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November 29, 2016

On the politics of the Italian referendum

One gets the feeling that Italy's political class is ignoring the perennially truthful advice to stop digging when in a hole. It is really not a good idea to talk about electoral reforms with the explicit purpose of keeping the Five Star Movement out of power. The history of such blatant attempts at gerrymandering is that they always work against the perpetrator. They are based on short-term political calculations - such as likely coalitions and their relative strengths - that are unlikely to hold in the long run. A good example is Matteo Renzi's own miscalculation on the constitutional referendum. Only a few months ago, he didn't think it was possible that he could lose it. 

Corriere della Sera has a story that, even if the Yes vote were to win, it is possible for Matteo Renzi and Silvio Berlusconi to agree another electoral reform, and for Renzi to resign to trigger new elections under this newly reformed electoral law. While a reform of the recently introduced electoral law would become necessary in case of a no vote, it would not be necessary in case of a yes vote. It would only be expedient. The suggested reform would make it easier for Berlusconi to form a coalition with the Lega Nord and the Fratelli d'Italia, a relatively new party on the right, also in opposition to Italy's euro membership. The current electoral law has only been in operation since July, and was itself the consequence of a compromise between Renzi and Berlusconi. The complicated issues under discussion will be how to count the votes of coalitions, and the size of the vote premium for the largest party or coalition. The idea is to make it sufficiently attractive for Berlusconi, but not for the Five Star Movement. The present system foresees a run-off between the first and second largest parties - similar to the system in France - but this system is thought to benefit Five Star, as seen during the local elections in the summer when voters of the right rallied behind the party in opposition to the PD.

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