Pedro Sanchez, President of the Government, left, receives Alberto Nuñez Feijoo,
President of the Partido Popular
political party, at Moncloa Palace,
seat of the Government of Spain, in  April 2022


by Jack Wright

When the Spanish people went to the polls on 23 July 2023 for the general election, as opposed to the local, regional, and European Parliamentary elections, it was to elect the 15th Cortes Generales of the Kingdom of Spain. All 350 seats in the Congreso de los Diputados (Congress of Deputies), and 208 of 265 seats in the Senate, were up for grabs.

Spain’s closed list ballots

The voting system in Spain is closed-list, which gives the voter no choice but to vote for a political party as a whole. She/he can’t vote for individual candidates in the party list. Consequently, the voter has no say as to who gets elected to the Cortes.

In Spain, as in other countries with closed-list systems, the candidates that the party has placed at the top of its list will get a seat in the parliament, and those at the bottom won’t. That is, in accordance with the D’Hondt proportional method of allocating parliamentary seats that Spain has adopted for its post-Franco democratic elections. In no way did the voters vote for a presidential candidate in the recent general election.

However, for three weeks now, many in and out of Spain are touting the misconception that the candidate at the top of the list of the party that garnered the highest number of votes, among the myriad of parties that ran for seats in Congress, “won” the general election. The implication is that, by rights, the top-listed candidate of the “winning” party should be invested President of the Government of Spain.

Intentionally or out of sheer ignorance, they forget that, per Article 1 of the Spanish Constitution, “the political form of the Spanish State is that of a parliamentary monarchy.”  Within this constitutional framework, who elect the President of the Government, a.k.a. Prime Minster, are the deputies of Congress who were elected by the people in the general election. Whether or not an aspirant gets to be President of the Government depends on the deputies’ vote of confidence.

King Felipe VI chairs the opening session of the 14th Cortes Generales (the bicameral chambers of the Spanish Parliament). The general election held last 23 July elected the 15th Cortes Generales.

Therefore, to say that the top candidate on the closed list of the party that bagged the highest number of votes “won”, even before the Congress of Deputies is constituted, is a lie. The constitutional procedure in this all-important matter is quite complicated: after the general election has been held, and the Cortes subsequently constituted, the Spanish monarch will nominate the deputy who aspires to be President and has lined up the support of the deputies from other parties if his party does not have absolute majority in Congress. The nomination will then be put to a Vote of Confidence in the Congress of Deputies.

Only after the aspirant gets this vote will the Monarch, who is the Head of State, appoint him President of the Government. It may happen, as is almost always the case, that the political party to which the President belongs is the party that has won the largest number of votes and deputies in the general election. But this rule of thumb isn’t written in stone.

If the party of the presidential aspirant has won the largest number of votes in the general election, but not enough to constitute an absolute majority in Congress (176 parliamentary seats), and if the aspirant is unable to rally support from the other parties to make up for the shortfall, the Monarch can and will nominate another candidate who will have been pledged larger parliamentary support, making his investiture feasible.

The presidential aspirant will be the “winner” of the general election if he received the Vote of Confidence, but only in the sense that the Presidency emanates from the Congress that has resulted from said election.

The deputies are the ones who vote the President into office. (Photo: an overview of the Chamber of the Congress of Deputies.)

Put another way, the President of the Government of Spain is NOT elected in the general election. Thus, he can’t be the winner of that election. Because Spain´s form of government is parliamentary (parliamentary monarchy), in which the Lower House (Congress of Deputies) is endowed with more power than the Senate in a bicameral imbalance, it is the former that votes the President into office. When this tortuous process has been gone through, the Monarch appears back on the scene to appoint the “winner” as President of the Government. If this happens, the President will now embark on forming a Government of Spain.

So far, Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, the top-listed deputy of the rightist Partido Popular (PP), is unable to enlist backing other than that of his own party, and that of the ultra-conservative Vox, to achieve his self-proclaimed aspiration. This despite the fact that the PP bagged the largest number of votes-deputies in the general election. He and his party are in frenzied negotiations with other (smaller, regional) parties to break the deadlock.

Partido Socialista Obrero Español logo

But then, the social-democratic Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), the second-biggest party in the Spanish Parliament, is in a frenzy too. Neither the PP nor PSOE has totted up an absolute majority of seats in the Congress of Deputies to get their respective candidates voted President of the Government on the strength of their own deputies alone.

Partido Popular logo

Ironically, Pedro Sanchez, acting President of the Government and the underdog PSOE’s presidential aspirant, might outrun PP candidate Nuñez Feijoo in the race for the Presidency. It’s simple arithmetic: he who gets the support of the absolute majority of the deputies in the first round – or a simple majority in the second – will get appointed President by the King of Spain, Felipe VI. And it seems Sanchez might be able to cull support where Feijoo can’t.

Now in the home stretch, the presidential contest is getting more exciting. And brutally acrimonious.

(If no aspirant achieves Congress’s absolute majority Vote of Confidence in the first round, nor a simple majority in the second, the King will dissolve Congress and a new general election will be held.)



> Featured image (Pedro Sanchez and Alberto Nuñez Feijoo at Moncloa Palace), Pool Moncloa, Fernando Calvo-Ministerio de la Presidencia. Gobierno de Espña
> Closed-list ballots (for the 2015 general election)/Falconaumanni, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikipedia
> Felipe VI chairs opening session of Cortes Generales/Pool Moncloa, Fernando Calvo. Ministry of Presidency. Government of Spain
> Chamber of Congress of Deputies/Pool Moncloa, Fernando Calvo. Ministry of Presidency. Government of Spain
> PSOE logo, Fair use
> Partido Popular logo/Partido Popular, PD