Spanish general election, 1996

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Spanish general election, 1996
1993 ←
3 March 1996 → 2000

All 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies and 208 (of the 257) seats in the Senate
176 seats needed for a majority in the Congress of Deputies
Opinion polls
Registered 32,531,833 Increase4.8%
Turnout 25,172,058 (77.4%)
Increase1.0 pp
  First party Second party Third party
  Aznar at the Azores, March 17, 2003.jpg Felipe González 1986c (cropped).jpg Julio Anguita en el Ateneo de Córdoba en 2004 (Recortada).jpg
Leader José María Aznar Felipe González Julio Anguita
Leader since 4 September 1989 13 October 1974 November 1989
Last election 141 seats, 34.8% 159 seats, 38.8% 18 seats, 9.6%
Seats won 156 141 21
Seat change Increase15 Decrease18 Increase3
Popular vote 9,716,006 9,425,678 2,639,774
Percentage 38.8% 37.6% 10.5%
Swing Increase4.0 pp Decrease1.2 pp Increase0.9 pp

  Fourth party Fifth party Sixth party
  Male portrait placeholder cropped.jpg 2007 02 Inaki Anasagasti-2.jpg Male portrait placeholder cropped.jpg
Leader Joaquim Molins Iñaki Anasagasti José Carlos Mauricio
Leader since 1995 1986 1996
Last election 17 seats, 4.9% 5 seats, 1.2% 6 seats, 0.9%
Seats won 16 5 4
Seat change Decrease1 Steady0 Steady0
Popular vote 1,151,633 318,951 220,418
Percentage 4.6% 1.3% 0.9%
Swing Decrease0.3 pp Increase0.1 pp Steady0.0 pp

Most voted party in each autonomous community and province. Every province is a multi-member district for the Congress.

Prime Minister before election

Felipe González

Elected Prime Minister

José María Aznar

The 1996 Spanish general election was held on Sunday, 3 March, to elect the 6th Cortes Generales of the Kingdom of Spain. At stake were all 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies and 208 of 257 seats in the Senate. This was a snap election, since new elections were not due until June 1997.

Incumbent Prime Minister Felipe González of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party lost the elections to the People's Party and their leader José María Aznar, thus ending almost 13 and a half years of Socialist rule: to date, the largest period of time a Spanish party has been in power. However, that of Aznar was a bitter victory. He won just 156 seats out of the 176 needed for a majority, thus short of 20 seats to form a majority government. Aznar had to make agreements with Catalan, Basque and Canarian nationalists to become Prime Minister. Similarly, González's one is known as the dulce derrota (sweet defeat).[1] Despite suffering a net loss of 18 seats and being ousted from government, the popular vote margin between both main parties was of just 300,000 votes.

Despite pre-electoral opinion polls and predictions of a huge PSOE defeat and a PP lead of around 10 points, the close end result makes this election the closest in the Spanish democratic period to date.


Electoral system[edit]

Congress of Deputies

The 350 members of the Congress of Deputies were elected in 50 multi-member districts using the D'Hondt method and a closed-list proportional representation. Ceuta and Melilla elected 1 member each using plurality voting. Each district was entitled to an initial minimum of 2 seats, with the remaining 248 seats being allocated among the 50 provinces in proportion to their populations. Only lists polling above 3% of the total vote in each district (which includes blank ballots—for none of the above) were entitled to enter the seat distribution.


For the Senate, each of the 47 peninsular provinces was assigned 4 seats. For insular provinces, such as Baleares and Canarias, districts are the islands themselves, with the larger — Mallorca, Gran Canaria, and Tenerife — being assigned 3 seats each, and the smaller — Menorca, Ibiza-Formentera, Fuerteventura, Gomera, Hierro, Lanzarote and La Palma — 1 each. Ceuta and Melilla were assigned 2 seats each, for a total of 208 directly elected seats. In districts electing 4 seats, electors could vote for up to 3 candidates; in those with 2 or 3 seats, for up to 2 candidates; and for 1 candidate in single member constituencies. Electors would vote for individual candidates: those attaining the largest number of votes in each district would be elected for a 4-year term of office.

In addition, the legislative assemblies of the autonomous communities are entitled to appoint at least 1 senator each, as well as 1 senator for every million inhabitants, adding up a variable number of appointed seats to the directly-elected 208 senators.[2] This appointment usually did not take place at the same time that the general election, but when the autonomous communities held their elections.


Dual membership of both chambers of the Cortes or of the Cortes and regional assemblies was prohibited. Active judges, magistrates, ombudsmen, serving military personnel, active police officers and members of constitutional and electoral tribunals were also ineligible,[3] as well as CEOs or equivalent leaders of state monopolies and public bodies, such as the Spanish state broadcaster RTVE.[4]

Parties and coalitions of different parties which had registered with the Electoral Commission could present lists of candidates. Groups of electors which had not registered with the commission could also present lists, provided that they obtained the signatures of 1% of registered electors in a particular district.[4]



The legislature was marked by the international economic crisis of 1992-1993. While the economic situation in Spain since 1985 (coinciding with the accession of Spain into the European Communities) was very favorable and the evolutionary profile of per capita GDP was resembling that of the EU countries, from 1989 the GDP started to decrease markedly and the economy entered a cycle of recession. The five-year period 1985-1989 was characterized by a phase of expansive growth and massive inflow of foreign capital, attracted by high interest rates. Post-1989, however, saw unfavorable economic indicators, and recession and global economic crisis deeply affected unemployment rates.

From 1994, a remarkable recovery phase began, from a recession of 1.1% of GDP in 1993 to a growth rate of 2%. Although the economic situation was difficult, unemployment rate began a gradual decline, reaching the end of the legislature in 22% after reaching 24% in 1994. On the other hand, the inflation rate fell to 5.5% between 1994 and 1996, public debt stood at 68% and the deficit at 7.1%.


The 1993-1996 legislature was marked by the discovery of numerous corruption scandals involving the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers' Party. The eruption of corruption scandals had not been uncommon since the early 1990s, but in these years, for the first time, those seemed to directly affect the PSOE leadership. The more controversial were the Roldán and GAL cases.

On late 1993, Spanish media unveiled that Civil Guard Chief Director Luis Roldán had amassed a large patrimony of unknown origin since he was named to the office in 1986. Roldán fled the country in early 1994 when it was discovered that he had used his office to amass a fortune through fradulent means, resulting in the resignation of Interior Minister Antoni Asunción, responsible for monitoring Roldán, as a consequence. Also involved in the scandal was former President of Navarre Gabriel Urralburu, accused of collecting millionary commissions from construction companies in the awarding of public works during his government, with Roldán having also benefitted from it. During his time missing, Roldán sent letters admitting and accusing other Interior Ministry high-ranking members from having received bonus payments from the fondos reservados (Spanish for reserved funds) theoretically destined to finance the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking. Among those he accused was former minister José Luis Corcuera, but also PM González of 'being aware of everything'. Roldán was arrested on 27 February 1995 in Laos, amidst claims that Roldán and the Socialist government had reached an agreement in which Roldán would surrender himself in exchange of him being charged of just two crimes: bribery and embezzlement. These claims came to be came known as the "Laos papers", yet the PSOE government refused to recognize their veracity.[5]

In 1991, two policemen, José Amedo and Michel Domínguez had been convicted for participating in the Liberation Antiterrorist Groups (GAL) which, in the period of 1983-1987, had underwent a 'dirty war' against ETA. Initially thought to be acting independently, in late 1994 they confessed that a number of former Police and Interior Ministry officers were also involved in the GAL and that they had been financed by the State itself, leading to those officers being arrested and court-questioned throughout early 1995. The 'GAL case' was re-opened in February 1995 by the Spanish National Court in order to clarify whether the GAL were financed with money from the reserved funds. On May to July 1995 some of the defendants accused PM Felipe González of "knowing and allowing such activities", even pointing out that he could have been the person creating and financing the GAL. By 1996, however, the Spanish Supreme Court concluded that there were not proofs of González' involvement and that the accusations were based on mere suspicions. Still, former Interior Minister José Barrionuevo and State Security Directors Rafael Vera and Julián Sancristóbal were convicted for the scandal.[6]

Opinion polls[edit]

Congress of Deputies results[edit]


Summary of the 3 March 1996 Spanish Congress of Deputies election results
Spanish Congress of Deputies election, 1996 results.svg
Party Vote Seats
Votes  % ±pp Won +/−
People's Party (PP) 9,716,006 38.79 Increase4.03 156 Increase15
Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) 9,425,678 37.63 Decrease1.15 141 Decrease18
United Left (IU) 2,639,774 10.54 Increase0.99 21 Increase3
Convergence and Union (CiU) 1,151,633 4.60 Decrease0.34 16 Decrease1
Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ-PNV) 318,951 1.27 Increase0.03 5 ±0
Canarian Coalition (CC) 220,418 0.88 ±0.00 4 ±0
Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) 220,147 0.88 Increase0.34 2 Increase2
People's Unity (HB) 181,304 0.72 Decrease0.16 2 ±0
Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) 167,641 0.67 Decrease0.13 1 ±0
Andalusian Party (PA) 134,800 0.54 Increase0.13 0 ±0
Basque Solidarity (EA) 115,861 0.46 Decrease0.09 1 ±0
Valencian Union (UV) 91,575 0.37 Decrease0.11 1 ±0
The European Greens (LVE) 61,689 0.25 New 0 ±0
Aragonese Union (CHA) 49,739 0.20 Increase0.17 0 ±0
Centrist Union (UC) 44,771 0.18 Decrease1.58 0 ±0
Valencian People's Unity-Nationalist Bloc (UPV-BN) 26,777 0.11 Decrease0.06 0 ±0
Socialist Party of Majorca-Nationalist Agreement (PSM-EN) 24,644 0.10 Increase0.01 0 ±0
Blank ballots 243,345 0.97 Increase0.17
Total 25,046,276 100.00 350 ±0
Valid votes 25,046,276 99.50 Increase0.04
Invalid votes 125,782 0.50 Decrease0.04
Votes cast / turnout 25,172,058 77.38 Increase0.94
Abstentions 7,359,775 22.62 Decrease0.94
Registered voters 32,531,833
Source: Ministry of the Interior
Vote share
Blank ballots
Parliamentary seats

Results by region[edit]

Election results by province.

Senate results[edit]

Summary of the 3 March 1996 Spanish Senate election results
Spanish Senate election, 1996 results.svg
Party Vote Seats
Votes  % +/− Won +/− Total +/−
People's Party (PP) 112 Increase19 133 Increase19
Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) 81 Decrease15 97 Decrease14
Convergence and Union (CiU) 8 Decrease2 11 Decrease2
Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ-PNV) 4 Increase1 6 Increase1
Canarian Coalition (CC) 1 Decrease4 2 Decrease3
Ibiza and Formentera (PSOE-EU-PSMEN-ERC-EVIB) 1 Increase1 1 Increase1
Independent Party of Lanzarote (PIL) 1 Increase1 1 ±0
United Left (IU) 0 ±0 2 ±0
Basque Solidarity (EA) 0 ±0 1 ±0
Valencian Union (UV) 0 ±0 1 ±0
Democrats Convergence of Navarre (CDN) 0 ±0 1 ±0
Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) 0 ±0 1 ±0
People's Unity (HB) 0 Decrease1 0 Decrease1
Others 0 ±0 0 ±0
Blank ballots 482,601 1.97 Increase0.34
Total 24,502,854 100.00 208 ±0 257 Increase1
Valid votes 24,502,854 97.41 Decrease0.29
Invalid votes 652,656 2.59 Increase0.29
Votes cast / turnout 25,155,510 77.33 Increase0.56
Abstentions 7,376,323 22.67 Decrease0.56
Registered voters 32,531,833
Parliamentary seats

The Spanish Senate at the time of the 1996 election was composed by 208 directly-elected seats and 49 seats appointed by the regional parliaments of the autonomous communities when a new Parliament resulting from a regional election convenes. The appointment process of these seats depended on the political composition of those regional assemblies, and as such, it could change each time regional elections were held.


Investiture voting[edit]

Candidate Date Vote PP PSOE IU CiU PNV CC BNG HBa ERC EA UV Total
José María Aznar
4 May 1996
Majority required:
Absolute (176/350)
YesYYes 156 16 5 4 x
181 / 350
No 141 21 2 x 1 1
166 / 350
Abst. x 1
1 / 350
Source: Historia Electoral - Spanish General Election 3 March 1996

a All 2 HB MPs refused to take their seats.