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Spanish Politics

The Politics of Spain take place in the framework of a parliamentary representative democratic constitutional monarchy, whereby the Monarch is the Head of State and the President of the Government is the head of government in a multi-party system. Executive power is vested in the government. Central legislative power is vested in the two chambers of parliament. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Political developments

Parliamentary democracy was restored following the death of General Franco in 1975, who had ruled since the end of the civil war in 1939. The 1978 constitution established Spain as a parliamentary monarchy, with the President of the Government (equivalent to Prime Minister) responsible to the bicameral Cortes Generales (Cortes) elected every 4 years. On 23 February 1981, in an event known as “23-F”, rebel elements among the security forces seized the Cortes and tried to impose a military-backed government. However, the great majority of the military forces remained loyal to King Juan Carlos, who used his personal and constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, to put down the bloodless coup attempt.

In October 1982, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), led by Felipe González Márquez, swept both the Congress of Deputies and Senate, winning an absolute majority. González and the PSOE ruled for the next 13 years. During that period, Spain joined NATO and the European Community. Spain also created new social laws and large scale infrastructural building, as well as programmes in Education, Health and Work. Liberalization policies were heavily contested by trade unions but largely implemented. The country was massively modernized in this period, becoming an economically developed, culturally shifted, contemporary open society.

In March 1996, José María Aznar’s People’s Party (PP) received more votes than any other party, winning almost half the seats in the Congress. Aznar moved to further liberalize the economy, with a program of privatizations, labor market reform, and measures designed to increase competition in selected markets, principally telecommunications. During Aznar’s first term, Spain qualified for the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union. During this period, Spain participated, along with the United States and other NATO allies, in military operations in the former Yugoslavia. Spanish planes took part in the air war against Serbia in 1999 and Spanish armed forces and police personnel are included in the international peacekeeping forces in Bosnia (IFOR, SFOR) and Kosovo (KFOR).

Prime Minister Aznar and the PP won reelection in March 2000, obtaining absolute majorities in both houses of parliament. This mandate allowed Aznar to form a government unencumbered by the coalition building that had characterized his earlier administration. As Prime Minister, Aznar was a staunch supporter of transatlantic relations and the War on Terrorism. For the March 2004 elections the PP named First Vice President Mariano Rajoy to replace him as the People’s Party candidate.

However, in the aftermath of the March 11 terrorist bomb attacks in Madrid, the PP lost the 2004 elections to the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and its leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Rodríguez Zapatero was appointed Prime Minister after having secured the support of a few minor parties. He nominated the first Spanish government ever to have the same number of male and female ministers. In this period the Spanish economy continued expanding, while new social and cultural laws were passed, and a more pan-European way was adopted in foreign politics.

In the 2008 general elections, Prime Minister Zapatero and the PSOE got reelected by a plurality, short of a majority. He was elected Prime Minister April 11 by 169 votes to 158, with 23 abstaining. The Economic crisis of 2008 took a heavy toll on economy in the following months.

Executive power

Executive power in Spain lies with the Council of Ministers (Spanish Consejo de Ministros). It is headed by the President of the Government (Prime Minister) who is nominated by the King, confirmed by a vote of the lower house of parliament and then appointed by the king. After a candidate has been nominated he must win a majority of the votes of the lower house, failing which, a second vote will be held where he only needs a plurality of votes. The Prime Minister designates the rest of the members of the Council who are then appointed by the king. He directs the activities of the government as a whole. The President of the Government can also designate various vice presidents (although it is not mandatory). There is also a Council of State that is the supreme consultative organ of the government.

Legislative branch

On the national level, Spain directly elects a legislature, the Cortes Generales (literally: General Courts), which consists of two chambers, the Congress of Deputies (Congreso de los Diputados) and the Senate (Senado). The Congress and Senate serve concurrent terms that run for a maximum of four years.

There are two essential differences between the two houses. The first is by way of electoral practice. Both are elected on a provincial basis. The number of seats in Congress is allocated in proportion to population. However, this is only done after each province (with the exception of Ceuta and Melilla) has been given two members. The result of this is a slight over-representation for the smaller provinces. For example the smallest province, Soria, with an electorate of 78,531, elected 2 members of congress (or 1 for every 39,265 voters) while Madrid, the largest, with 4,458,540 voters, elected 35 members of congress (or 1 for every 127,387 voters). In the Senate the members are elected on a provincial basis [2]. The electoral system used is different with proportional party closed lists being used for Congress and the Senate elected by partial bloc voting. Additionally some senators are designated by the Autonomous legislatures. The second difference is in legislative power. With few exceptions, every law is approved with the votes of Congress. The Senate can make changes or refuse laws but the Congress can ignore these amendments.

Political Parties

Spain has a system similar to a two-party system, which means that there are two dominant political parties, with extreme difficulty for anybody to achieve electoral success under the banner of any other party. Regional parties can be strong in the autonomous communities like Catalonia and the Basque Country and are essential for government coalitions, which makes the party system a multi-party system.

Major parties

The two major parties of Spain are:

  • Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español), includes:
    • Socialists’ Party of Catalonia (Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya) in Catalonia
    • Socialist Party of the Basque Country (Partido Socialista de Euskadi) in the Basque Country
      • Euskadiko Ezkerra also in the Basque Country joined the PSE in 1991.
    • Socialists’ Party of Galicia (Partido dos Socialistas de Galicia) in Galicia.
    • Socialist Party of the Valencian Country (Partit Socialista del País Valencià) in Valencia.
    • Socialists’ Party of the Balearic Islands (Partit dels Socialistes de les Illes Balears) in the Balearic Islands.
  • People’s Party (Partido Popular), formerly People’s Coalition (Coalición Popular), a coalition of People’s Alliance (Alianza Popular), Democratic People’s Party (Partido Demócrata Popular) and Liberal Party (Partido Liberal)

Other parties with current representation in the parliament or in the European Parliament:

  • United Left (Izquierda Unida), a coalition of parties around Communist Party of Spain (Partido Comunista de España), includes:
    • Ezker Batua in the Basque Country.
    • Initiative for Catalonia Greens (Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds), in coalition with Esquerra Unida i Alternativa in Catalonia.
  • Convergence and Union (Convergència i Unió), coalition of:
    • Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya)
    • Democratic Union of Catalonia (Unió Democràtica de Catalunya)
  • Basque Nationalist Party (Partido Nacionalista Vasco), Euzko Alderdi Jeltzalea in Basque.
  • Galician Nationalist Bloc (Bloque Nacionalista Galego)
  • Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya)
  • Nafarroa Bai (Navarre Yes)
  • Canarian Coalition (Coalición Canaria)
  • Union, Progress and Democracy (Unión Progreso y Democracia)

Parties only in regional parliaments

Parties with current representation in any of the regional parliaments:
  • Aragonese Council (Chunta Aragonesista)
  • Eusko Alkartasuna (Basque Socialdemocracy)
  • Cantabrian Regionalist Party (Partido Regionalista de Cantabria)
  • Majorcan Union (Unió Mallorquina)
  • Citizens – Citizenship Party (Ciutadans – Partit de la Ciutadania)
  • Valencian Nationalist Bloc (Bloc Nacionalista Valencià)
  • Aragonese Party (Partido Aragonés)
  • Aralar Party
  • Coalition for Melilla (Coalición por Melilla)
  • Democratic Ceutan Union (Unión Demócrata Ceutí)
  • Majorca Socialist Party (Partit Socialista de Mallorca)
  • Majorcan Socialist Party-Nacionalist Union (Partit Socialista de Mallorca-Entesa Nacionalista)
  • Democratic Convergence of Navarre (Convergencia de Demócratas de Navarra)
  • Riojan Party (Partido Riojano)
  • Union of the leonese people (Unión del Pueblo Leonés)
  • Independient Popular Council of Formentera (Agrupació Independent Popular de Formentera)


  • Europe of the Peoples (Europa de los Pueblos), coalition at the European elections of centre-left, regional parties: ERC, Eusko Alkartasuna, CHA, PSA andCNC.
  • Nafarroa Bai, coalition of Eusko Alkartasuna, Aralar, Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and Batzarre, only for the constituency of Navarre.
  • GalEusCa – Pueblos de Europa, coalition at the European elections.
  • Bloc per Mallorca, coalition at the regional and local elections of United Left, Majorca Socialist Party, Greens and Catalonia Republican Left for the island ofMajorca.
  • Eivissa pel Canvi, coalition similar to the Bloc per Mallorca but for the island of Ibiza.
  • European Coalition (Coalición Europea), coalition for European elections of centre-right, regional parties such as CC, PAR, PA, UV, CDN and UM

Minor parties

Parties currently without representation in the parliament:

  • Alianza para el Desarrollo y la Naturaleza
  • Alianza por la Unidad Nacional
  • Aragonese Party (Partido Aragonés)
  • Andecha Astur
  • Batzarre
  • Bloque por Asturies
  • Candidatura d’Unitat Popular
  • Coalición Asturiana
  • Ciudadanos Agobiados y Cabreados
  • Ciudadanos En Blanco
  • Coalición Europea
  • Coalición Liberal – European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Party
  • Coalición Galega
  • Comunión Tradicionalista
  • Conceju Nacionaliegu Cántabru
  • Democracia Nacional
  • España 2000
  • Estat Català
  • Falange Auténtica
  • Falange Española de las JONS
  • Frente Popular Galega
  • Herritarren Zerrenda (legal in France, but not in Spain due to links with Batasuna / Herri Batasuna)
  • Republican Left (Izquierda Republicana)
  • Iniciativa Socialista de Izquierdas
  • Izquierda Asturiana
  • Izquierda Castellana
  • La Falange
  • Los Parados
  • Los Verdes
  • Los Verdes de la Comunidad de Madrid
  • Los Verdes Ecopacifistas
  • Lucha Internacionalista
  • Movimiento Social Republicano
  • Nós-Unidade Popular (Us-People Unity)
  • Nueva Izquierda Verde
  • Otra Democracia Es Posible
  • Partido Andalucista
  • Partido Antitaurino Contra el Maltrato Animal (PACMA)
  • Partido Carlista, see Carlism
  • Partido Cannabis
  • Partido Comunista de los Pueblos de España (PCPE)
  • Partido de Acción Socialista (PASOC)
  • Partido de los Autónomos Jubilados y Viudas
  • Partido del Karma Democrático
  • Partido Demócrata Español
  • Partido Familia y Vida
  • Partido Humanista
  • Partido Galeguista
  • Partido Mutuo Apoyo Romántico
  • Partido Obrero Socialista Internacionalista
  • Partido Regionalista del País Leonés (Regionalist Party of the Leonese Country) Salamanca, Zamora, León PREPAL
  • Partíu Asturianista
  • Por un Mundo más Justo
  • Por una Europa de los Trabajadores y los Pueblos – No a la Constitucion Europea – coalition of PCPE and LI-LIT.CI
  • Prepal
  • Tierra Comunera – partido nacionalista Castellano, Castilian nationalist party
  • Unidad Cántabra
  • Unidad Regionalista Asturiana
  • Unidad Regionalista de Castilla y León
  • Unión Centrista Liberal
  • Unió Valenciana
  • Unificación Comunista de España
  • Zornotza Eginez (local)
  • Zutik

Illegalized parties

  • ANV (EAE – ANV)
  • Communist Party of the Basque Homelands (Partido Comunista de las Tierras Vascas) PCTV – EHAK
  • Euskal Herritarrok has been made illegal by the Spanish Supreme Court of Justice (Tribunal Supremo), which regards it as part of the terrorist organisation,ETA.
  • Herri Batasuna/Batasuna (the political branch of ETA)

(* Note: Batasuna is legal in France)

Batasuna is in the list of terrorist organisations of US and EU.

  • Herritarren Zerrenda

Defunct major parties

  • Unión de Centro Democrático, refounded as Centro Democrático y Social (also defunct) (merged into Partido Popular)
  • Alianza Popular, refounded as Partido Popular
  • Partido Demócrata Popular, absorbed into Coalición Popular (Partido Popular)
  • Partido Liberal, absorbed into Coalición Popular (Partido Popular)
  • Euskadiko Ezkerra, absorbed into Partido Socialista de Euskadi
  • Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas the leading right-wing party of the Second Spanish Republic
  • Partido Reformista Democrático
  • Partido Socialista Popular
  • Radical Republican Party

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