Election Resources on the Internet:
Elections to the Catalan Parliament
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera

The Autonomous Community of Catalonia held an early parliamentary election on Sunday, September 27, 2015. An overview of the Catalan proportional representation electoral system is presented here.

The impact of the electoral system in the 2015 Catalan Parliament election

Autonomous community- and provincial-level results are available here (and also in CSV format) for the following Catalan autonomic parliamentary elections:

      September 27, 2015      
      November 25, 2012      
      November 28, 2010      
      November 1st, 2006      
      November 16, 2003      
      October 17, 1999      
      November 19, 1995      
      March 15, 1992      
      May 29, 1988      
      April 29, 1984      
      March 20, 1980      

The election statistics presented in this space come from results published by the Catalan Ministry of Governance and Public Administration and the Eleccions al Parlament de Catalunya 2015 website, which has detailed results in Spanish, Catalan and English.

Spanish legislative election results for Catalonia are available in Elections to the Spanish Congress of Deputies.

General Aspects of the Electoral System

The Parliament of Catalonia consists of a single house, composed of 135 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a four-year term of office. Each one of Catalonia's four provinces - Barcelona, Girona (Gerona), Lleida (Lérida) and Tarragona - is a constituency. Barcelona elects a deputy for each 50,000 inhabitants, up to a maximum of eighty-five seats, while Girona, Lleida and Tarragona elect a minimum of six seats each, plus one for each 40,000 inhabitants.

In every election since 1980, parliamentary seats have been allocated in the following manner:

   Province       Seats   
   Barcelona       85   
   Girona (Gerona)       17   
   Lleida (Lérida)       15   
   Tarragona       18   
   Total       135   

Otherwise, the Catalan electoral system is identical to the system used to choose members of the Spanish Congress of Deputies. As such, parties, federations, coalitions and agrupaciones de electores (electors' groups) present closed lists of candidates; electors then cast a ballot for a single list; and seats in each constituency are apportioned according to the largest average method of proportional representation (PR) - the d'Hondt rule - among lists receiving at least three percent of all valid votes cast in the constituency, including blank ballots.

It should be pointed out that the Catalan electoral system favors the three sparsely populated provinces at the expense of Barcelona. For example, in the 2003 parliamentary election, the smallest quotient used to allocate seats was 11,430 votes in Lleida, but in Barcelona the same figure rose to 28,357 votes. It should noted as well that the three percent barrier is relevant only in Barcelona: in the remaining three provinces, the d'Hondt rule creates a de facto representation threshold which is considerably larger than the barrier set forth by law.

The Political Parties

The Catalan party system is characterized by the presence of not one, but three nationalist parties that compete with Spain's major statewide parties. Since 1978, the two moderate nationalist parties - Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) and the Democratic Union of Catalonia (UDC) - run together in elections as Convergence and Union (CiU). This right-of-center electoral alliance, which later became a federation, has secured the largest number of seats in every election to the Parliament of Catalonia since 1980. Under the leadership of Jordi Pujol, CiU ruled Catalonia from 1980 to 2003.

In the 2003 parliamentary election, the Catalan Socialists' Party (PSC) - PSOE's Catalan counterpart - obtained the largest number of votes (but not of seats), and went on to form a coalition government with two left-wing parties: Initiative for Catalonia-Greens (ICV) - the Catalan version of United Left (IU) - and Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), a radical nationalist party which advocates independence for Catalonia. Former Barcelona mayor Pascual Maragall (PSC) headed the new government.

Generally speaking, statewide center-right parties such as the Popular Party (PP) have had a much smaller electoral following in Catalonia than in other parts of Spain. In part, this phenomenon occurs because of CiU's strong presence, which splits the right-wing vote, but the major cause has been that conservative parties in Spain have historically favored a centralized state, perceiving Catalan autonomy as a halfway house to independence, and therefore as a threat to the country's unity. That said, since 1977 Spain's major center-right parties - the PP included - have accepted autonomy for Catalonia (as well as for all other nationalities), but typically with a more limited scope than that envisaged by nationalist groups or (at times) the statewide left-wing parties.

In a referendum held in June 2006, Catalan voters overwhelmingly approved a new statute of autonomy. PSC and ICV along with CiU supported the measure, but ERC and the PP opposed it, albeit for diametrically opposite reasons: although the new statute expands Catalonia's autonomy, it doesn't go far enough for ERC, while for PP the measure goes too far, and according to them it could lead to the eventual breakup of Spain. At any rate, ERC's opposition to the new statute brought about the breakup of the ruling three-party coalition, which in turn made it necessary to hold an early parliamentary election.

In the election, held in November 2006, CiU came in first place in terms of votes as well as seats. However, PSC, ERC and ICV retained a reduced joint majority, and the three parties subsequently agreed to form a new coalition government presided by PSC leader José Montilla.

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Copyright © 2006-2015 Manuel Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
Last update: September 28, 2015.