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The Spanish Senate
Senado de España
Coat of arms or logo.
Type
Type Upper house
Leadership
President of the Senate Francisco Javier Rojo García, PSOE, PSE-EE
since 2004
First Vice President of the Senate Isidre Molas i Batllori, PSOE, PSC
Second Vice President of the Senate Juan José Lucas Giménez, Partido Popular
Structure
Members 264
Senado_Espa%C3%B1a_2008.svg
Political groups PP, PSOE, ECP, CiU, Mixto
Meeting place
Palacio del Senado,
Madrid
Spain
Website
www.senado.es
Spain

This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
Spain



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The Spanish Senate (Senado de España in Spanish) is the upper house of Spain's parliament, the Cortes Generales. It is made up of 264 members, 208 of whom are directly elected by popular vote, with the other 56 being appointed by the regional legislatures. All senators serve four-year terms, though those appointed by the regional legislatures can be recalled by them at any time.

The last election was held on 9 March 2008. The composition of the 9th term Senate, to serve no further than 2012, is:

Political party/group Elected Appointed Total
   People's Party 99 24 123
   Spanish Socialist Workers' Party 86 18 104
   Entesa Catalana de Progrés 12 4 16
   Convergencia i Unió 4 3 7
   Basque Nationalist Party 2 2 4
   Others - Mixed Group 4 4 8
   Vacant 1 1 2
Total 208 56 264

Parties under 10 Senators cannot form a group and thus must join the Mixed Group. Also, if an existing group falls below 6 Senators in membership and does not recover them in the running session, it gets dissolved and incorporated into the Mixed Group upon the next session. As an example Coalición Canaria lost its Senate caucus after electoral losses reduced its group to 2 Senators from 6 in the past term. The Basque Nationalist Party, facing a similar situation after going down to 4 Senators from 7, struck a deal with the ruling Socialist Party to borrow some PSOE Senators in order to form their group, in exchange for their support in the election of the socialist Javier Rojo as President of the Senate. However, after the retreat of the socialist Senators from the PNV group, it is under the threshold and faces dissolution after the current session period.

Regardless of the number of vacant seats, legal absolute majority is 133 seats.

Contents

Elections to the Senate

In Spain, elections to the upper house have always so far been held at the same time as elections to the lower. Nevertheless, it is legally permissible to hold them separately if the President of the Government (ie, Prime Minister) officially advises the King to call elections for one chamber only (according to article 115 of Spanish Constitution). The electoral systems are different for each house. While the Congress of Deputies uses the simple D'Hondt method of party list proportional representation to allocate seats in each constituency, with each constituency's seats determined largely by its population, the Senate members are selected in 2 different ways: election by partial block voting and appointment from regional legislatures.

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Directly elected members

The majority of the members of the Senate (currently 208 out of 264) are directly elected by the people. Each province (with the exception of the island provinces) forms a constituency and is granted 4 senators (population doesn't count here, so the province of Madrid, with roughly 6 million people, is very underrepresented compared to Soria's 100,000 inhabitants). Insular provinces are treated specially, and each big island (or group of small islands) is granted a number of senators between 1 and 3 as follows. The larger islands of the Balearics (Baleares) and Canaries (Canarias) - Majorca, Gran Canaria, and Tenerife - are assigned three seats each, and the smaller islands - Minorca, Ibiza-Formentera, Fuerteventura, Gomera, Hierro, Lanzarote and La Palma - one each; Ceuta and Melilla are assigned two seats each.

The candidates sheet for Madrid with 3 votes cast

In the elections to the Senate (as opposed to the elections to the Congress of Deputies), each party nominates 3 candidates (fewer in island constituencies). Then, all candidates are printed (sorted by party) on a single (very large, usually DIN A3 or bigger) sheet of ochre (sepia) color, called a bedsheet (Spanish sábana). Within a party the names are sorted by surname. This has the effect that candidates with a surname higher in the alphabet usually receive more votes than their later comrades.

Each voter can cast up to 3 votes (fewer in island constituencies) by crossing the empty square at the left of the candidate selected from any party. If more than 3 votes are cast, the vote is null, while if no votes are cast, the ballot is counted as a blank vote. This is the only case in Spanish democracy where voters vote for individuals rather than a party list.

As part of their campaign efforts, parties usually mail voters pre-marked sheets before the election. The 4 top candidates are elected as senators. Although they are not required to do so, voters usually cast all their three votes for candidates from the same party. As a result, usually 3 senators from the most popular party are appointed, and 1 senator for the second party; sometimes a 2-2 result is obtained.

Regional legislatures-appointed members

Article 69.5 of the Spanish Constitution empowers the legislative assemblies of the autonomous communities of Spain to appoint a delegation to the Senate from their own ranks. The size of such delegations is proportional to population: one Senator plus another one per million people in the region (rounded down). This scheme has until recently provided for the designation of 51 regional Senators, but starting with the 9th term in 2008, demographic growth has allowed some communities to increment the size of their delegations, bringing the total up to 56 Senators. Due to the way the mentioned formula is rounded down, this number is less than the expected figure of 62 (17 fixed + 45 million people in Spain).

It is conventional that regional delegations to the Senate roughly mimic a scaled down version of the legislative assembly they represent, as partially required by Article 69.5 of the Constitution. However, since the actual proportionality rule is provided nowhere, and the designation motion itself often requires no more than a plurality, Autonomous Communities have considerable leeway in their appointments. Two such examples are:

  • Since the 2007 election, the only Senator from the Balearic Islands (which are about to get another one) was neither from the top-voted People's Party, which holds 28 out of 59 seats, nor from the runner-up PSOE (with 16), but from the 4th political force in the region, the Socialist Party of Majorca with 4 out of 59 seats. This arrangement was part of the 5-party government pact that rules the islands since then. This situation has been "fixed" in 2008, when the new Senator the Balearic Islands were to appoint was handed over to the PP.
  • Since 2003, the PSOE has ruled Aragon with support from regionalist parties. In the last (2007) election, its representation amounted to 30 seats of 67. Nevertheless, the two Senators from this Community represent the opposition People's Party (23) and the regionalist Aragonese Party (9).

As stated before, starting with the 9th term in 2008, population growth in Andalusia, the Balearic and Canary Islands, Catalonia and Madrid grants each one a new Senator to appoint. The distribution of such appointments has already been decided: the last Autonomous Community to do so was Andalusia, which renewed its whole representation after its 2008 regional elections. The current distribution is:

Autonomous Community Population (2007) Senators Distribution[1]
Andalusia 8,059,461 9               

           

Aragón 1,296,655 2      
Asturias 1,074,862 2      
Balearic Islands 1,030,650 2      
Canary Islands 2,025,951 3         
Cantabria 572,824 1   
Castilla - La Mancha 1,977,304 2      
Castilla y León 2,528,417 3         
Catalonia 7,210,508 8            

           

Valencian Community 4,885,029 5               [2]
Extremadura 1,089,990 2      
Galicia 2,772,533 3         
Madrid 6,081,689 7            

        

Murcia 1,392,117 2      
Navarre 605,876 1   
Basque Country 2,141,860 3         
La Rioja 308,968 1   
Total 45.200.737 56 Source: [1]

Role

The Spanish parliamentary system is an asymmetric bicameral one, thus meaning that the Congress of Deputies has more functions by itself and can also override most of the Senate measures in conflict with its own. Furthermore, the Congress is the only house able to grant or revoke confidence to a Prime Minister. In the ordinary lawmaking process, either house may be the initiator, and the Senate can pass hostile amendments or even vetos which mean the proposal is sent back to the Congress, though the lower house can override those objections by an absolute majority vote. The process for constitutional amendments is slightly more tangled: the rule is to require three fifths (60%) of both houses, but if the Senate does not achieve such supermajority and a mixed Congress-Senate committee fails to resolve the issues, Congress may force the amendment through with a two-thirds vote as long as the absolute majority of the Senate was in favour.

On the other hand, the Senate has reserved functions in and of itself in the appointment of constitutional posts, such as judges of the Constitutional Court or the members of the General Council of the Judicial Power. The Senate holds sole responsibility on forcing a regional president to fulfill his functions, as established in article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. This has never occurred, as of 2009. The same applies to the suspension of local governments: the consent of the Senate is required by the Local Regime Framework Act article 61[3]. This has only happened once: in April 2006 the Spanish Government, acting on the formal advice of the regional government of Andalusia, issued a Royal Decree suspending the Marbella city council after most of the councillors were found to be involved in corruption cases.

Since early in the Spanish democracy, there have been talks of reforming the Senate. One of the studied proposals is making the Senate a chamber representing the autonomous communities of Spain, thus advancing in the federalization of Spain.

Presidents of the Spanish Senate

Term President From To Constituency Political party
Constituent
1977-1979
Antonio Fontan Pérez July 13, 1977 January 2, 1979 Seville UCD
I
1979-1982
Cecilio Valverde Mazuelas April 27, 1979 August 31, 1982 Córdoba
II
1982-1986
José Federico de Carvajal November 18, 1982 April 23, 1986 Madrid PSOE
III
1986-1989
July 15, 1986 September 2, 1989
IV
1989-1993
Juan José Laborda Martín November 21, 1989 April 12, 1993 Burgos
V
1993-1996
June 29, 1993 January 9, 1996
VI
1996-2000
Juan Ignacio Barrero Valverde March 27, 1996 February 8, 1999 Badajoz PP
Esperanza Aguirre Gil de Biedma February 8, 1999 January 18, 2000 Madrid
VII
2000-2004
April 5, 2000 October 21, 2002
Juan José Lucas Giménez October 22, 2002 January 20, 2004
VIII
2004-2008
Francisco Javier Rojo García April 2, 2004 January 15, 2008 Álava PSE-EE
IX
2008-2012
April 1, 2008 Incumbent

Term expires in 2012

References

  1. ^ Seats in lighter colors are "presumptive": the involved regional legislatures have not yet decided the required appointments. The distribution shown assumes such decisions to keep the Senate representation of the community roughly proportional to its legislature composition.
  2. ^ "EL PP obliga a Leire Pajín a someterse a un 'examen' en las Cortes para ser senadora" (in Spanish). El Mundo. http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2009/10/06/valencia/1254824568.html. Retrieved 2009-10-14.  
  3. ^ (Spanish)Spanish Official Gazette: Local Regime Framework Act (Law 7/1985)

Further reading

External links


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