One of the unusual characteristics of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is the obligatory representation of minority political parties through the designation of additional legislators beyond those who are elected. This provision is uncommon in the democratic world and does not exist in the United States. The Constitution establishes that when a political party wins a majority of more than two thirds of the votes in the general elections, the minority parties must be represented in the Legislature, even though their candidates did not win enough votes to be elected. This constitutional rule requires that additional members representing the defeated parties be admitted to both legislative houses. This guarantees institutional representation of minorities. Section 7 of the Constitution establishes that there should always be at least nine (9) senators and seventeen (17) representatives of the minority party. If the candidates do not obtain enough votes to elect these twenty-six (26) legislators (nine senators and seventeen representatives), the losing candidates from the minority will be admitted to the Legislature until those numbers are reached, beginning with the at-large candidates, in order of the number of votes received. This constitutional procedure is known in the Puerto Rican political argot as the Minorities Law.

This rule does not apply when the minority parties combined are able to elect nine senators and seventeen representatives (or more). Additionally, for a candidate from a losing party to occupy a legislative seat under this rule, his or her party must have won a sufficient number of votes to qualify as a duly inscribed party. The formula for determining if a party remains inscribed after elections and therefore qualifies as a minority party is not outlined in the Constitution, but rather is part of current electoral law. The Legislature, however, is not allowed to approve an electoral law that would repeal the obligatory minority representation. The purpose of this constitutional requirement is to ensure that political sectors that receive support at the polls have legislative representation, which is a universal democratic principle. The presence of only one party in the legislative body contradicts the most elemental norms of democracy and damages the legitimacy of the parliamentary institution.

This constitutional rule is not common in other countries because it is rare for only one party to legitimately obtain more than two thirds of the votes in a general election. In two-party systems such as in the United States, these large majorities are inconceivable, and in the multi-party systems of European countries (for example, Spain, Britain, Italy and Germany), only on rare occasions does a single party obtain an absolute majority (more than 50% of the votes). Elections in these jurisdictions are, in general, decided by a plurality of the votes, which means that for a new government to be organized after the general elections, coalitions must be established among various political groups. The other purpose of the Minorities Law is to prevent one party from monopolizing the legislative process and becoming an overly powerful political entity, which experience shows can lead to the abuse of power.

Author: Roberto Gándara Sánchez
Published: September 11, 2014.

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