of political assassinations (200 between February and July) as well as the rising threat of a more militant right, endorsed by strong international bodies and cohesive internal coalitions.
As president, Azaña sought to create a more cohesive government, attempting to control the more radical elements of the left such as the increasingly violent trade unions (UGT) and anarchists (CNT) as well as the rising ideological dogmatism arising within parties such as the PSOE. For instance, Azaña appointed Caballero as the head of government from 1936. Whilst it is debatable as to the extent of success which Azaña achieved, the initial successes of the presentation of a cohesive popular front can certainly be attributed in part to the leadership and uniting force of Azaña.
In getting these discordant elements together (left-wing elements) Azaña lived up to his reputation as the shrewdest and cleverest politician in Spain.