Between 1966 and 1978, Spain was governed under the Organic Law of the Spanish State. A new constitution, approved by the Cortes on 31 October 1978 and by the electorate in a national referendum on 6 December, and ratified by King Juan Carlos I on 27 December 1978, repealed all the laws of the Franco regime and confirmed Spain as a parliamentary monarchy. It also guaranteed the democratic functioning of all political parties, disestablished the Roman Catholic Church, and recognized the right to autonomy of distinct nationalities and regions.
According to the constitution, the king is the head of state, symbolizing its unity. Legislative power is vested in the Cortes Generales (General Courts), consisting of two chambers: the Congreso de los Diputados (Congress of Deputies) with 350 members (deputies) in 2003; and the Senado (Senate) with 259 members (senators) the same year. All deputies and 208 of the senators are popularly elected to four-year terms under universal adult suffrage. The remaining senators (51) are chosen by the assemblies in the 17 autonomous regions. The government, which is answerable to the congress, consists of the president (prime minister), vice president, and ministers, all appointed by the king. The supreme consultative organ of government is the Council of State. Also established by the constitution is the function of "defender of the people," inspired by medieval tradition and by the Scandinavian ombudsman. Suffrage is universal at age 18.