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Italy - Government

Once upon a time, Italy was governed by short-lived governments, composed of shifting coalitions, that had a faction-ridden Christian Democratic (DC) party at its center. With some variation, 52 such experiences took place between the Republic's proclamation in June 1946 and "bipolarism's" emergence in May 1996. In several cases, a minority DC governed alone, tacitly supported by allies not formally part of the government. Although responding to pragmatic and personality considerations, the parties pretended to be motivated by particular ideologies - Catholicism, Socialism, Liberalism. The ideologies made decision-making difficult, if not impossible, for governments that risked breakup over intractable issues. The continuous formation, breakup, and recomposing of governments left citizens little opportunity to control the complexion or policies of government through their exercise of the ballot.

That period has ended. From 1992 to 1997, Italy faced significant challenges as voters -- disenchanted with past political paralysis, massive government debt, extensive corruption, and organized crime's considerable influence--demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms. In 1993 referenda, voters approved substantial changes, including moving from a proportional to a largely majoritarian electoral system and the abolishment of some ministries.

Italy's most significant electoral reform occurred in 1994 after voters overwhelmingly supported a national referendum proposing the abolition of the proportional system, which had been in place for the entire post-war period. Party leaders, wanting to respond to the referendum, but afraid to lose their influence, developed a mixed system in which 75 percent of parliamentary seats were voted directly in local constituencies and 25 percent by proportion from nationwide lists. Among other effects, the system encouraged the development of center-left and center-right coalitions, and many observers credited the reform with creating more stable governments. Berlusconi served the longest consecutive period of any post-war Italian Prime Minster.

However in 2005, parliament passed a new electoral law based on full proportional assignment of seats. In the parliamentary elections held on April 9-10, 2006, a full-blown proportional representation [PR] electoral system replaced the mixed one. Each elector cast one vote for a closed party list, from which electors cannot choose individual candidates. The PR system used in 2006 also brought with it a "majority prize". It awarded "bonus" seats to winners on a national basis in the lower house and regionally in the Senate. Take the lower house for example, the bonus meant that a party or a coalition, obtaining the most votes but still short of 55 percent of parliament seats, will be given extra seats till its number of seats increases to 340, or 55 percent, out of a total of 618 seats. The proportional system weakens the importance of the coalition system, since individual parliamentarians would owe their seat to the party more than to the coalition.

On 05 May 2015 Italian lawmakers passed a hotly debated electoral law designed to bring stability to a country that has had 63 governments since World War II. It replaces a widely decried electoral law passed more than a decade ago under former premier Silvio Berlusconi, nicknamed “Porcellum” (which means pig in Latin). The new legislation, which only takes effect in July 2016, is based on proportional representation but guarantees a big majority to the winning party and gives party bosses wide powers to handpick preferred candidates. If the winning party gains at least 40 percent of the vote, it qualifies for a winner's bonus that automatically gives it 340 seats in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies. If no party wins 40 percent, a run-off ballot between the two largest parties is held two weeks after the first election to determine which party gets the winner's bonus.

The new electoral law, which only applies to the lower house of parliament, cannot be used until a separate reform of the senate is completed. PM Renzi wants to abolish the senate as an elected chamber and turn it into an assembly with reduced powers made up of mayors and regional councillors.

In the early 1990's, the parties that had formed 50 post-WWII revolving door governments imploded under the pressure of judicial "clean hands" corruption investigations. A new party (Forza Italia - FI), founded by businessman Silvio Berlusconi, emerged as the winner of May 1994 elections. FI was nominally center-right and drew much of its support from former DC voters. It was non-ideological, however, projecting its founder's image of modernizing, businesslike pragmatism.

Italy is a democratic republic founded on labor. The people have sovereignty and exercise it in the forms and within the limits prescribed in the Constitution; the republic recognises and guarantees the inalienable human rights and equal social dignity of citizens, without discrimination with regard to gender, race, language, religion, political opinion, personal or social conditions. The republic is one and indivisible and recognises and promotes local autonomies; the State and Catholic Church are independent and sovereign each according to its own laws, and their relations are regulated by the Lateran Pacts. All religions are equally free before the law. Italian law conforms to the rules of generally recognised international law.

Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2, 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum. The constitution was promulgated on January 1, 1948. Italy is a parliamentary republic with a perfect bicameral system. The President of the Republic is the Head of State and represents national unity". Presiding over the Government is the Prime Minister, who is the Head of Government. The Prime Minister is appointed and then presents himself before the Parliament in order to obtain its vote of confidence. Save for the premature dissolution of the Houses (prerogative of the President of the Republic) each legislature lasts five years. The electoral system is a majority one with a 25% proportional quota.

The Parliament is composed of two Houses: Senate and Chamber of Deputies. There are 630 Deputies and 315 Senators. Anyone who has been President of the Republic has a right to be appointed "Senator for Life". The Parliament has legislative power, and the President of the Republic promulgates laws within one month of their being passed. The Parliament delegates the issuance of decrees to the government and these have the value of regular laws. In extraordinarily urgent cases the government, on its own responsibility, adopts decree laws that become immediately effective but which must be converted into law within 60 days by the Chamber and Senate or expire.

The Head of State was elected by the Parliament in joint session and holds the position for 7 years. Participating in the elections are three delegates for each region (The Valle d'Aosta has only one). The election takes place by secret ballot and requires a two-thirds majority; after a third ballot an absolute majority is sufficient. Any citizen over the age of 50 can be elected President of the Republic. If the Head of State is unable to perform his duties, the President of the Senate steps in. The President of the Republic is the Head of State whose duties include: calling for new Parliamentary elections, promulgating laws, commanding the armed forces, presiding over the Supreme Defence Council, declaring the state of war deliberated by the Houses of Parliament, presiding over the High Council of the Magistrature, granting clemency and commuting sentences, appointing the Prime Minister and, upon the recommendation of this latter, the other Ministers. No act of the President of the Republic is valid in the absence of the counter-signature of the proposing Ministers, who assume responsibility for it.

The government is the expression of the Parliamentary majority, i.e. the coalition of parties that have obtained the greatest number of seats in Parliament. The President of the Republic appoints the Prime Minister and proposed Ministers. The Council of Ministers is a self-contained collegial body. Its Ministers are individually responsible for the acts of their Ministries and jointly responsible for those deliberated by the Council of Ministers. The Prime Minister and the other Ministers take an oath before the President of the Republic before undertaking their duties. The government must have the confidence of both Houses and each House gives or revokes its consent through motions, which are argued and then submitted to roll call vote. The government can introduce its legislative bills to the Parliament. The Prime Minister can issue directives on specific matters or decrees. Each Minister has the power to sign ministerial decrees within the context of his/her specific authority.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi tied his political future 31 March 2014 to a reform package aimed at creating more stable government by stripping the upper house of parliament of key functions and concentrating power in the lower chamber. The cabinet approved a bill to transform the Senate into a non-elected regional chamber without the power to approve budgets or hold votes of no-confidence in a government. The bill would scrap a system that grants equal powers to the Senate and the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, but elects them by different rules, making it hard for any group to win a stable overall majority. The Senate would become a weakened regional chamber made up of city mayors and a handful of specially appointed members. It would review regional and constitutional issues but would no longer be able to bring down a government. It would have fewer than half of its current 320 members.

Renzi launched his parliamentary reform campaign 21 May 2016, saying constitutional streamlining would give Italy "a bit of hope for the future." His plan, drafted over two years and endorsed last month in the existing parliament's lower house, would virtually abolish the upper house Senate. It would be reduced to 100 members, mainly mayors and regional representatives, with five senators appointed by Italy's president. Since World War Two, Italy has had 63 governments - often short-lived instead of serving a full five years - under a system that gives both houses equal powers.

Italians went to the polls on Sunday, 04 December 2016 to vote on whether to back reforms of the country’s constitution. The reforms were significant, so significant, some have argued, that if they were approved by the electorate, they would represent the birth of Italy’s third republic. Italy is somewhat of an anomaly in western Europe, because it’s one of the only countries where the deputy chamber (lower parliament) and senate serve the same function. The reforms propose drastically diluting the power and size of the senate and replacing elected senators with representatives from the regions. The latter will comprise around 100 people, either mayors or members of regional councils. However it’s still unclear how and which candidates will be selected.

The other main pillar of the reforms was to rebalance the power of the regions, bringing more areas under the control of central government and removing any duplication.

Although not directly linked to the referendum question, the reforms would be seen within the context of a new electoral law. Introduced in July 2016, it saw Italy’s lower parliament move towards a first-past-the-post electoral system. Its predecessor, proportional representation, helped smaller political parties and saw Italian governments dominated by multi-party coalitions. The new law is intended to put an end to this system, which comes with inherent instability: Italy is currently on its 64th government since 1945. The changes mean if a party now gets over 40 percent of the vote, it automatically gets a majority; if not the two top parties have a ‘vote-off’, with the winner netting the majority.

Critics of the reforms claim the reforms, coupled with the new electoral law, would see too much power concentrated in the hands of the government. The move to do away with elected senators and replace them with regional representatives also proved controversial, prompting even some in Renzi’s party to vote against his reforms. There is also concern over changing the balance of federalism.

According to Article 138 of the Constitution, a referendum was called because the constitutional law had not been approved by a qualified majority of two-thirds in each house of parliament in the second vote. The constitutional amendment will not become law unless it receives the support of a majority of votes cast in the referendum. This is the third constitutional referendum in the history of the Italian Republic. The other two were in 2001 (in which the amending law was approved) and in 2006 (in which it was rejected).

The referendum campaign had been very tense, and many of the 61,551 polling stations across the country looked quite busy during the day. Overall, some 46.7 million citizens were overall eligible to vote. With the votes from 20 regions counted, the tally stood at 59.3 percent voting against Renzi’s proposal, with only 40.7 percent backing the prime minister.

Under the existing system, in the Senate (Senato della Repubblica), 315 members were elected through a closed-list proportional representation system to serve 5-year terms, 5 members are elected by the President and 2 members are filled ex officio. Thresholds applied at the regional level, and seats are allocated regionally. The thresholds are: 20% for any pre-election coalition, 3% for any party within a coalition, and 8% for any party not in coalition. Within a coalition, seats are allocated to parties in proportion to their vote shares.

In the Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) 630 members are elected through a closed-list proportional representation system to serve 5-year terms. ?Lists were closed. Once national thresholds are met, seats are allocated to parties on a regional basis. The thresholds are: 10% for any pre-election coalition, 2% for any party within a pre-election coalition, and 4% for any party not in coalition. The pre-election coalition winning a plurality of votes is guaranteed 340 seats. Within a coalition, seats are allocated to parties in proportion to their vote shares.

In 2017 the Italian Parliament to passed a new electoral law, known as the Rosato law (or Rosatellum), adopted a mixed electoral system combining majoritarian and proportional rules. Under the new rules, 232 of 630 seats in the Chamber and 116 of 315 Senate seats are selected from single-member districts (SMDs) where the candidate with the most votes takes the seat. The remaining 398 seats in the Chamber and 199 Senate seats are allocated via a proportional representation (PR) system, using a party-list. Voters have a fused vote, so a vote for a party list automatically extends to the SMD candidate supported by that party, and vice versa. A coalition needs at least 10 percent of the vote to claim PR seats — while parties need to win 3 percent to get a share of the seats.

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Page last modified: 07-03-2018 18:39:09 ZULU