Birth of the Provincial Council
Spain’s Provincial Councils originated from the first political constitution (the Constitution of Cádiz), adopted by the Spanish monarchy and approved on 19th March, 1812. This constitution, Spain’s first Magna Carta, epitomised the ideals of liberalism and Spanish constitutionalism. Article 323 granted councils the power to not only promote their respective towns and villages, but also to act as an intermediate political body, between the central political power and the municipalities (in Article 325): “Each province will have one council, called a provincial council, which will promote its prosperity and be presided over by its own head of affairs”. Article 335, meanwhile, granted a series of powers to the councils so they could oversee the economic development of the province.
Provincial Councils were not established simultaneously in all provinces; the process was rather erratic, with respective functions and geographical jurisdictions of each provincial council varying considerably. A royal decree of 15th June, 1814 went so far as to abolish the Councils. Likewise, the return of King Ferdinand VII led to the abolishment of the Constitution and to the establishment of absolutism in Spain for a six-year period (1814 to 1820). During this time, the Royal Counsel regained its former power. The King decreed: “I believe that my kingdoms can be governed in a better way by the Royal Counsel, who were once legally in charge of business matters which, in my absence, came to be overseen by the provincial councils… I hereby abolish these councils, since I believe them to be unnecessary”.
The councils were abolished until the rebellion of 1820, when the troops were due to head for America to stop the process of emancipation and the King was obliged to swear by the 1812 Constitution. A decree of 7th March restored the Constitution’s validity and the provincial councils once again came into being for the ‘three-year Constitutional period” (1820 to 1823). A decree of 27th January, 1822 also saw a new distribution of the territory. The lifespan of the new provincial councils was once again cut short, since they were closed in 1823 by the intervention of “the One Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Luis” (the French army), who restored Ferdinand VII’s absolutist regime for a 10-year period known as “the Ominous Decade, 1823-1833”.
After the King’s death on 29th September, 1833, his widow, Marie Christine was named Governor and Regent during the minority of her daughter, Elizabeth II. This period was known as “the Elizabethan Restoration”, and it laid the groundwork for the new Constitution and the “Royal Statute of 1834”. It also consolidated the power of the liberals, leading to the definitive re-establishment of the provincial councils. Likewise, the Decree of 30th November, 1833 involved a new territorial division of Spain into 49 provinces. This division (with the exception of a few modifications) still stands today. Not only does it govern administrative matters, but also military, judicial and tax jurisdictions. Finally, on 21st September, 1835, the Royal Decree concerning “the Manner of Constituting and Forming the Councils” was promulgated. The Royal Order of 20th April, 1833 established the Official Bulletins of the Province in capital cities. The latter would serve as official gazettes and a means through which the people and institutions could communicate. Málaga’s first bulletin was edited on Wednesday, 17th July, 1833, at a printer located on number 31 Granada Street.
From the very beginning, the councils were governed by the President and the Plenary Council. A number of Commissions were also created to fulfil specific roles (to provide information and administrative services rather than make decisions). The role of President was fulfilled (between 1813 and 1925) by the Political Head of the Province, thus named until 1849, and from 1925 onwards by the Civil Governor and the ex-officio President until approximately the year 1950. Nevertheless, the true decision-making body comprised the plenary council members, who took all executive decisions until 1845. The Political Head of the Province fulfilled auxiliary duties and used his authority or coercive force when required. In 1925, the Permanent Provincial Commission was created, whose aims included preparing cases and agreements the Plenary Council would need to resolve. In 1945, meanwhile, the Commission of Government was created to advise the President and provide information on all matters not attributed to other informative commissions.
The election and duration of public positions also varied; until approximately 1925, representatives were elected via direct suffrage; positions deemed incompatible with that of a representative included that of councillor or mayor. From 1925 onwards, representatives would be designated by the Town Halls and directly chosen. Between 1939 and 1979, they would also be chosen from among the mayors and councillors of each judicial district, and from the various economic, cultural and professional entities of the province. Finally, from 1979 onwards, the election of representatives was via indirect suffrage of municipal councillors, distributed by judicial parties.