How many votes did it take to elect your councillor in the 2011 Catalan municipals?

The answer’s somewhere between 11 and 5,016. Time to merge small ayuntamientos?

Reformers attacking the rotten borough system, 1831 (<a href=''>British Museum</a>)

Reformers attacking the rotten borough system, 1831 (British Museum)

The stats (Ministry of the Interior) are sorted by voters/councillors (10,000+ votes in bold):

AEIS took only 56 votes to elect its 5 councillors (who could have distributed €25 in state finance to each of their supporters), while Ciudadanos received 35,112 votes and only came home with 7. Among parties polling around 250,000, this meant that it cost ICV-alphabet-soup roughly 3.27 times as many votes to elect a councillor as Esquerra, while in the 700K bracket PSC was prejudiced with respect to CiU by a factor of roughly 1.69.

This is basically because the Spanish municipal system mixes the odd massive electoral district (Barcelona counted 41 councillors and 1,619,337 voters this time round) where proportionality is pretty good with a profusion of miniscule ayuntamientos where voters of all but the largest urban parties or blinkered localist clans are effectively disenfranchised. Ciutadans and ICV are respectively small and medium urban parties, while AEIS is presumably some village association–I can find no other reference to it–and Esquerra also relies to a considerable degree on the yokel vote, so both the former are wasting their money electioneering in the villages.

Apart from issues of electoral fairness, bestowing important executive powers (particularly in planning) to such tiny districts has meant that corruption is almost inevitably acute and chronic–check out Lenox on Mojácar, which is by no means the smallest. The national electoral system has a strong rural bias, so that electoral reform involving forced mergers of unviably small political entities would not be easy. But abolishing the sub-2000-inhabitant districts described in the relevant bit of the electoral law might make an interesting contribution to resolving the Spanish economic mess, as well as introducing country-dwellers to something approaching genuine multi-party democracy.

(How come Napoleon didn’t fix this? The Dutch (which is to say the French) council act (gemeentewet) of 1811 set a 500-inhabitant minimum, with a goal of 2,000. Maybe Sarkozy could lend a hand.)

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  1. So you combine 6 villages and get wars between them instead of between two clans in one village? Funny kind of progress.

  2. There’s the old(?) argument that intermediate institutions will never work in Spain, because people are too stupid or uneducated to understand anything but genetic interest or massive, dumb ideologies like socialism or nationalism, but I reckon if you created decent-sized councils, even in sparsely-populated areas with poor communications, and then threw decent resources at them, the politicians would invent some way of getting people to identify with them.

    An example: the comarca of Sobrarbe in Huesca has roughly 7.5K inhabitants and 20-odd councils, of which most are tiny and not exactly models of rational, transparent government. People there already associate with the Sobrarbe brand and you’ve got a comarcal council, so all you need to do is transfer all serious powers from the village councils down to Aínsa and Bob’s your tío.

  3. (Aside: I don’t have much time for Cospedal, but last night she seemed to be implying that electoral law in Castilla-La Mancha should be consensual, rather than determined by the governing party, as was the case when Barreda conducted a bit of last minute gerrymandering to try to keep the PP out.)

  4. The two golden rules for a Spanish political party: think local, think rural. No wonder Spanish politicians look like blithering idiots once they step outside their front door into a global, urban world.

  5. Now I’ll be the pityless bottom and point out that whoever you throw money at in Spain it gets wasted in the end. They once exploited the Americas, and came out poor. They’ve had European funding for the past two decades, but to what avail.

    You’re right, Trevor, the French should lend a hand. Or even better the Germans should send a vice-chancellor. Elected in Germany.

  6. @Nun: Given that in tone and content all Zapatero’s speeches appear to be variations on his first Monday-evening presentation to the local party in León, the think local, think rural thing is persuasive. It might be going a bit too far, however, to reduce Aznar:Zapatero to {urban-global-zionist-financier}:{the prettiest parish councillor ever}.

    @Candide: Perhaps any remaining German optimism with respect to Spain is some weird echo of the Spanish colonial period, when Spain got incredibly poor and the Fuckers of Augsburg got incredibly rich while ostensibly helping them out.

  7. The PSOE-Andalucía has squandered a quarter century of EU bonanza paying people to not leave their heart-thumpingly cherished home town/village/cortijada. Vote buying by any other name. Until a car maker, for example, creates a microscopically distributed assembly line, the PSOE-A will never develop a recognizable industrial policy.

    Also interesting is the truly obsessive annual ritual engaged in by the country’s civil servants – the quest for a post closer and closer to the town in which they were born. Maps, calculation of points, the appeals when it doesn’t turn out as planned, the lifelong resentments when a childhood enemy comes out ahead…

  8. Yup, the Fu**ers. I did think of them. But this time it should be direct German administration, I see no other way. Would ruin Germany, though.

    @Mao: great point in your last paragraph. I never observed civil servants in such detail as to allow me that much insight, so I envy you.

  9. @Candide – local record here is the teacher who applied for 125 different schools to edge her closer to her beloved Lepe.

  10. Andalusian villages are still pretty busy, but in the northwest you’ve got some places struggling on with virtually the only inhabitants left being the mayor and his secretary. If Chacón wins and electoral reform is killed for another generation, then the only way for the Germans to institute change will be to precision-bomb several thousand of the smaller settlements.

  11. Yes, and I’ve even written a song about it…

    Return to my Arms, Lost Lepero (to be sung by Eva Perón)

  12. Ironic that England and Wales, with a relatively well-educated population, couldn’t agree to anything more complicated than FPTP when Spain has millions of illiterate grannies using something incredibly complicated.

    More electoral delights from El Mundo include Sergio Moral Moya, the socialist candidate in Benitaglia (Almería), who didn’t even get his own vote. The PP got 52 votes and all three councillors.

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