Expat guide to Spanish government and political system


Updated on Aug 18 • 6 minute read

Whether you've lived in Spain for a while or want to move here, having a basic knowledge of Spanish politics and the government system can be helpful in your everyday life.

The decisions the Spanish government takes will affect your life, from the minimum wage to which Spanish taxes you need to pay , from which family members you can bring to Spain to getting free healthcare as an expat.

Considering these decisions will have a huge impact on your life, it's a good idea to have a basic knowledge of the Spanish governmental system, the political parties, and your right to vote as an expat. To bring you up to speed, we'll also share some current political topics you should know of.

What type of government does Spain have?

Spain's a democratic constitutional monarchy (a.k.a parliamentary monarchy), where the King of Spain has a ceremonial role but doesn't have any executive power within the Constitution. A democratically elected prime minister leads the National Government.

As of 2023, the King of Spain is Felipe VI and the Prime minister is Perdo Sánchez.

According to the 2022 Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index, Spain ranks 23rd globally.

But Spain wasn’t always democratic. It wasn’t until the La Transición period in the late 1970s that Spain transitioned from a dictatorship led by the Franco regime to democracy. In 1978 Spain's first Constitution was formed, which slowly transitioned Spain to parliamentary constitutional democracy.

Spanish government system

In Spain, the government has four administrative levels:

  1. National – the elected government of the country.
  2. Regional – the government elected to run the autonomous community.
  3. Provincial – the government elected to run the province.
  4. Municipal – the councillors elected locally to run the town.

1. The National- Distribution of executive power in Spain

In Spain, executive power (a.k.a national layer) is divided into three groups: Executive, Legislative, Judicial.


The government leads the executive branch. It consists of the Prime minister, the Deputy prime minister, and other ministers. They're called Cabinet or Council of Ministers. It’s the Prime Minister's job to establish the Cabinet.

Pedro Sanchez has officially been the Prime Minister of Spain since 2019.

  • Election Process: After being nominated by the King, The Congress of Deputies selects the Prime Minister who functions as the President of the Government.
  • Election cycle: No fixed term length.


The Spanish Parliament (Cortes Generales) consists of the lower house-Congress of Deputies (Congreso de los Diputados) and the upper house-Senate (Senado).

The Cortes Generales is composed of 616 members: 350 Deputies and 265 Senators. 57 seats of the Senate are appointed by regional legislatures (Comunidades Autónomas).

The Congress of Deputies holds great legislative power: they can dismiss the Prime Minister and the government or pass a constitutional reform.

  • Election Process: In general elections, citizens of Spain elect the lower and upper house members.
  • Election Cycle: General elections happen at the end of the four-year term. But, Prime Minister can ask for an early election.


The Justice system of Spain is operated by the Judiciary of Spain and is an independent branch following the rule of law. Court and Tribunals make up the Judiciary of Spain.

  • Election Process: The judges are elected in the parliament, and they appoint the President of the Supreme Court.
  • Election Cycle: Elections are held when someone retires. The mandatory retirement age is 70.

2. Regional- Autonomous Communities (Comunidades Autónomas)

Most regions of Spain differ greatly economically and culturally. So even though Spain has a centralized government, some tasks are distributed into regions called Autonomous Communities.

Each Community has the authority to regulate the education system, implement policies, and build public spaces and roads within their borders. Currently, Spain has 17 Autonomous Communities and 2 Autonomous Cities approved by the national parliament. Representatives for them are elected in Regional elections.

Regions such as the Basque Country and Catalonia have stronger local nationalism and have a stronger say in implementing their political preferences.

3. Provincial council

Residents elect local councillors (provincial councils) who act as municipalities' advisors within Autonomous communities. Then the provincial council elects a mayor for the municipalities.

4. Municipal government

In Spain, local municipalities determine local police, traffic policy, urban planning, social services, and certain taxes.

Spain’s political system

Spain has a multi-party political system where the party with the absolute majority seats forms the government (more than 50% of the seats). If none of the parties has majority seats based on the proportional representation system, they can form a coalition government.

You should also note that people vote for a party as a whole in Spain, not a single person. So parties are voted in based on the policies they propose.

Spain’s political parties

Since each party has many differences regarding its ideology and political position, we’ve created an overview for you.

It’s important to note that the parties’ political position is in the social context of Spain. So their left-wing party can be more or less progressive than another country.

  1. Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) - This Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party is the oldest and longest-running party in modern Spain.
  • Founded: 1879
  • Ideology: Social Democracy
  • Political Position: Centre-left
  • Current Leader: Pedro Sanchez
  1. Partido Popular (PP) - Also known as The People's Party, is currently in opposition.
  • Founded: 1989
  • Ideology: Conservatism, Spanish nationalism, Liberal conservatism, Christian democracy.
  • Political Position: Centre-right to right
  • Current Leader: Pablo Casodo
  1. Unidas Podemos (UP) - In May, the party was formed by Podemos, United Left, and other progressive small parties as an alliance to compete in the 2016 Spanish general election. After the 2019 Spanish Election, PP formed a coalition with PSOE.
  • Founded: 2016
  • Ideology: Democratic socialism, federalism, republicanism
  • Political Position: left-wing
  • Current Leader: Yolanda Díaz
  1. Ciudadanos (Cs) - During the 2017 Catalan regional elections, Ciudadanos (Citizens) got the most votes and became Catalonia's largest party.
  • Founded: 2006
  • Ideology: liberal-conservative, pro-European
  • Political Position: Centre-right
  • Current Leader: Inés Arrimadas
  1. Vox - Vox is an anti-immigration and nationalist party founded by former members of PP. 2019 general election was the first time Vox entered parliament and became the 3rd political force of Spain alongside PP and PSOE.
  • Founded: 2013
  • Ideology: conservatism, right-wing populism, Spanish nationalism.
  • Political Position: right-wing to far-right
  • Current Leader: Santiago Abascal

Voting as an expat in Spain

Remember that you vote for the political party in Spain and not individual councillors.

If you want to vote in general elections, you have to be an official citizen of Spain.

Expats can only vote in municipal elections and European elections if they’re EU citizens or official residents of Spain. For this, you have to be at least 18 years old and registered at the City Hall.

If it’s your first time, then you should register for your vote in the local electoral census. Once you register, you don’t have to do it next time.

Documents you need for voting as an expat

Registering to vote is easy and free, but there’re some documents you need to have.

  • Proof of where you are living (empadronamiento)
  • A valid passport
  • Residency card

Current political situation in Spain

2019 General Elections

Recent years have been pretty active for Spain's political scene. They struggled with appointing an official to lead the country for a long time because none of the parties was gaining the majority vote.

When this happened in both the 2015 and 2016 general elections, Spain didn't have an official prime minister. Instead, Partido Popular governed Spain through agreements with other parties as they were the last elected party. But this ended when the political corruption scandal Gürtel case broke, suggesting PP received illegal allowances since its foundation. So Spain went to an early general election again in 2019.

After the 2019 general election, Pedro Sánchez won the most votes and formed Spain's first coalition government with Unidas Podemos (UP) since its transition to democracy.

Catalonia vs. rest of Spain (Ongoing Catalonia dispute)

Another critical topic in Spain's Politics is the ongoing Catalonia conflict as there're many cultural and economic differences between Spain and the region of Catalonia.

On cultural grounds, Catalonia speaks the Catalan dialect. Even though it's common for universities or official events to be in Spanish, people talk in Catalan, especially in everyday life.

On economic grounds, Catalonia has been a major source of Spain's social and economic growth for many years. Some think being independent is in Catalonia's favor because Catalonia gives more to Spain than the other way around.

Because Spain's regions are governed by themselves, there're also differences in education, healthcare, and some taxes. For example, Catalonia has more expensive education and offers different types of health care than Andalusia.

This controversial topic led to an unofficial referendum in 2017, resulting in Catalonia's independence. However, this event is regarded as unofficial by the national government and had many consequences for involved people.

In fact, there're many online and offline arguments about Catalonia vs. Spain. But people's opinions and views change depending on where they're from. So as an expat, it's important to dive deep to learn both sides or steer clear from this topic.

Navigating politics in Spain

Learning about another countries’ political system can be pretty overwhelming. But, to keep up with the news and to make your own decisions about them, it’s crucial to grasp the basics as an expat.

This article should have helped you get a general understanding of the Spanish political landscape, its government system, and how you can vote as an expat.

If you’re curious about other aspects of life in Spain, feel free to read more about Spanish culture, traditional foods, art, and much more.

Please reach out to content@housinganywhere.com if you have any suggestions or inquiries about the content on this page.

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