Spanish Politics: What Type of Government Does Spain Have?
Spanish society emerged from a long and brutal dictatorship with a strong desire for freedom and democracy. This desire shows up in the Constitution they wrote in 1978 and in the Spanish government they created as a result.
So, what type of government does Spain have? I’ll explain it in detail in this post, including the transition years once the dictatorship ended and the roles of the Constitution, King, Prime Minister, and Parliament. We’ll also find out how the Spanish government is set up and how the Spanish people elect their representatives.
From Dictatorship to Democracy
The modern Spanish government is a direct product of an historic period known as “The Transition.” This era started with the death of dictator Francisco Franco on November 20, 1975, and ended on October 28th, 1982, when a new historic period (“The Democracy”) began.
During the transition, King Juan Carlos de Borbón played an important role in keeping the nation united and avoiding a return to military rule. During this period, lawmakers drafted a new Constitution and created the current democratic institutions.
To fully answer the question, ‘what type of government does Spain have?’, we need to start with its Constitution. Promulgated in 1978, it was drafted with the specific goal of getting rid of dictatorship and making Spain a parliamentary monarchy.
During the Franco years, the different regions and diverse peoples of Spain suffered abuses from the central military government of Madrid. Acknowledging this fact, the Constitution delegated power to the regions and recognized their right to speak their own language (Basque, Catalan, etc).
These interesting facts will help you to better grasp what type of government Spain has:
Spain is a Kingdom and a Democracy
Weird, right? For us in the Americas this sounds really strange, but it’s not that uncommon in Europe. The actual name of the country is “Kingdom of Spain” and as such it has a king, but it’s also a democracy and like every other democracy in the world the people choose their government.
Daughters Can Be Queens Only if There Are No Sons
Despite all the impressive progress that Spain has made in the fight for women’s equality, this is something that still needs to be addressed. A daughter of the king may inherit the monarchy only in the case that he didn’t have any sons. This absurd rule is written in the Constitution and even though there have been attempts to change it, the Spanish Parliament has decided against doing so.
The King is Commander-in-Chief
Just as in the U.S. the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, in Spain the king (an unelected official) is in charge of the Spanish armed forces. Although the role of the king is merely symbolic, the generals still answer to him.
3 Government Branches
The Spanish government follows the same concept of separation of powers as the United States and most democracies in the world. The three branches of the Spanish government are the executive, legislative, and judicial. (We’ll learn more about them in a moment.)
17 Autonomous Communities
Spain has 17 autonomous communities plus two autonomous cities, subdivided into 50 provinces, which are divided into over 8,000 municipalities. The communities enjoy great autonomy, and the Constitution recognizes their right to self govern.
The Spanish Autonomous Communities are
- Balearic Islands
- Basque Country
- Canary Islands
- Castilla-La Mancha
- Castilla Y Leon
- La Rioja
And the two autonomous cities are
EU Citizens Can Vote in Spain
Citizens of any other member country of the European Union can vote in local and municipal elections, as long as they are residents in Spain.
What Type of Government Does Spain Have?
The Kingdom of Spain is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy with the king as the head of state, the prime minister as the head of the executive branch of government, an independent system of courts as the judicial power, and the Parliament as the legislative arm of government.
Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
The key to understanding the Spanish government lies in its name: Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy. There you have the three pillars on which Spain structures its government. The Parliament gives it a democratic mandate. The Constitution defines the institutional and political organization of the country. The king is the head of state and a symbol of the country’s unity.
The Head of State
Even though the king’s role is supposed to be mostly symbolic, as head of state he represents the country internationally and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He can also ratify laws, dissolve the government, and call for new elections.
Parliament elects the prime minister, the president of the Spanish government, who has no fixed term length. He or she conducts domestic and foreign policy and runs the country with help from the Council of Ministers.
Together, the Congress of Deputies and the Senate are responsible for enacting laws and maintaining a permanent open debate between all political parties. The senate has 208 elected members and 57 members appointed by regional legislatures, while 350 deputies make up the Congress .
This is an independent power composed by a system of different courts (local, regional, and national), with the Supreme Court or Tribunal Supremo being the highest-ranking one. The king appoints judges to the Tribunal Supremo.
Local and Regional Governments
In Spain, regional identity is a big deal. People speak in their own regional languages with pride, and some of these regions even push for independence (namely the Basque Country and Catalonia).
That’s why the way local and regional governments are organized is important. In addition to the national Spanish government, three other levels of government exist in Spain:
- Regional Autonomous Communities
- Local Provinces
Each autonomous community has its own parliament and its own unique arrangement with the Spanish government. The Autonomous Communities of Catalonia, Galicia, and the Basque Country enjoy a higher degree of autonomy and have more devolved powers than the others.
In Spain, general elections take place every four years or earlier if the Parliament calls for a motion of censure to the prime minister (as it was the case with the previous one). Every Spanish citizen over the age of 18 years old can register to vote. They also vote in local, municipal, and European elections.
The Spanish democracy works as a multi-party system. The People’s Party (Partido Popular) and the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español) are the two main parties in the country.
Final Thoughts on the Spanish Government
Since the death of the military dictator Francisco Franco and the promulgation of the new Constitution, the Spanish government has been a model of democracy where the rule of law is well-established. The delicate balance between national and regional governments is one of its biggest accomplishments and, although questioned at times, the role of the monarchy is supported and approved by the majority of Spanish people.
Leave a comment below telling us what type of government you have in your own country, and start a conversation with students from all over the world!
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