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EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Spain's general election

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EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Spain's general election
From left:Pedro Sanchez, Pablo Casado, Albert Rivera, Pablo Iglesias, Santiago Abascal.
15:00 CEST+02:00
On April 28th Spain goes to the polls to choose new members of parliaments. Campaigning is underway and the electoral race is hotting up. But how do things work in Spain? Who are the key figures? And what's at stake? Matthew Bennett has the answers.

When is Spain's general election?

Sunday, April 28th

How many MPs get elected?

350

How many constituencies are there?

52, one for each of Spain's 50 provinces—including, of course, the Canary and the Balearic Islands—plus the two Spanish North African Cities of Ceuta and Melilla.

So that means there is more than one MP elected per constituency?

It does. Spain uses a form of proportional representation known as the d'Hondt method. The number of votes per party are divided up by the number of seats and parties get a group of MPs—from a party list—depending on their total.

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Photo: AFP

So who chooses the MPs or candidates?

Party leaders at each level do (national, provincial)

Not one-man, one-vote, then?

Yes, one-man, one-vote, but not for a single candidate.

Which is the British or American system…

Right, called "first past the post". Spain uses "closed lists".

Not a cross next to a name?

No. A list of names put in an envelope.

And which regions get the most MPs?

The two Spanish North African cities get one each. Then there's a bunch of mostly inland provinces that get just two, three, four or five MPs. Provinces with bigger regional cities like Málaga, Murcia, Seville or Valencia get 10-15, and the two largest are Madrid, which elects 37 this year, and Barcelona, which elects 32 MPs.

Is it just a general election for Congress?

No, as well as Spain's lower house of parliament (Congress), April 28 is also the general election for the Senate, the upper house.

Does that work in the same way?

Not exactly. There are more constituencies, 59 instead of 52. Mostly the same as the constituencies for Congress, but the islands (Balearic and Canary) get treated in a different way, with at least one senator per island. The mainland provinces get four each, and then there is another bunch of senators (about 70, although it varies) who are appointed by regional parliaments.

Also with a closed-list voting system?

Nope. Open lists for the Senate. Voters can put crosses next to actual names on a list.

Is the Senate important?

Historically, not so much, and there have been frequent calls to reform how it works, but since the Catalan separatist crisis in 2017, it has one very important function.

Which is…?

To approve a request from the government to suspend home rule in a Spanish region (Article 155 of the Constitution).

So Spain might get a right-wing government that wants to suspend home rule again in Catalonia but a left-wing Senate that stops it from being able to do so?

Yes, it's possible.

Right then, so who is leading in the polls?

The Socialist Party (PSOE, Pedro Sánchez, the current Prime Minister). The latest 10-poll average gives them just under 30percent.

Next are the Popular Party (Pablo Casado), on just above 20percent, Ciudadanos (Albert Rivera), just above 15percent, Podemos (Pablo Iglesias), around 12percent, and Vox (Santiago Abascal)

And what about the trends?

The PSOE is rising, the PP is steady, Podemos and Ciudadanos continue to fall, and Vox has steadied at 11-12percent after shooting up since the regional elections in Andalusia in December.

So that means there are five parties now competing nationally?

That's correct, which also means no party is close to an overall majority.

Which is how much?

About 44percent of the vote, if we look at elections since Spain's transition to democracy in the 1970s. In absolute terms, a party needs 176 MPs in the 350-seat chamber.

So what about coalition options?

Of the half-realistic ones: a conservative-socialist grand bargain (PP+PSOE) is at about 50percent of the vote, a triple right-wing alliance (PP + Ciudadanos + Vox) is at 46percent, a centre-left PSOE-Ciudadanos option is at 44percent, and the left-wing PSOE-Podemos coalition comes in at 42percent.

Has the general election campaign started now?

It has. Last night, officially, when election posters went up around the country.


Election posters went up overnight. Photo: AFP

And what have candidates kicked off with?

  • Pedro Sánchez: hope, justice, equality, progress
  • Pablo Casado: change the government, or "they" will break up the nation
  • Albert Rivera: hope, union, future, equality, technology
  • Pablo Iglesias: social rights, healthcare, pensions, anti-elites
  • Santiago Abascal: reconquer Spain and Freedom

And the slogans?

  • PSOE: "Make it happen"
  • PP: "Safe value"
  • Ciudadanos: "Let's go"
  • Podemos: "You write history"
  • Vox: "Living Spain"

When do we get the results?

Exit polls at 8 p.m on election night, as soon as polling stations close. The real results are published online as the count progresses, with a definitive result by about 10 p.m.

Matthew Bennett is the creator of The Spain Report. You can read more of his writing on Patreon, and follow him on Twitter. Don't miss his podcast series with weekly in-depth analysis on Spain.

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