Spanish general election, 1989

Spanish general election, 1989
29 October 1989

All 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies and 208 (of 254) seats in the Senate
176 seats needed for a majority in the Congress of Deputies
Opinion polls
Registered 29,604,055 Increase1.7%
Turnout 20,646,365 (69.7%)
Decrease0.8 pp
  First party Second party Third party
Leader Felipe González José María Aznar Miquel Roca
Leader since 13 October 1974 4 September 1989 12 March 1980
Leader's seat Madrid Madrid Barcelona
Last election 184 seats, 44.1% 105 seats, 26.0%[lower-alpha 1] 18 seats, 5.0%
Seats won 175 107 18
Seat change Decrease9 Increase2 ±0
Popular vote 8,115,568 5,285,972 1,032,243
Percentage 39.6% 25.8% 5.0%
Swing Decrease4.5 pp Decrease0.2 pp ±0.0 pp

  Fourth party Fifth party Sixth party
Leader Julio Anguita Adolfo Suárez Iñaki Anasagasti
Leader since 12 February 1989 29 July 1982 1986
Leader's seat Madrid Madrid Biscay
Last election 7 seats, 4.6% 19 seats, 9.2% 6 seats, 1.5%
Seats won 17 14 5
Seat change Increase10 Decrease5 Decrease1
Popular vote 1,858,588 1,617,716 254,681
Percentage 9.1% 7.9% 1.2%
Swing Increase4.5 pp Decrease1.3 pp Decrease0.3 pp

Most voted party by autonomous community and province.

Prime Minister before election

Felipe González

Elected Prime Minister

Felipe González

The 1989 Spanish general election was held on Sunday, 29 October 1989, to elect the 4th Cortes Generales of the Kingdom of Spain. All 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies were up for election, as well as 208 of 254 seats in the Senate.

The incumbent Socialists once again emerged as the largest party, but fell just one seat short of an absolute majority in the Congress. With an hypothetical sum of all other parties being theoretically able to match the PSOE parliamentary strength, in practice the Socialist Party was able to govern as if it had an overall majority, as HB deputies remained absent throughout the entire parliamentary term until 1993. As such, Felipe González was able to be re-elected for a third consecutive term in office without much trouble.

The opposition People's Party, AP new electoral brand, remained about the same size as it had been in both 1982 and 1986, with around 26% of the vote and slightly below 110 seats. However, the election showing was way above both party and polls' expectations, even winning 2 seats from 1986, after it had obtained a mere 21% in the European Parliament election held earlier in 1989. As a result, PP candidate José María Aznar was able to consolidate his leadership within the party, assuming full control over the PP from Manuel Fraga on April next year.

This would be the last nationwide-held election (aside from municipal elections) in which the sum of both PSOE and PP shares would score below 70% of the vote until the 2014 European Parliament election.


Electoral system

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 ballotsfor 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 Canaries, 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.[1] 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, public defenders, serving military personnel, active police officers and members of constitutional and electoral tribunals were also ineligible,[2] as well as CEOs or equivalent leaders of state monopolies and public bodies, such as the Spanish state broadcaster RTVE.[3]

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.[3]


Felipe González' second term as Prime Minister was characterized by economic growth and expansion, a result of Spain's entry into the European Economic Community. The capital from the EEC Structural Funds favored the government's investment in public works, resulting in Spain gross domestic product growing at an average rate of 5% between 1987 and 1989.[4] Approximately 1.4 million employments were created between the end of 1986 and the end of 1989, with unemployment decreasing from 20.6% to 16.9% and inflation decreasing below the 3% mark.[5] This period also saw improvements in the Education and especially in the Health system with the 1986 General Health Law, providing the basis for a welfare system[6]

AP crisis and birth of the People's Party

After the 1986 election, in which People's Alliance had lost votes and seats despite running in coalition with other parties and with the PSOE losing ground, a major crisis brokered within the party, starting with its coalition partner, the PDP, breaking up with AP on June 1986 and with former party's Secretary-General Jorge Verstrynge leaving on October. As a result, Manuel Fraga announced his resignation as party leader on 1 December 1986.[7] On the party primary held on February 1987, Antonio Hernández Mancha was elected as new party leader by a large margin, winning with 71.5% of the votes.[8]

However, Hernández Mancha's election as party leader did not close the party crisis. He quickly found himself hampered by the fact that he could not face Felipe González in parliament, not even in the State of the Nation Debate, as he was not a member of the Congress (he was a senator). He also feared that, with Fraga's resignation, Suárez' Democratic and Social Centre could overcome his party in terms of votes.[9][10] In an attempt to make himself known to the general public and to become the focus of media attention, he brought forward a motion of censure against González on March 1987,[11] which he lost by 67 to 194 (the PSOE had an absolute majority of seats).[12] This was perceived as a suicide move that weakened Mancha's leadership for the remainder of his tenure as AP president.[13]

Finally, after internal pressure on him to resign, Hernández Mancha announced his intention to quit and to not concur to the party's Congress to be held between 20 and 22 January 1989.[14][15][16] In the Congress, Fraga, elected back to the party's presidency, announced the party's refoundation into the new People's Party (PP).[17] Fraga, in his bid to renovate the party, announced his intention to not stand himself as candidate for the October general election,[18] a post which he finally awarded to then-President of the Junta of Castile and León José María Aznar on September 1989.[19]

General strike of 1988

On 14 December 1988, a general strike was called by Spain's two main trade unions: CCOO and UGT, the latter having been historically affiliated with the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers' Party. What was initially a strike against a governmental reform of the labour market that would introduce temporary and flexible contracts for young workers, ended in a major protest against the economic policy of the PSOE government among left-wing voters, as its economic reforms were seen as too 'neoliberal' in nature and favouring the patronal (Spanish employers' organizations). The strikers even succeeded in shutting down the state broadcaster RTVE for the duration of the strike, adding up to its impact.[20][21]

The strike, one of the largest and most successful in the recent story of the country, resulted in the proposed reforms being retired and in an increase of social public spending. However, despite the strike's impact, Prime Minister Felipe González remained popular.

Electoral campaign

Despite Aznar's designation as PP candidate, the opposition remained divided and weak on the road to the 1989 election. This, coupled with a buoyant economy, made a new PSOE victory inevitable. The electoral campaign, thus, focused on whether the Socialists would be able to maintain their absolute majority on the Congress of Deputies for a third term in office. United Left had also appointed a new leader, Julio Anguita, and had high expectations to increase their parliamentary representation from the 7 seats they had won in 1986. During the campaign, Felipe González pledged that this would be the last time he would stand for the office of Prime Minister. He would eventually stand for two more elections, until 1996.[22]

Opinion polling


Congress of Deputies

Summary of the 29 October 1989 Congress of Deputies election results
Party Popular vote Seats
Votes % ±pp Won +/−
Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) 8,115,568 39.60 –4.46 175 –9
People's Party (PP)[lower-alpha 1] 5,285,972 25.79 –0.18 107 +2
United Left (IU) 1,858,588 9.07 +4.44 17 +10
Democratic and Social Centre (CDS) 1,617,716 7.89 –1.33 14 –5
Convergence and Union (CiU) 1,032,243 5.04 +0.02 18 ±0
Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ/PNV) 254,681 1.24 –0.29 5 –1
Ruiz-Mateos Group (Ruiz-Mateos) 219,883 1.07 New 0 ±0
Popular Unity (HB) 217,278 1.06 –0.09 4 –1
Andalusian Party (PA) 212,687 1.04 +0.57 2 +2
The Greens–Green List (LV–LV) 157,103 0.77 +0.61 0 ±0
Valencian Union (UV) 144,924 0.71 +0.39 2 +1
Basque Solidarity (EA) 136,955 0.67 New 2 +2
The Ecologist Greens (LVE) 136,335 0.67 New 0 ±0
Basque Country Left (EE) 105,238 0.51 –0.02 2 ±0
Workers' Party of Spain–Communist Unity (PTE–UC)[lower-alpha 2] 86,257 0.42 –0.72 0 ±0
Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) 84,756 0.41 –0.01 0 ±0
Workers' Socialist Party (PST) 81,218 0.40 +0.01 0 ±0
Regionalist Aragonese Party (PAR) 71,733 0.35 –0.01 1 ±0
Canarian Independent Groups (AIC) 64,767 0.32 –0.01 1 ±0
Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain (PCPE) 62,664 0.31 New 0 ±0
Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) 47,763 0.23 +0.10 0 ±0
Galician Coalition (CG) 45,821 0.22 –0.18 0 –1
Valencian People's Union (UPV) 40,767 0.20 ±0.00 0 ±0
Galician Socialist Party–Galician Left (PSG–EG) 34,131 0.17 –0.06 0 ±0
Green Alternative–Ecologist Movement of Catalonia (AV–MEC)[lower-alpha 3] 25,978 0.13 –0.02 0 ±0
Spanish Falange of the JONS (FE–JONS) 24,025 0.12 –0.10 0 ±0
Canarian Nationalist Assembly (ACN) 21,539 0.11 –0.07 0 ±0
Spanish Vertex Ecological Development Revindication (VERDE) 21,235 0.10 –0.04 0 ±0
Blank ballots 141,795 0.69 +0.09
Total 20,493,682 100.00 350 ±0
Valid votes 20,493,682 99.26 +0.83
Invalid votes 152,683 0.74 –0.83
Votes cast / turnout 20,646,365 69.74 –0.75
Abstentions 8,957,690 30.26 +0.75
Registered voters 29,604,055
Source: Ministry of the Interior
  1. 1 2 People's Party results are compared to People's Coalition totals in the 1986 election.
  2. PTE–UC results are compared to Communists' Unity Board totals in the 1986 election.
  3. AV–MEC results are compared to the Green Alternative List totals in the 1986 election.
Vote share
Blank ballots
Parliamentary seats


Summary of the 29 October 1989 Senate of Spain election results
Party Seats
Won +/− Not up Total seats
Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) 107 –17 21 128
People's Party (PP)[lower-alpha 1] 78 +15 12 90
United Left (IU) 1 +1 2 3
Democratic and Social Centre (CDS) 1 –2 6 7
Convergence and Union (CiU) 10 +2 2 12
Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ/PNV) 4 –3 1 5
Popular Unity (HB) 3 +2 3
Basque Solidarity (EA) 0 ±0 1 1
Aragonese Party (PAR) 0 ±0 1 1
Canarian Independent Groups (AIC) 2 +1 2
Majorera Assembly (AM) 1 ±0 1
Independent Herrenian Group (AHI) 1 +1 1
Total 208 ±0 46 254
  1. People's Party results are compared to People's Coalition totals in the 1986 election.
Parliamentary seats


Overview of results

While the Socialist victory was virtually guaranteed, the 1989 election night was one of the most dramatic in the decade because of the serious possibility of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party losing its absolute majority in the Congress of Deputies. Actually, exit polls and data from the vote count early in the night hinted at this outcome, showing PSOE losing its majority and winning as few as 172 seats, prompting the main opposition parties to ask González' party for 'a different way of governing'. PSOE's absolute majority remained lingering in the air for the entire election night until the early morning of the next day, all votes counted, when they won their 176th seat, thus achieving an overall majority of seats.[23][24] National and foreign media saw in the election results a warning to Felipe González' management of the country, advising him to ensure political stability by attending social demands and to prevent, in his third term in office, to relapse into the 'arrogant' way of acting from the two previous legislatures.[25]

The battle for the 176th seat

The People's Party and United Left contested the election results on several districts, where several seats had been awarded to the PSOE by small margins of votes, accusing the government of irregularities in the vote tally. On 14 November an IU appeal on the election results of Murcia was initially accepted, resulting in the award of 1 seat to IU in that district in detriment of the PSOE. The PP also appealed the election results of Melilla and Pontevedra, also on the basis of possible irregularities, saying that the government had manipulated the vote tally so that the PSOE could win the absolute majority. The legal battle between the Socialists and both opposition parties resulted in the Supreme Court annulling the award of Murcia's disputed seat to IU and maintaining the election result in Pontevedra as it was, but also calling for new elections to be held in Melilla.

Summary of the 1989 Spanish Congress of Deputies election results in Melilla
Party 29 October 1989 25 March 1990
Vote % Seats Vote % Seats
People's Party (PP) 7,671 39.40 0 9,748 55.68 1
Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) 8,178 42.00 1 6,741 38.50 0
Democratic and Social Centre (CDS) 1,644 8.44 0 316 1.80 0
Spanish Nationalist Party of Melilla (PNEM) 1,374 7.06 0 301 1.72 0
Workers' Socialist Party (PST) 131 0.67 0 130 0.74 0
Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain (PCPE) 204 1.05 0 115 0.66 0
Blank ballots 270 1.39 157 0.90
Total 19,472 100.00 1 17,508 100.00 1
Valid votes 19,472 98.72 17,508 99.29
Invalid votes 253 1.28 126 0.71
Votes cast / turnout 19,725 57.95 17,634 51.89
Abstentions 14,314 42.05 16,351 48.11
Registered voters 34,039 33,985

The battle for PSOE's 176th seat ended with the 25 March 1990 partial election on Melilla resulting in the People's Party snatching the district's only seat and 2 senators from the Socialist Party, which definitely lost its absolute majority in the Congress.[26][27][28] However, even if a theoretical sum of all other parties could be able to match PSOE's Congress parliamentary group size, the Socialist Party would eventually come to govern as if it had an absolute majority, with no opposition when it came to legislate on matters not requiring by law an absolute majority of all seats (such as Organic Laws). This was a result of all 4 HB deputies remaining absent throughout the entire parliamentary term until 1993. Consequently, even in an scenario where all other opposition parties voted together against the PSOE, they would still only add up 171 votes to PSOE's 175.


First round: 5 December 1989
Absolute majority (167/332) required
Candidate: Felipe González
Choice Vote
Parties Votes
YesYes PSOE (166), AIC (1)
167 / 332
No PP (99), CiU (18), IUIC (17), CDS (13), PA (2), UV (2), EA (2), EE (2)
155 / 332
Abstentions PNV (5), PAR (1)
6 / 332
Not taking oath: HB (4)
Vacancies: PSOE (10), PP (7), CDS (1)
Source: Historia Electoral

On 5 December 1989, Felipe González was elected in the first round of voting as Prime Minister with an absolute majority in the Congress (167/332). This is to date the only occasion in which not all deputies were able to vote, as a result of the Supreme Court temporarily suspending 18 seats which had seen their results contested and were not yet awarded.[28]

After all seat disputes had been solved and all 350 seats had been awarded, Prime Minister Felipe González voluntarily presented a confidence motion on himself as a sort of "new" investiture voting. The result was essentially a repeat of the December 1989 voting, with some parties previously voting 'No' choosing to abstain. González' parliamentary support remained the same as it was.

Confidence vote: 5 April 1990
Simple majority required
Candidate: Felipe González
Choice Vote
Parties Votes
YesYes PSOE (175), AIC (1)
176 / 350
No PP (105), IUIC (16), PA (2), UV (2), EA (2), EE (2), PAR (1)
130 / 350
Abstentions CiU (18), CDS (14), PNV (5)
37 / 350
Absences: HB (4), PP (2), IUIC (1)
Source: Historia Electoral


  1. "General Aspects of the Electoral System".
  2. "The Spanish Constitution of 1978".
  3. 1 2 "Law governing electoral procedures". Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  4. Spain GDP growth in 1989
  5. EPA data
  6. "Felipe González Socialist governments (1982-1996)" (in Spanish). Retrieved 2014-08-07.
  7. "Manuel Fraga resigns as People's Alliance president" (in Spanish). El País. 1986-12-02.
  8. "Hernández Mancha outstanding victor in the struggle for power in AP" (in Spanish). El País. 1986-12-02.
  9. "The leader of AP forced Suárez to the rostrum" (in Spanish). El País. 1987-03-28.
  10. "Hernández Mancha presents a motion of censure against Felipe González' government, without any chance to win it" (in Spanish). La Hemeroteca del Buitre. Retrieved 2014-08-07.
  11. Investiture votings, motions of confidence, motions of censure, adoption of the Constitution
  12. "Hernández Mancha presents a motion of censure to achieve the 'melee fight' with Felipe González" (in Spanish). El País. 1987-03-24.
  13. "What happened to ... Hernández Mancha, former president of AP" (in Spanish). Expansión. 2007-06-08.
  14. "Fraga lands in AP with the support of the 'heavy weights' and leaves Mancha alone with his team" (in Spanish). El País. 1988-10-25.
  15. "A majority of leaders in AP reprove Hernández Mancha and expect him to resign "for dignity"" (in Spanish). El País. 1988-11-29.
  16. "Hernández Mancha renounces to face Fraga" (in Spanish). El País. 1989-01-04.
  17. "Fraga worked hard to make the AP congress to rename the party" (in Spanish). El País. 1989-01-21.
  18. "Fraga announces that he will only concur to Galician elections" (in Spanish). El País. 1989-07-28.
  19. "Fraga has told José María Aznar that he is his candidate for Prime Minister" (in Spanish). El País. 1989-08-30.
  20. "The general strike paralyzed Spain yesterday" (in Spanish). El País. 1988-12-15.
  21. "14-D, 25 years from the strike that paralyzed Spain" (in Spanish). Público. 2013-12-13.
  22. "Gonzalez explains as a "rational deliberation" his allusion to this being his last election" (in Spanish). El País. 1989-10-15.
  23. "PSOE wins a third absolute majority" (in Spanish). La Vanguardia. 1989-10-30.
  24. "The PSOE suffers an electoral setback yet it maintains the absolute majority 'in extremis'" (in Spanish). ABC. 1989-10-30.
  25. "The 'Times' suggests González to attend protests to ensure stability" (in Spanish). El País. 1989-11-01.
  26. "The opposition tries to wrest the seat of the Socialist majority in the final vote tally" (in Spanish). El País. 1989-11-01.
  27. "Irregularities found in 10 polling stations in Murcia" (in Spanish). El País. 1989-11-06.
  28. 1 2 Elections of 1989
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