Monday, November 13, 2017
Now, where was I?
The current form of government in Spain dates from the 1978 Constitution which was drafted three years after the death of General Franco.
Central government takes care of the “big things” like foreign affairs, external trade, defence, justice, law making, shipping and civil aviation but in many areas it shares responsibility with the regions - for instance in education and health care.
The National Parliament, las Cortes Generales, has two chambers. The lower house, equivalent to the UK Commons, is the Congress of Deputies and the upper house, something like the Lords, is the Senate. The lower house is the more important. It has 350 members, against the 650 in the House of Commons. The deputies are elected in the 50 Spanish provinces and also from the Spanish North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Each province is an electoral constituency and the number of deputies it returns is population dependent. The big parties contest all the constituencies but there are also important regional parties which only field candidates in their home provinces. Voting uses a closed list system – if you vote for the party you vote for all their candidates. The number of seats is divvied up by a complicated proportional representation system. This means that there are several deputies for each province and no “constituency MPs”.
The number of senators changes slightly with population - each province elects four senators. The political parties put forward three candidates and voters choose up to three names - from the same party or from different parties. The four candidates with the greatest number of votes are elected. The legislative assembly, the regional government of each autonomous community, also designates one senator by right and a further senator for each million inhabitants. A different system is used in the Canary and Balearic Islands. Usually there are around 260 senators.
The official result of a general election is made public five days after the poll. Parliament meets and the deputies are sworn in. Next, the King, it's always been a King so far, meets with the heads of the parties and asks one of them to try to form a government. The government has to be agreed by the parliament as a whole. That's a simple enough process when one party has a clear majority or when a simple coalition will do the trick but the last couple of times, with no clear winner, the process has been very messy.
The leader of the party of government becomes the President of Spain with their official residence at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid. The President decides what vice presidents, ministries and ministers are required to run the country The people chosen form the Council of Ministers, akin to the British Cabinet
The Constitutional Court ensures that any new parliamentary laws are constitutional and comply with Spanish International agreements. The judiciary, overseen by the General Council of Judicial Power, is independent of government and has both national and regional structures
All of the 17 autonomous communities have their own president, government, administration and supreme court. The majority of funding for most of the regions comes from central government. The autonomous communities have differing devolved powers based on their history, on ancient law and local decisions. All of them administer education, health, social services, cultural and urban development. Several of the communities, like Valencia, have separate linguistic schemes.
Each of the 50 provinces, for instance Alicante, has its own administration, the diputación, that is responsible for a range of services.
The municipalities, the town halls, are headed up by a mayor supported by the councillors of the ruling party or coalition. Town halls are responsible for local services from tourism and environment through to urban planning and social services. The official population of the municipality, the padrón municipal, is the basis of the electoral roll and so the basis of this whole structure. Oh, except for the Monarch who gets his or her job simply by being born.