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Home arrow History/Politics of Spain arrow The Spanish Political System
The Spanish Political System
Written by Andrew Brown   
Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Spanish Politics

Ever wondered about the Spanish political system and whether it’s the same as in the UK? Here is a brief summary of how it works and what the outcome of the 2008 Election was.

Politics in Spain takes place in a framework of a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy. The Monarch is the Head of State, and the President of the Government is the head of government. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Political developments

Parliamentary democracy was restored after the death of General Franco in 1975, who had ruled since the end of the civil war in 1939. Under the Constitution Spain is a parliamentary monarchy, with the Prime Minister responsible to the Cortes Generales (Cortes) elected every 4 years.

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 liberalise the economy, with a programme of privatisations, labour market reform, and measures designed to increase competition in selected markets, principally telecommunications. The PP won re-election 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 characterised his earlier administration. Aznar was a supporter of transatlantic relations and the US “War on Terror”. 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. Rodríquez Zapatero was elected prime minister with the votes of PSOE and a few minor parties. He selected the first Spanish government ever to have the same number of male and female ministers.

The Crown

The Constitution of 1978 lays down that "the political form of the Spanish State is that of a Parliamentary Monarchy”

It lays down that the King is the Head of State and Supreme Commander in Chief of the armed forces, and the symbol of the State’s unity and permanence. He arbitrates and moderates the regular working of the institutions, assumes the highest representation of the Spanish State in international relations, especially with those nations belonging to the same historic community, and performs the functions expressly conferred on him by the Constitution and the law.

Art. 62 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 lays down that it is incumbent upon the King (among other things):

a) to veto or sanction laws and promulgate them; b) to summon and dissolve the Cortes Generales and to call elections; c) to call a referendum; d) to propose a candidate for President of the Government and, as the case may be, appoint him or remove him from office; e) to appoint and dismiss members of the Government; f) to issue the decrees agreed upon by the Council of Ministers, to confer civil and military employments and award honours and distinctions;

Executive Branch

Executive power in Spain lies with the Council of Ministers (Consejo de Ministros) similar to the British Cabinet. It is headed by the president of the government (Prime Minister) who is elected by all members of the lower house of parliament (Congress of Deputies)and not just his own party unlike our Prime Minister. The Prime Minister designates the rest of the members of the Council (usually from his own party) and directs the activities of the government as a whole. The Prime Minister 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, 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. Both are elected on a provincial basis. The number of seats in Congress is allocated in proportion to population. The electoral system used is different with “proportional party closed lists” being used for Congress, and the Senate being 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.

 Judiciary

The Spanish Judiciary is exercised by professional judges and Magistrates and composed of different courts; the highest ranking court of the judicial structure in Spain is the Supreme Court. The role of the judiciary is governed by the General Council of the Judiciary Power whose Chairperson is also the Chairperson of the Supreme Court..

Administrative divisions

Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities;  Andalucía, Aragón, Asturias, Illes Balears, Canarias, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Catalunya, Comunidad Valenciana, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, Navarra and País Vasco (Basque Country).
Note: There are five places of sovereignty near Morocco: Ceuta and Melilla are administered as autonomous cities, with more powers than cities but fewer than autonomous communities; Islas Chafarinas, Peñón de Alhucemas, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera are under direct Spanish administrations.

Regional Level

The 1978 Constitution authorised the creation of regional autonomous governments. By 1985, 17 nationalities and regions covering all of peninsular Spain, the Canaries and the Balearic Islands had passed a Charter of Autonomy. In 1979, the first autonomous elections were held in the Basque and Catalan regions, which have the strongest local traditions by virtue of their history and separate languages. Since then, autonomous governments have been created in the remainder of the 17 regions.

The central government continues to devolve powers to the regional governments, which might eventually have full responsibility for health care and education, as well as other social programs. This process is limited by the exclusive powers of the state in the article 149 of the Spanish Constitution.

Spain is, at present, what is called a State of Autonomies, functioning as a Federation of Autonomous Communities, each one with different powers (for instance, some have their own educational and health systems co-ordinated by the central government, co-official language and particular cultural identity) and laws. There are some differences within this system, since power has been devolved from the centre to the periphery unevenly, with some autonomous governments (especially those dominated by nationalist parties) seeking a more federalist kind of relationship with Spain. This system of devolution has similarities to the devolution process adopted by the United Kingdom since 1997. At the same time, integration in the European Union has caused the assumption of powers from the state to the European institutions.

Provincial Level

In the communities with more than one province the government is held by the diputación provincial (literally Provincial Deputation). With the increase of power of the Autonomous Communities (eg the Junta de Andalucia), deputations such as the Deputacion de Cadiz) have lost much of its power. Provincial Deputations are considered by law as Local Admistrations and are regulated by the Regulating Law of the Bases of the Local regime of 1985.

Municipal Level

Spanish municipal administration is highly homogeneous, with most of the municipalities having the same powers, such as local police, traffic enforcement, urban planning and development, social services, municipal taxes and civil defence, and the same rules of membership and leadership.

Most Spanish municipalities are ruled in a parliamentary style, where citizens elect the municipal council, that acts as a sort of legislative body, that is responsible for electing the mayor. Membership of Municipal councils in Spain is chosen in municipal elections held every four years at the same time all over Spain, and councillors are alloted using proportional representation. The number of Councillors is determined by the population of the municipality, the smallest municipalities having 5 and Madrid (the biggest) 55.

The Political Map after the 2008 Elections

As in 2004, the governing Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) was led by Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Mr Zapatero was the only PSOE candidate who sought the nomination and he was therefore proclaimed candidate on November 25, 2007 at a rally in Fuenlabrada, Madrid. The PSOE ran in all Spanish constituencies. In Catalonia, the Socialists' Party of Catalonia (PSC) operated as part of the PSOE's ticket.

The People's Party (PP) was led by Mariano Rajoy, former Deputy Prime Minister and successor to the former Prime Minister José María Aznar. He was nominated as candidate by the National Board of Directors of the party on September 10, 2007.[4] PP ran in all the constituencies with its sister party the Navarrese People's Union (UPN) acting as part of the PP ticket in Navarre.

United Left (IU) is a coalition of several leftist movements. During the last legislature, there had been much internal fighting between the main component of the coalition, the Communist Party (PCE) and other factions. IU ran in all constituencies; in many of them, in coalition with other parties. In Catalonia, IU ran with Iniciativa per Catalunya Verdes.

The outcome of these elections proved a hard blow for IU, which got its worst ever result obtaining two seats fewer from five down to two, and its leader Llamazares resigned in the immediate aftermath of the elections.

There were many minority parties who contested seats at the election, including (among many others): Convergence and Union, Republican Left of Catalonia and theBasque Nationalist Party.

The economy became a major campaign issue due to a number of factors:

  • A slowing down in the housing market, with prices even beginning to fall in some areas.
  • Sharp increases in prices of some basic commodities.
  • Global instability as a result of market uncertainty.
  • A rise in unemployment.

The sudden emergence of the economy as a political issue came after several years of steady economic growth, and led some observers to suggest that maybe the government would have benefitted from calling an earlier election.  In addition to those factors both the PP and the PSOE made competing proposals on taxation.

The PSOE gained 5 seats, mainly keeping its votes from 2004 (and winning about 50,000 more) and capitalizing on the decline of its former allies, IU and ERC, both of which lost half of their parliamentary representation and their right to form a parliamentary group within Congress. The People's Party, the main opposition party during the previous term, improved their support by about 400,000 votes (+2.4%) and 6 seats, thus slightly closing the gap with the governing party. Generally speaking, there was a move towards biparty-ism with the two main parties increasing their share of the vote at the expense of all the other parties.

Summary of the 9 March 2008 Congress of Deputies election results

Parties and alliances

Votes

%

Change

Seats

Change

Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español)

11,288,698

43.87

+1.28

169

+5

People's Party (Partido Popular)

10,277,809

39.94

+2.22

154

+6

United Left (Izquierda Unida)

969,871

3.77

-1.19

2

-3

Convergence and Union (Convergència i Unió)

779,425

3.03

–0.20

10

±0

Basque Nationalist Party (Partido Nacionalista Vasco/Euzko Alderdi Jeltzalea)

306,128

1.19

–0.44

6

–1

Others

 

 

 

9

-6

In the Senate only 208 seats were up for election, since the rest of them (51 previously, going up to 56 at this election due to demographic changes) are appointed by the regional legislatures. Andalucia has the most seats – 9 - to appoint The People's Party, although gaining some popular vote lost one seat, but still retains the status of first party in the Senate. The PSOE, on the other hand, made large gains from the Basque provinces (reducing the PNV to 2 seats from 6) and the Canary Islands (where Canarian Coalition was nearly wiped out by the main parties, keeping one elected Senator). It also captured Asturias and Teruel from the PP.

The final make up of the Senate after the appointments by the regional legislatures was PP 124 seats, PSOE105, Catalan Progress Party16, others19.

PSOE led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero declared victory on March 9, and the opposition People's Party conceded defeat.

On April 11 Zapatero was re-elected Prime Minister by 169 to 158 with 23 abstentions.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 04 March 2009 )
 

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