May 18th 2024 | 8:44

Bizkaia

The Basque electoral system and its impact on representation

Maria Jose Gonzalez

April 19, 2024 | 6:08 p.m.

The electoral system in Euskadi, characterized by assigning an equal number of seats to each of its three provinces, has been a topic of intense debate due to the population disparity between them. Although Álava, the province with the smallest number of inhabitants, and Gipuzkoa have the same number of representatives in the Basque Parliament as Bizkaia, which has a significantly larger population, this system has proven to be one of the least distorting in Spain according to recent studies.

A look at the Basque electoral framework: equity vs. proportionality

The Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country establishes that each historical territory, regardless of its population, elects an equal number of parliamentarians. This structure seeks to preserve political balance and guarantee that the interests of the less populated provinces are not overshadowed by the larger ones. However, the demographic reality of Euskadi is that while more than half of the Basque population lives in Bizkaia, only 15% live in Álava. This configuration causes the value of the vote in Álava to be considerably higher compared to that of Bizkaia.

Impact on representation and political parties

This electoral design directly influences the dynamics of political parties and their strategy. In Álava, a vote has more weight than in Bizkaia, which can alter the final distribution of seats. For example, parties with a solid base in Álava, such as the Popular Party, can benefit more compared to those whose strength resides in Bizkaia, such as the PNV. This system favors the over-representation of Álava in the Basque Parliament, a phenomenon that not only affects the fairness of the electoral process but also the perception of legitimacy of Basque political institutions.

In terms of results, the equitable distribution of seats has allowed minority formations with a strong local presence, such as the extinct Unidad Alavesa, to achieve parliamentary representation with a relatively low number of votes. This phenomenon highlights the double edge of territorial equity: it promotes political plurality but can also generate disproportionate representation.

Comparison with other autonomous systems

Although the Basque electoral system is peculiar for its rigidity in the equality of provincial seats, it is not the most distorting in Spain. Comparisons between different autonomous systems show that Euskadi, together with Navarra, has one of the mechanisms that best preserves the proportionality between votes received and seats assigned. This is due, in part, to the fact that the allocation of 25 seats per province minimizes the effects of the d'Hondt law, used for the distribution of seats, favoring a more faithful representation of the popular will.

The analysis of the "lost" or unrepresented votes in parliament shows that, although there are elections where the number of these votes increases due to the fragmentation of the political spectrum, the 3% barrier for entry to the Basque parliament is relatively low, thus allowing greater inclusivity.

In contrast, other autonomous communities with more complex systems or with multiple small constituencies tend to present greater distortions. This is the case of communities such as Castilla-La Mancha or Murcia, where the mismatch between votes and seats is more pronounced due to the application of higher electoral barriers and the unequal distribution of seats in relation to the population.

The territorial equity of the Basque electoral system, designed to protect the identity and autonomy of its historic provinces, poses a constant challenge: balancing representativeness with equality. While this system promotes stable governance and a strong regional identity, it also opens debate on possible reforms that ensure fair proportional representation without sacrificing the founding principles of Basque self-government.

Finally, the continuous evaluation of this system is essential to maintain confidence in the democratic institutions of Euskadi and to adapt governance to changing population dynamics and policies. The participation of all sectors of Basque society will be crucial to shape an electoral system that not only respects historical traditions, but also equitably reflects the will of the Basque people.

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