Monday, November 19, 2007

President or Prime Minister of Spain?

In my Weekly Standard piece on the Madrid bombing verdicts, I referred to the Spanish Prime Minister. A friend quite properly queried me about it, pointing out that in Spain, and in the Spanish newspapers, the head of government is referred to as the President. I, of course, had a moment of fact-checking panic. Especially if you lived in Spain through an election, as I did in 2004. However, it turns out that either term is okay in English. I quote from Wikipedia below, but I had it double checked by a Spanish lawyer at my law school for accuracy.

Also, I should have been clearer that Aznar was not standing for reelection; the new head of his party was; I was trying to save space and ran over that a bit. Finally, editing error on my part - the second bomb attempt on the Seville-Madrid rail line was several 'days', not several 'weeks', after the March 11 attacks. (My thanks to my editor at La Revista de Libros, for drawing that to my attention. I knew I should have asked him to look at this before it ran!)

From Wikipedia:

Official title

The Spanish head of government is known, in Spanish, as the Presidente del Gobierno. Literally translated, this title is "President of the Government" or alternatively "Chairman of the Government", but nevertheless the office-holder is commonly referred to in English as the "prime minister": the usual term for the head of government in a constitutional monarchy. However the Spanish for 'prime minister' is primer ministro; thus, for example, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is the Primer Ministro del Reino Unido, not the Presidente del Gobierno.

In Spain the President of the Government is often called simply Presidente, meaning 'President'. More than once this has caused embarrassing errors among foreign authorities, such as mistaking Spain for a republic. For example Jeb Bush, the Governor of Florida, mistakenly referred to the head of government as the "President of the Spanish Republic" during a visit to Spain in 2003.

The custom to name the head of government as "President" dates back from the reign of Isabella II of Spain, when the Prime Minister was called Presidente del Consejo de Ministros ("President of the Cabinet"). Before 1833 the figure was known as Secretario de Estado ("Secretary of State"), a denomination used today for junior ministers.


The President of the Government is not directly elected by the people but indirectly elected by the legislature. Following legislative elections, which take place every four years, the leader of the majority party, or the leader of the majority coalition, is usually proposed as President of the Government by the King and elected by the Congress of Deputies. The First Vice President of the Government (or First Deputy Prime Minister) is appointed by the King on the proposal of the President.

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