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Despite being only 7 kilometers apart, citizens of Villarejo, Segovia have three times less the voice in the Spanish general election than their neighbors in Somosierra, Madrid. Interestingly enough, a vote in Villarejo is equivalent to 3 votes in Somosierra.
This is possible owing the particular electoral system that Spain adopted into its constitution in 1978. Despite the bicameral system, the legislative power is nowadays mainly held by the Congress with 350 deputies selected during general elections.
For this purpose, the country is divided into 50 provinces each one granted with minimum two deputies just for the matter of being a province and two autonomous cities, both in Morocco coastline, with one deputy. So from 350 total deputies, 102 are fixed among provinces and 248 are divided equally between all the provinces by their number of registered voters.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Madrid is granted two deputies per province plus 33 deputies for its 4.5 million registered voters while Segovia has two deputies plus one for its 124,000 electors. A deputy must obtain over 128,000 votes to be elected in Madrid — far more than the whole total amount of registered voters in Segovia, where only around 40,000 votes can decide a deputy. Sometimes it gets worse — like between Barcelona and Teruel were differences are even bigger.
This makes the voting system bipolar; on one side, regional parties always campaign for their own province’s welfare, obviating the needs of other parts of the country and targeting only potential voters living within the same region. They therefore reach a very limited number of deputies.
On the other hand, the main nationwide political parties, Partido Popular (PP) and Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), target citizens throughout the country and have obtained the bulk of deputies so far. In Spain since 1982 there have been eight general elections where both PP and PSOE together obtained between 80 and 92 percent of the 350 deputies while remaining in positions covered by minority regional parties and other minority nationwide parties.
This system made a lot of sense when it was approved back in December 1978, only three years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco. By that time, the dictatorship had centralized all power and control in Madrid to make it easier to oversee what was going on and rule the entire nation.
But when the democratic process began, many regions started to claim autonomy. The dictatorship had severely repressed the desire of autonomy in regions like Catalonia and Basque Country, abolishing antique fiscal privileges and suppressing the recognition of Basque and Catalan as official languages.
Regions have been struggling for more independence after Franco´s death and while dismantling the old regime structure and creating a democratic one, the makers of the constitution feared a national partition into several independent countries — or a new civil war. In order to avoid this, they developed a voting system to support more power in regional minorities.
Nowadays, all Spanish regions have obtained more authority on such matters as education, health, transportation, economy, public security and so forth, transferred by the central government over three decades. They have gained an autonomous status with their own regional elections and parliament.
Moreover, the central government has given many other authorities to Brussels after the admission to the European Union. So what is the point of maintaining the system unchanged if regional minorities today have gained most of their demands? For instance, Izquierda Unida (IU), a political party whose ideals rest between communism and socialism obtained at the last general elections almost a million votes — but only obtained two deputies.
Meanwhile, Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV), a seeker for independence of Basque Country, received merely 300.000 votes but gained six deputies. Obviously, the vote to deputy ratio does not hold. Imagine that someone decides to create a new party supporting gay and lesbian rights and gains support in the community.
Unfortunately, the gay community is considered a national minority; in aggregated numbers there are several hundred thousands but divided by provinces, their numbers are limited, as low as 3 percent, and not enough to obtain a deputy to represent them. Project this to other national minorities like environmental activists, communists, immigrants with the right to vote, pacifist and so on. Under this system they will never be able to obtain a chair in the Chamber of Deputies.
In 2008, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs, there were 98 different political parties. Nevertheless, two parties obtained more than 90 percent of deputies, effectively holding the legislative right og Spain without effectively representing the diversity of the nation.
The last opinion poll dated September 2011, just two months before the polling day, shows the same scenario for next general elections. A scenario where the PP and PSOE will obtain over 75 percent of the total votes. Either the Spanish citizens are quite homogeneous or there is a fake democracy in place where plurality has no effect.
Democracy is not only the right to vote once every four years, nor the right to do it freely and secretly. Democracy must encourage dialogue, space for confrontation between ideas and ideals, space to be heard and a space to defend your rights.
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