12/29/2023 - Politics and Society

40 years later: the proposed reconfiguration of the House of Representatives of the Nation

By valentin olavarria

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(by Valentim Olavarría and Julián Mendivil)

Brief history of the proportion of representation to contextualize the reform

Throughout the history of representation in the Chamber of Deputies of the Nation, there was a significant evolution dating back to the early years of the May Revolution. In 1810, the discussion between "morenists" and "saavedrists" laid the foundation for the inclusion (or not) of the interior in the central government, a theme that persisted over time.

As the story progressed, different criteria set up the proportion of representation. In 1813, two deputies were assigned by province and one by smaller city. After independence, the election of a deputy was established for every 15,000 inhabitants. Later, the National Constitution of 1853 introduced a fixed representation, subject to revision every ten years after censuses.

The constitutional reform of 1898 adopted a more specific proportionality: a Member for every 33,000 inhabitants, with the possibility of increasing but not reducing the base. In 1920, the proportion was adjusted to one per 49,000 inhabitants. The 1949 Peronist Constitution marked a new stage by introducing a minimum floor of two deputies per district, a provision that had fluctuations over the years.

In 1972, an update was made, establishing a deputy for every 135,000 inhabitants, with exceptions such as Fire Land. Thus, the last change before 1983 occurred that year, also incorporating an additional three deputies and a floor of five deputies per province.

Finally, in 1983, Decree-Law No 22.847 introduced a new proportionality specified in 161,000 inhabitants, with the addition of three deputies per province and a floor of five national deputies, thus marking the proportionality of the Lower House to date. This process reflects the constant adaptation of legislative representation throughout Argentine history.

What happens today and what changes the Omnibus Law?

As it was expressed, the last update of proportionality was by decree-law N° 22.847 (called Bignone Law) which, on the basis of the 1980 census, reached 254 members for the National Chamber of Deputies. However, after almost ten years (1991), with the Provincialization of the Land of Fire, three more were added, reaching the current composition of 257 national deputies.

Despite this update, from 1980 until the date more than four censuses were held (one for every 10 years) and, however, the number was never updated. Moreover, the so-called Bignone Law (because it was sanctioned during that administration) is now in effect, but without use. Otherwise, we must have 359 national deputies today.

As we know, article No. 45 of the National Constitution obliges Congress to stipulate the new representation after each census, but this is totally in breach. Since then, there have not only been requests from non-governmental organizations, but also explicit requests from the National Electoral Chamber (in 2018 and 2020), which were clearly not heard.

The current law generates strong distortions, especially for the provinces with greater demographic growth. That is why the unjustness in the proportion of representation produces that the vote of some is worth more than that of others. How is that possible?

We can explain this with an example. According to the current distribution, Buenos Aires has 70 national deputies, containing 17.569.053 inhabitants. On the other hand, the Land of Fire has 5 national deputies, home to 190,641 inhabitants. If we make a division (inhabitants/cantity of deputies) we can note that a deputy from Buenos Aires represents 250,986 inhabitants and one from Terra do Fogo to 38,128 inhabitants. That is, the vote of the inhabitants of the Earth of Fire to elect their national deputies means 6.58 times more than those of Buenos Aires.

All this shows that the premise “a citizen, a vote” is not equal to everyone, and there are citizens privileges for being in one or another province. Thus, the situation attentive to the representative and proportional perspective of government, as well as transgresses equality before the law.

Now, the reform proposed in the so-called Ómnibus Law (or Bases Law and Departure Points for the Freedom of the Argentines), sent from the National Executive Branch, applies to a law that is not in use, thus trying to put it back into effect.

Article 450 of the extensive bill replaces Article 3 of Decree-Law No 22.847 by the following text: “The number of national deputies to be chosen will be one for every 180,000 inhabitants or fraction not less than 90,000.” In this way, the granting of an extra of three to each and the minimum of five deputies per province is eliminated. Consequently, only the criterion of a Member per X number of inhabitants applies.

In short, Javier Milei's government bill modifies the deputies representation base: from 161,000 to 180,000 per bank, eliminating the additional 3 and minimum 5 per district. What results does this change produce?

Continuing with the previous example, observing Buenos Aires and Terra do Fogo, these would pass from 70 to 97 deputies and from 5 to 1 national deputy, respectively. By conducting the previous division, both provinces (and can be extrapolated to others) have a single uniform criterion of representation.

Possible political changes due to the new representation update

One of the major advantages of the change in the distribution of national deputies is that the provinces that are underrepresented may have greater presence in deputies, according to the substantial demographic change they had since the 1980 census. The benefited provinces are Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Córdoba, Santa Fe and Tucumán, which together house 62.5% of the total national population, and that, from passing the law, would see diminished or eliminated the previously mentioned distortion, and save Corrientes and Missions, which would remain with the same amount of deputies, the rest would lose representation. Among the latter are Terra do Fogo and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (C.A.B.A.), with 4 and 8 stalls, respectively.

In the arena of political and electoral dispute, the panorama glimpses rough and agitated, because the parties and coalitions that make up the current scenario of national politics have as much to gain as much to lose. We have seen this from the perspective of the three main spaces that the Presidency of the Nation took place this year 2023.

On the side of Peronism, they could lose several stalls in the more traditional districts as peronist vote refers, as may be the Argentine north or Patagonia, but in turn, the enormous increase in the province of Buenos Aires could compensate for the loss, or at least, smooth the fall. From the look of libertarian officialism, it is by nothing the impulses of change in current legislation. If we look at the map of the results of the general elections of last November, Advanced Freedom with the victories obtained in the provinces that would be precisely benefited from the update, as Santa Fe or Cordoba, is filled with optimism. This is due to the possibility of greater representation in the next legislative elections. Finally it is Together with the Change, which would be the great losers of approving the reform, since not only is the possible division of space sufficient for its representation in the face of the next elections, but also could have problems to win districts, in addition to C.A.B.A. (in the case of the PRO) or the PBA (in the case of the UCR and its strength in the interior of the province), if it continues by this new “grieta” between libertarians and peronists.

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valentin olavarria

valentin olavarria

Hi, I'm Valentín Olavarría. I have a degree in Political Science (UCA). Founder of the blog La Argentina Joven. va.olavarria@gmail.com

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