Spanish general election, 1996

Spanish general election, 1996
3 March 1996

All 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies and 208 (of 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
Leader José María Aznar Felipe González Julio Anguita
Leader since 4 September 1989 13 October 1974 12 February 1989
Leader's seat Madrid Madrid Madrid
Last election 142 seats, 35.4%[lower-alpha 1] 159 seats, 38.8% 18 seats, 9.6%
Seats won 156 141 21
Seat change Increase14 Decrease18 Increase3
Popular vote 9,716,006 9,425,678 2,639,774
Percentage 38.8% 37.6% 10.5%
Swing Increase3.4 pp Decrease1.2 pp Increase0.9 pp

  Fourth party Fifth party Sixth party
Leader Joaquim Molins Iñaki Anasagasti José Carlos Mauricio
Leader since 1 February 1995 1986 1996
Leader's seat Barcelona Biscay Las Palmas
Last election 17 seats, 4.9% 5 seats, 1.2% 4 seats, 0.9%
Seats won 16 5 4
Seat change Decrease1 ±0 ±0
Popular vote 1,151,633 318,951 220,418
Percentage 4.6% 1.3% 0.9%
Swing Decrease0.3 pp Increase0.1 pp ±0.0 pp

Most voted party by autonomous community and province.

Prime Minister before election

Felipe González

Elected Prime Minister

José María Aznar

The 1996 Spanish general election was held on Sunday, 3 March 1996, to elect the 6th Cortes Generales of the Kingdom of Spain. All 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies were up for election, as well as 208 of 257 seats in the Senate.

Ever since forming a minority government after its victory in the 1993 election, the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) had been rocked by the unveiling of a string of corruption scandals, including the party's illegal financing, misuse of public funds to pay for undeclared bonuses to party officials and allegations of state terrorism. After Convergence and Union (CiU) withdrew their confidence and supply support to the PSOE in mid-1995, Prime Minister Felipe González was forced to precipitate the Cortes' dissolution for a snap election to be held in early 1996, 15 months ahead of schedule.

The election resulted in the first PSOE defeat in a general election since 1982; the scope of which was, however, overestimated by opinion polls. Opposition José María Aznar's People's Party (PP) was widely expected to make gains after resounding wins in the 1994 European Parliament election and 1995 municipal and regional elections. Polls and commentators had predicted the outcome would be a PP landslide, with Aznar either winning an outright overall majority or coming short of it by few seats. Instead, the election turned into the closest in the Spanish democratic period to date; a shocking PSOE comeback, fueled by a strong voter turnout of 77.4%, left the PP leading by just 1.1 percentage points and 300,000 votes, falling 20 seats short of an absolute majority. Julio Anguita's United Left (IU) also failed to meet expectations, despite scoring their best overall result in a general election since the PCE in 1979.

At 156 seats, this would be the worst performance for a winning party in Spain until Mariano Rajoy's result in the 2015 election. As a consequence of the election result, Aznar was forced to tone down his attacks to Catalan and Basque nationalists in order to garner their support for his investiture. After two months of negotiations, agreements were reached with CiU, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and Canarian Coalition (CC), enabling for José María Aznar to become Prime Minister of a centre-right minority cabinet, the first in Spain in nearly 14 years.


Electoral system

The Spanish legislature, the Cortes Generales (Spanish for General Courts), was composed of two chambers at the time of the 1996 election:

This bicameral system was regarded as asymmetric, as while legislative initiative belonged to both chambers—as well as to the Government—the Congress had greater legislative power than the Senate, and it could override most of the Senate initiatives by an absolute majority of votes. Furthermore, only Congress had the ability to grant or revoke confidence from a Prime Minister. Nonetheless, the Senate possessed a few exclusive, yet limited in number functions which were not subject to the Congress' override.[1]

Settled customary practice had been to dissolve and hold elections for both chambers at the same time, thus triggering a "general" election. Article 115 of the Spanish Constitution allowed, however, for each chamber to be elected separately. The electoral system in Spain was on the basis of universal suffrage in a secret ballot.

Congress of Deputies

For the Congress of Deputies, 348 members were elected in 50 multi-member districts using the D'Hondt method and closed-list proportional representation for four-year terms. In addition, Ceuta and Melilla elected one member each using plurality voting. Each district was entitled to an initial minimum of two 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 included blank ballots—for none of the above) were entitled to enter the seat distribution. However, in most districts there was a higher effective threshold at the constituency level, depending on the district magnitude.[2]

For the 1996 election, seats were distributed as follows:

Seat distribution for the 1996 election[3]
Seats Districts
34 × 1 = 34 Madrid
31 × 1 = 31 Barcelona(–1)
16 × 1 = 16 Valencia
13 × 1 = 13 Seville(+1)
11 × 1 = 11 Alicante(+1)
10 × 1 = 10 Málaga
9 × 5 = 45 A Coruña, Asturias, Biscay, Cádiz and Murcia
8 × 1 = 8 Pontevedra
7 × 6 = 42 Balearic Islands, Córdoba, Granada, Las Palmas, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Zaragoza
6 × 4 = 24 Badajoz, Gipuzkoa, Jaén, Tarragona
5 × 11 = 55 Almería, Cáceres, Cantabria, Castellón, Ciudad Real, Girona, Huelva, León, Navarre,
Toledo and Valladolid
4 × 8 = 32 Álava, Albacete, Burgos, Lleida, Lugo(–1), Ourense, La Rioja and Salamanca
3 × 9 = 27 Ávila, Cuenca, Guadalajara, Huesca, Palencia, Segovia, Soria, Teruel and Zamora
1 × 2 = 2 Ceuta and Melilla
= 350 Total seats

For the Senate, each of the 47 peninsular districts (the provinces) was assigned four seats. For the insular provinces, the Balearic Islands and Canary Islands, districts were the islands themselves, with the larger—Mallorca, Gran Canaria, and Tenerife—being assigned three seats each, and the smaller—Menorca, Ibiza-Formentera, Fuerteventura, Gomera, Hierro, Lanzarote and La Palma—one each. Ceuta and Melilla were assigned two seats each, for a total of 208 directly elected seats. The system used was that of limited voting. In districts electing four seats, electors could vote for up to three candidates; in those with two or three seats, for up to two candidates; and for one candidate in single-member constituencies. Electors voted for individual candidates; those attaining the largest number of votes in each district were elected for four-year terms.

In addition, the legislative assemblies of the autonomous communities were entitled to appoint at least one senator each, and one senator for every million inhabitants, adding a variable number of appointed seats to the 208 directly elected senators.[4] This appointment usually did not take place at the same time as the general election, but after the autonomous communities held their respective elections.


Dual membership of both chambers of the Cortes or of the Cortes and regional assemblies was prohibited, meaning that candidates had to resign from regional assemblies if elected. Active judges, magistrates, ombudsmen, serving military personnel, active police officers and members of constitutional and electoral tribunals were also ineligible,[5] as well as CEOs or equivalent leaders of state monopolies and public bodies, such as the Spanish state broadcaster RTVE.[6]

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.[6]



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%.

Corruption scandals

The 1993–96 legislature was marked by the unveiling 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 was in this period when those seemed to affect directly to the incumbent PSOE leadership. These scandals would plague González's government throughout Felipe González's fourth tenure as Prime Minister of Spain.

Roldán scandal

On 23 November 1993, Spanish daily Diario 16 unveiled that Civil Guard Chief Director Luis Roldán had amassed a large patrimony, worth 400 million Pta and a large real estate assets, since assuming office in 1986, which contrasted with his net annual income of 400,000 Pta. Roldán then denounces a media campaign against him and defends the money is of legal origin, but proves unable to show evidence supporting his claims. The accusations lead to his dismissal by the government on 3 December. On 9 March 1994, El Mundo reveals that officers from the Ministry of the Interior had used money from the fondos reservados (Spanish for "reserved funds"), public funds destined to finance the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking and not subject to publicity, justification or external oversight,[7] to make bonus payments to high-ranking officers from the Ministry; Roldán name appeared among those accused of having received such payments. In April, Diario 16 and El Mundo revealed that former President of Navarre Gabriel Urralburu had collected millionary commissions from construction companies in the awarding of public works during his government, with Roldán having also benefitted from it. Evidence now pointed to Roldán having used his office to amass a fortune through fraudulent means, which led to Roldán fleeing the country and in incumbent Interior Minister Antoni Asunción, responsible for monitoring Roldán, resigning as a consequence.[8]

During his time missing, Roldán sent letters admitting the illegalities he had done and accusing other Interior Ministry high-ranking members of also having benefited from the reserved funds and warning that he was willing to "pull the rug out". In a handwritten letter sent to González himself and revealed by El Mundo daily on 17 June 1994, Roldán acknowledged having received a monthly payment of 10 million Pta from Rafael Vera, State Security Director until early 1994. Among those he accused was former Interior Minister José Luis Corcuera (1988–93), but also Prime Minister González, whom he pointed was "aware of everything". In the end, after ten months on the run, Luis Roldán was arrested on 27 February 1995 in Laos amidst claims that he and the Socialist government had reached an agreement in which Roldán would surrender himself in exchange of him being charged with just two crimes out of the seven attributable to him: bribery and embezzlement. This scandal came to be known as the "Laos papers", because the initial governmental version of his capture—that it had been done cooperatively with the Laotian government—was disproved by Laotian authorities. The PSOE government refused to recognize the veracity of these claims, but acknowledged that their initial version was "wrong".[9][8] Roldán would later be convicted for the crimes of bribery, embezzlement, fraud, forgery and tax evasion.[10]

Ibercorp case

Concurrently with the Roldán scandal, it is revealed on 5 April 1994 that former Governor of the Bank of Spain, Mariano Rubio, had a secret bank account in Ibercorp worth 130 million Ptas of undeclared money. Ibercorp had been an investment bank which had been intervened by the Bank of Spain in 1992 due to its involvement in obscure financial operations. Already in February 1992, it had been revealed that Rubio—then Governor of the Bank of Spain—and former Economy Minister Miguel Boyer had concealed from the National Securities Market Commission (CNMV) that both of them possessed stock shares in Ibercorp and used them to amass a fortune. Rubio had denied the accusations in 1992, which nonetheless cost him his post. However, the new revelations in 1994, which resulted in his criminal prosecution, put Felipe González and former Economy Minister Carlos Solchaga—who had backed Rubio in 1992, believing his claims of innocence, and were also ultimately responsible for his naming to the post—in a delicate political situation. Agriculture Minister Vicente Albero was also forced to resign his office in May 1994 after it was unveiled he had also possessed a secret account with undeclared money related to the scandal.[11][12][13]

GAL case

In 1991, two policemen, José Amedo and Michel Domínguez, had been convicted for participating in the Liberation Antiterrorist Groups (GAL), death squads involved in a 'dirty war' against ETA in the 1983–87 period and thought to be secretly financed by the Socialist government. Initially thought to be acting independently, they confessed on 16 December 1994 to judge Baltasar Garzón that a number of former police and Interior Ministry officers were also involved in the GAL, showing evidence supporting their claims. Among those were former Interior Minister José Barrionuevo (1982–88), State Security Directors Julián Sancristóbal (1984–86) and Rafael Vera (1986–94), as well as former Secretary-General of the PSOE in Biscay Ricardo García Damborenea and a number of police officers accused of murder and embezzlement of public funds. Throughout early 1995, those accused except for Barrionuevo were arrested and court-questioned, leading to the 'GAL case' being re-opened by the Spanish National Court on 20 February in order to clarify whether the GAL were financed with money from the reserved funds. Barrionuevo accused Garzón, then instructing the case and who had contested the 1993 general election within the PSOE electoral lists, to be acting motivated by personal revenge against the party after political differences leading to his resignation as deputy in May 1994.[14]

In 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 was not proof of González's 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.[14]

Opinion polling


Congress of Deputies

Summary of the 3 March 1996 Congress of Deputies election results
Party Popular vote Seats
Votes % ±pp Won +/−
People's Party (PP)[lower-alpha 1] 9,716,006 38.79 +3.42 156 +14
Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) 9,425,678 37.63 –1.15 141 –18
United Left (IU) 2,639,774 10.54 +0.99 21 +3
Convergence and Union (CiU) 1,151,633 4.60 –0.34 16 –1
Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ/PNV) 318,951 1.27 +0.03 5 ±0
Canarian Coalition (CC) 220,418 0.88 ±0.00 4 ±0
Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) 220,147 0.88 +0.34 2 +2
Popular Unity (HB) 181,304 0.72 –0.16 2 ±0
Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) 167,641 0.67 –0.13 1 ±0
Andalusian Party (PA)[lower-alpha 2] 134,800 0.54 –0.05 0 ±0
Basque Solidarity (EA) 115,861 0.46 –0.09 1 ±0
Valencian Union (UV) 91,575 0.37 –0.11 1 ±0
The European Greens (LVE) 61,689 0.25 –0.54 0 ±0
Aragonese Union (CHA) 49,739 0.20 +0.17 0 ±0
Centrist Union (UC) 44,771 0.18 –1.58 0 ±0
Valencian People's Union–Nationalist Bloc (UPV–BN) 26,777 0.11 –0.06 0 ±0
Socialist Party of Majorca–Nationalist Agreement (PSM–EN) 24,644 0.10 +0.01 0 ±0
Blank ballots 243,345 0.97 +0.17
Total 25,046,276 100.00 350 ±0
Valid votes 25,046,276 99.50 +0.04
Invalid votes 125,782 0.50 –0.04
Votes cast / turnout 25,172,058 77.38 +0.94
Abstentions 7,359,775 22.62 –0.94
Registered voters 32,531,833
Source: Ministry of the Interior
  1. 1 2 People's Party results are compared to the combined totals of the PP and PAR in the 1993 election.
  2. Andalusian Party results are compared to the combined totals of the PA and PAP in the 1993 election.
Vote share
Blank ballots
Parliamentary seats


Summary of the 3 March 1996 Senate of Spain election results
Party Seats
Won +/− Not up Total seats
People's Party (PP) 112 +19 21 133
Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) 81 –15 16 97
United Left (IU) 0 ±0 2 2
Convergence and Union (CiU) 8 –2 3 11
Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ/PNV) 4 +1 2 6
Canarian Coalition (CC) 1 –4 1 2
Popular Unity (HB) 0 –1 0
Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) 0 ±0 1 1
Basque Solidarity (EA) 0 ±0 1 1
Valencian Union (UV) 0 ±0 1 1
Ibiza and Formentera in the Senate (PSOEEUPSMENERCEVIB) 1 +1 1
Democrats' Convergence of Navarre (CDN) 0 ±0 1 1
Party of Independents from Lanzarote (PIL) 1 +1 1
Total 208 ±0 49 257
Parliamentary seats



First round: 4 May 1996
Absolute majority (176/350) required
Candidate: José María Aznar
Choice Vote
Parties Votes
YesYes PP (156), CiU (16), PNV (5), CC (4)
181 / 350
No PSOE (141), IUIC (21), BNG (2), ERC (1), EA (1)
166 / 350
Abstentions UV (1)
1 / 350
Absences: HB (2)
Source: Historia Electoral


  1. "Article 66 Summary". Retrieved 2015-10-27.
  2. "Effective threshold in electoral systems". Trinity College, Dublin. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
  3. "Royal Decree 1/1996, of 8 January, of dissolution of the Congress of Deputies and Senate and of the calling of elections" (PDF). Boletín Oficial del Estado number 8 of 9 January 1996 (in Spanish): 502–503.
  4. "General Aspects of the Electoral System".
  5. "The Spanish Constitution of 1978".
  6. 1 2 "Law governing electoral procedures". Retrieved 2011-03-06.
  7. "What are the reserved funds?" (in Spanish). El Mundo. 2001-09-01.
  8. 1 2 "Chronology of the most notorious corruption scandal in democracy" (in Spanish). El Mundo. 1998-02-27.
  9. "The most notorious corruption scandal in democracy" (in Spanish). El Mundo. 1998-02-27. Archived from the original on June 21, 2001.
  10. "Blackmailers, but convicted" (in Spanish). El País. 2013-07-13.
  11. "'Case Ibercorp' judge only accuses Mariano Rubio of an influence peddling crime" (in Spanish). El País. 1995-01-21.
  12. "Corruption of the economic power and its friends" (in Spanish). El Mundo. 2007-10-18.
  13. "Ibercorp case (1994): High politics, coated paper and ghost companies" (in Spanish). 2013-10-18.
  14. 1 2 "Chronology of 'case Marey', the story of a kidnapping" (in Spanish). El Mundo. 2001-06-01.
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