On Sunday 23 July, Spain went to the polls in a general election and, mirroring regional election results in May, right-wing parties gained seats at the expense of left-wing parties. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the centre-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party lost, coming in second. The far-right Vox, led by Santiago Abascal, became the third largest party and are natural partners to enter government with the centre-right People’s Party led by Alberto Núñez Feijóo, who became the biggest party. At present, there is no clear path for any of the party leaders to form a government as none have reached the required 176 seats needed for a majority.
This Just the Facts looks at Spain’s parliamentary system, the campaign issues, such as LGBTI+ rights and climate change, and the results of the general election.
Kingdom of Spain’s Parliamentary System
The Constitution of 1978 came into effect after the dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1892 – 1975) ended with his death in November 1975. He ruled from 1939 after winning the Guerra Civil Española (‘the Spanish Civil War’) and his death began la Transición (‘the Transition’) to democracy. The July 2023 General Election took place during the week that marked the anniversary of the start of the Civil War on 17 July 1936.
Today, Spain is a bicameral parliamentary monarchy. Its head of state is a member of the Spanish royal family. The Prime Minister is the head of government and is elected to the Congress of Deputies (Congreso de los Diputados). Together the Congress and the Senate (Senado) form the General Courts (Cortes Generales).
Since June 2014, the head of the Spanish royal family has been King Felipe VI (born 1968), who is head of state and commander-in-chief of the Spanish Armed Forces. His father, Juan Carlos I (born 1938) abdicated the position in 2014, having been king since November 1975. His family house, Bourbon-Anjou, is the Spanish branch of the House of Bourbon. It was founded by Philip V (1683 – 1746) who was King of Spain from 1700 until this death.
The Spanish monarch nominates a candidate for Prime Minister, generally the leader of the largest party, where the Congress of Deputies holds a vote of confidence. Since June 2018, Pedro Sánchez (born 1972) of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party has been Prime Minister. The last general election took place in November 2019, and produced a minority government that took office in January 2020, which includes Sánchez’s party, We Can, the Communist Party of Spain and a number of independents.
Under the Constitution, the Congress of Deputies must be composed of between 300 and 400 deputies. It currently has 350, who are elected through 50 multi-seat constituencies across Spain’s 50 provinces and the two North African autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla. Each constituency by law must be represented by two deputies, while Ceuta and Melilla receive one, numbering 102 deputies. The remaining 248 are allocated proportionally using the D’Hondt method.
The Senate is composed of senators, who represent a province, an autonomous city or an autonomous community. Elections for the Senate generally take place on the same day as the Congress. While all 350 seats in the Congress are put before the electorate, 208 of the Senate’s 266 seats are elected directly at the same time and57 are nominated by regional legislatures after regional elections, such as in May this year.
July 2023 Campaign Issues
Following the results of these regional election in May, that saw government and left-wing parties lose to those on the right, Sánchez called a general election in July, earlier than its scheduled date of December this year. On 1 July 2023, Spain began its six-month rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU.
LGBTI+ Rights: Transgender rights and LGBTI+ issues more broadly have featured heavily in the campaign. In February, Spain became one of the first countries in Europe to allow gender self-determination from the age of 16 without the need for psychological or medical evaluation. Both the right-wing People’s Party and far-right Vox have stated they would repeal this law. Vox also opposes marriage equality, which was introduced in Spain in 2005. Activists worry that a right-wing government will roll back LGBTI+ rights in Spain.
Assault law loophole: In October 2022, the government introduced a new law that “overhauled the criminal code by making sexual consent key in determining assault cases”. It cut the minimum and maximum jail sentences, which unintentionally led to nearly 1,000 offenders having their terms reduced on appeal. While legislation was introduced to close the loophole in the “Only Yes Means Yes” law, it nonetheless infuriated many.
Separatist Support: As a result of relying on separatist parties in the Congress of Deputies to pass legislation or budgets, the government has “prompted anger from the opposition and some from his own party”. One such party is the left-wing Basque Country Unite, which “is seen as the heir” to 2003-banned Batasuna [“Unity”], that was the political wing of the former terrorist group ETA. It “is blamed for the deaths of at least 853 people in its four-decade campaign of violence for an independent Basque Country”.
Climate Change: With Spain experiencing increased droughts and heatwaves, “most parties have measures to fight climate change. Only Vox’s electoral programme fails to mention the issue entirely”. It was reported ahead of the regional elections that “the issue of water usage has become a national issue after a bitter disagreement over the protection of Doñana National Park and a decision to limit the diversion of water from the Tagus for crop irrigation”.
Spaniards went to the polls during the ongoing heatwave in southern Europe. Their country is currently in “a mega-drought situation”, as it bears “the brunt of the effects of the drought in the summer of 2022 and then the dry winter that followed.” In May, 27% of Spain experienced droughts classified as “emergency” or “alert”.
Results of the General Election
A table at the end of this Just the Facts lists the full results.
The main opposition party, the centre-right People’s Party led by Alberto Núñez Feijóo, became the biggest party, with 33.05% (+12.24%) of the vote and 137 (+48) seats. The polls predicted a win for them but they failed to win a majority.
According to reports, “The single most important issue across the population was related to the cost of living” and that the “fight against LGBT rights, immigration and Catalan separatism didn’t deliver the kind of returns Vox anticipated”.
Despite the issues facing the government, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the centre-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party lost the election but was able to come in second, winning 31.7% (+3.70%) of the vote, which resulted in the party securing 121 (+1) seats.
What grabbed the headlines during the election was the far-right Vox party led by Santiago Abascal becoming the third largest party. Vox was tipped to gain more seats and become kingmakers during coalition talks. They secured 12.39% (-2.69) of the vote, which gave them 33 (-19) seats in the parliament.
Within this election we witnessed the coming together of different left-wing groups to form Sumar, a political platform under Yolanda Díaz, who secured 12.31% of the vote, resulting in 31 seats being gained. One noticeable result of the election was the absence of the far-left Unidas Podemos party which dissolved itself on 9 June, before the election. Unias Pedemos’ absence allowed for Sumar to gain votes.
With the current parliamentary make-up there is no majority, as no party met the requirement of 176 seats needed to form a majority within the Spanish Parliament.
|Congreso de los Diputados (Congress)||Senado (Senate)|
|Party||Nov. 2019||July 2023||Seat Change||Nov. 2019||July 2023||Seat Change||European Parliament Group||Irish Parties in that Group|
|Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party||120||121||+1||93||72||-21||Socialists and Democrats||Labour Party|
|People’s Party||89||137||+48||83||120||37||European People’s Party||Fine Gael|
|Vox||52||33||-19||2||0||-2||European Conservatives and Reformists||–|
|Unite (Sumar)||n/a||31||+31||n/a||0||0||The Left||Sinn Féin|
|United We Can (Unidas Podemos)||35||n/a||-35||0||n/a||n/a|
|Citizens-Party of the Citizenary||10||n/a||-10||0||0||0||Renew Europe||Fianna Fáil|
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