Thursday, September 12, 2013

Representation Of The People?: Balearics Parliament

President Bauzá wishes to reduce the number of deputies in the Balearic parliament from 59 to 41. Good for President Bauzá. It all sounds terribly sensible. Lop a few MPs off and save a few million euros into the bargain. But why stop at eighteen? Why do the Balearics need 41 deputies let alone the 59 that there are at present?

59 deputies mean one for almost 19,000 people on the islands. 41 would increase this ratio to one per 27,000. 59, 41, either might sound a lot, but are they? And who is to say or decide if they are a lot? Bauzá obviously thinks 59 are too many, but cutting the number to 41 wouldn't make a huge difference to the overall ranking of the autonomous regions of Spain and the ratios between their populations and numbers of parliamentary deputies. The Balearics are currently in twelfth spot (out of 17). The change to 41 would mean a rise to tenth, but so what?

There is considerable variance between the regions as to the sizes of their respective parliamentary representations. Catalonia has the most deputies (135) but the ratio is one deputy per 54,500 people, significantly lower than Andalusia (109 deputies) and a ratio of one per 75,000. The closest to the Balearics in terms of number of deputies are the Canary Islands. They have 60 deputies, but the ratio is almost double because the total population of the Canaries is almost double that of the Balearics.

So why this inconsistency? Indeed, how did the number of deputies ever come to be decided upon? And why, in the Balearics, are there 33 deputies (55% of them) for Mallorca when Mallorca has 80% of the islands' total population?

The answer to these questions is that there aren't really any answers. Not hard and fast ones at any rate. The basis for forming "constituencies" (used in a loose sense, as there are no constituencies as would be understood in the UK) was, in the case of the Balearics, the four islands, three of which were granted multi-deputy representation. Formentera has only ever had one MP. Arriving at the number of deputies in Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza mirrored, in essence, the system applied nationally for determining "constituencies", i.e. they were assigned on a territorial-population basis but, as noted by Paul Heywood, professor of European politics at the University of Nottingham, "without any guiding orientation". In other words, they just picked a number out of a hat.

That's a trivialisation of course but it's not a million miles away from how the decision as to the number of deputies was arrived at. Roughly speaking, very roughly, whatever guiding orientation there has or hasn't been has placed representation in the various regional parliaments at one deputy for every 40,000 people. As might be observed, 40,000 have been interpreted very liberally in the Balearics.

Bauzá's trimming of the number of deputies has been met with outrage by the usual suspects, namely anyone who or any party which opposes him. The loss of 18 deputies diminishes democracy, it takes government further away from the people, it is a move towards centralisation of government. None of this opposition makes any sense, partly because the basis for the number of deputies has never made a great deal of sense but especially because an increase of 9,000 people per deputy is neither here nor here. Bear in mind that these deputies represent political parties, they don't represent specific parts of the islands (though those in the lesser-represented islands might be said to). They aren't close to the people, they are just elected; on the basis of little more than a calculation made on the back of a fag packet. Had Bauzá wanted to trim the number of deputies by 80% rather than 20%, the opposition arguments might be worth listening to, but he doesn't want to do this. He is proposing a rationalisation that few rational observers could argue against.

There is a question that goes beyond the mysterious way in which the Balearics ended up with 59 MPs. It is rather more fundamental than how many deputies there are. It is this - what do they actually do? Representation of the people should be a given, and no one would seriously oppose that idea other than old-guard anti-parliamentarian fascists, but as the deputies don't represent specific towns, who actually do they represent?

Any comments to please.

No comments: