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A consensus seems to be emerging in Italy to embrace a system of proportional representation – similar to the German system – following the ruling by the Constitutional Court to ban two key pillars of the existing system;
  • likely outcome is now a much longer than previously expected process towards electoral reforms – which will prolong the lifespan of the current government;
  • the political confrontation became more acidic as Forza Italia claims that the entire political system lacks democratic legitimacy, including the legitimacy to change the voting system;



Italy – the day after

Italy spent the day yesterday digesting the important ruling by its constitutional court to strike down two central aspects of its current electoral system – the rule to give the largest party a majority in the parliament, and the rule that allows parties to nominate blocked lists, which does not allow voters to pick and choose between candidates. What became already apparent on day one after the verdict is that the political process has immediately shifted towards proportional representation – simply because this is the system that protects all the small parties, especially those that form part of the Letta government, like Angelino Alfano’s New Centre Right, or Mario Monti’s Civic Choice party. Corriere della Sera reports that the system now favoured was a German voting system, but one that rewards the largest party with an extra 15% of the seats. Enrico Letta said he will not take up the discussion until the court publishes its official verdict, which it has not done so, and which will give much more necessary detail. The best guess is that it will take a rather longer time to get a new voting system passed in legislation, possibly up to two years, during which the current gridlock will persist.

What also became apparent yesterday is that this verdict has made the political confrontation even more acidic. Renato Brunetta, a former minister under Silvio Berlusconi, said the entire Italian political systems lacked democratic legitimacy because everybody, including the president, has been elected on the basis of an unconstitutional system. Forza Italia and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement agree on this point. They will oppose the system in the Senate, whose approval will be necessary to enact electoral reform – including its own abolition.

Matteo Renzi, who is likely to become the next leader of the Partito Democratico, is said to be furious about the ruling, which he against a personal blow against him – as it reduces his ability to force new elections.

Few countries in Europe have tried as many voting systems as the Italians, where discussions are now focusing on whether to adopt the German system, the French system or the Spanish systems. One of the legal issues that are not yet clear is what level of majority trigger the court is objecting to. Does the objection relate specifically to the fact that the largest party is guaranteed a majority in the parliament? Or does it go further and reject the whole principle of a majority premium, a lesser variant where the largest party gets awarded a number of extra seats? Or is it a question of balance, where the principle is accepted, but not the extent to which it is applied now. It is the small print that will determine whether a 15% majority premium is doable. What is clear already is that coalition governments are likely to be the norm in Italian politics from now onwards.
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