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Spain - Government

Parliamentary democracy was restored following the 1975 death of General Franco, who had ruled since the end of the civil war in 1939. The 1978 constitution established Spain as a parliamentary monarchy, with the prime minister responsible to the bicameral Cortes (Congress of Deputies and Senate) elected every 4 years. The President of the Government (Prime Minister) is not voted on directly, but selected by the Congress of Deputies. On February 23, 1981, 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 authority to put down the bloodless coup attempt.

Each of the 50 provinces is entitled to a minimum of two seats = 100 seats in the Congress of Deputies. The autonomous cities of Ceuta & Melilla receive one seat each = 2 seats. The remainder of the 248 seats are allocated to the 50 provinces in proportion to their populations (Ceuta and Melilla are excluded).

Voters do not choose individual candidates, but rather vote for a party list. The political parties assign candidates for each province list. Those candidates do not necessarily have to be residents of the province, as members of Congress serve the nation, not their constituency. Constituency issues are handled by the regional, provincial and local governments or in the Senate, which has the responsibility of managing the relations between the national government and the regions. The candidates on the list are ranked-ordered by the party, with the rank designating the preference in which candidates will receive any seats won by the party. For example, if a party wins three seats in a province, the top three names on its list will take a seat in Congress. Parties strategically place those they wish to ensure are elected by placing them at the head of a list or in a province where they expect to win enough seats to reach the candidate.

In order to participate in the allocation of seats, a party must win at least 3% of all valid votes cast (this includes blank ballets) in their respective provinces. From the votes cast, seats are assigned in each province by a proportional representation formula, called the D'Hondt Method. The D'Hondt Method's proportional-representational formula tends to over-represent the party that wins the highest percent of the vote, and under-represents the smallest parties. It also benefits parties who agree to unite and run a combined candidate list, providing more seats than if the parties agreed to coalition after the election.

Just as political parties select the closed-list of candidates for Congress, the parties also select their candidates for President of the Government (Prime Minister). These are in practice designated before the election, but in theory, a party could put forward a different candidate after the election. The Presidential candidates run for a position in the Congress at the top of the party list in a given province, usually Madrid. The political party which wins the largest number of seats will be invited by the King to form a government.

The candidate for President of the Government (Prime Minister) then presents his program (similar to party platforms in the US, giving the candidate,s proposals for social, economic and foreign policy, etc.) to the Congress. After this presentation, the Congress votes to approve the candidate, who must be approved by an absolute majority of the Congress. Absolute majority means a majority representing more than half the number voting (In the case of the Congress of Deputies, 176 votes of the total 350). Simple majority means the greatest number of votes. If this does not happen, the candidate can return to the Congress (approximately one week later) and win the Presidency with a simple majority. After the installation of a new government, the party can designate one or more Vice Presidents, but the position of Vice President in Spain does not necessarily go to the party's next most influential member(s). Since the reintroduction of democracy in 1977, one of the major parties has always been able to either win an absolute majority or coalition with smaller parties to win a majority and select their President.

The Senate in the Spanish system is by far the weaker of the two houses. There are 208 directly elected seats: each of the 47 peninsular provinces is assigned 4 seats = 188 seats. The larger Balears and Canarias (3 islands) are assigned 3 seats each = 9 seats. The smaller islands (seven) are assigned one seat each = 7 seats. Ceuta & Melilla are assigned two seats each = 4 seats. The legislative assemblies of the regional governments (Autonomous Communities) are also assigned one seat each and one seat for every million inhabitants. These positions are appointed by the regional government assemblies and are not involved in the electoral process. Voters select specific candidates for the Senate, as it uses an "open" list of candidates. Voters have three votes for the four seats allocated to the province, and can cast all three for a single candidate or split their votes as they choose among different parties.

Official campaigning begins two weeks before the actual elections. All canvassing for votes must cease one day before the actual election day, and no campaigning is permitted either on the last day ("day of reflection") or on election day.

Voters do not need to be registered to vote in Spain. The only requirements are that the voter be over 18 years of age, listed on the census, and a Spanish citizen. Permanent residents and some other non-citizens are allowed to vote in municipal elections, but not in national or regional elections.

The 1978 constitution authorized the creation of regional autonomous governments. By 1985, 17 regions covering all of peninsular Spain, the Canaries, and the Balearic Islands had negotiated autonomy statutes with the central government. In 1979, the first autonomous elections were held in the Basque and Catalan regions, which have the strongest regional 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 will eventually have full responsibility for health care and education, as well as other social programs.





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