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The First Republic - 1946-1993

In the constitutional referendum of 2 June 1946, the Italian people voted for abolition of the monarchy and the introduction of the Republic. The work of the constituent assembly, elected at the same time, led to the formulation of the current Constitution, which came into force on 1 January 1948. Elections for the first republican legislature of the new Italy took place on 18 April 1948, with the majority of seats going to the Christian Democrats and the Catholic party that would dominate Italian politics until the end of the cold war.

A 1946 plebiscite ended the monarchy, and a constituent assembly was elected to draw up plans for the republic. Under the 1947 peace treaty, minor adjustments were made in Italy's frontier with France, the eastern border area was transferred to Yugoslavia, and the area around the city of Trieste was designated a free territory. In 1954, the free territory, which had remained under the administration of U.S.-U.K. forces (Zone A, including the city of Trieste) and Yugoslav forces (Zone B), was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia, principally along the zonal boundary. This arrangement was made permanent by the Italian-Yugoslav Treaty of Osimo, ratified in 1977 (currently being discussed by Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia). Under the 1947 peace treaty, Italy relinquished its overseas territories and certain Mediterranean islands.

Hand in hand with the restoration of democracy, after putting the past behind it by signing the Paris Peace Treaty on 10 February 1947, Italy re-entered the international scene, overshadowed by the confrontation between the two superpowers of the time, the United States and the Soviet Union. The country went on to make important strides as seen in its firm choice for the Western camp, such as adhering to the Marshall Plan in 1947, the Council of Europe and, above all, to NATO in 1949. Italy was also one of the founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. Becoming part of the United Nations in 1955, Italy was again among the most advanced countries on the way to European integration, which saw Italy at the centre of some of its major steps forward: from the Messina Conference in 1955 to the Venice Conference in 1956 and the historic signing of the Treaties of Rome on 25 March 1957, which instituted the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community.

The Roman Catholic Church's status in Italy has been determined, since its temporal powers ended in 1870, by a series of accords with the Italian Government. Under the Lateran Pacts of 1929, which were confirmed by the present constitution, Vatican City is recognized by Italy as an independent, sovereign entity. While preserving that recognition, in 1984, Italy and the Vatican updated several provisions of the 1929 accords. Included was the end of Roman Catholicism as Italy's formal state religion.

The period 1947-53 comprises the critical juncture that established the tripolar party system which was the foundation of the First Republic. The system was also known as "imperfect bipolarism", as it was impossible for the only major opposition party, the Communists, to gain control of a NATO country. The stability of the party system in the so-called First Republic can be considered a case of systemic, or path-dependent equilibrium. The party system in the First Republic was stable, but not static; i.e. there was dynamic stability. One of the most remarkable dynamics, at the level of parties, was the near doubling, between 1948 and 1976 of the PCI vote from 18.9% to 34.4%.

The 1953 election laid the basis of the tripolar party system which dominated Italian politics for the next 40 years. The ideological dynamics of the First Republic were rooted in a mix of post-1945 Cold War logic, and post-1917 'European civil war' logic, in which democratic centrists fought extremists on left and right. Somewhat anachronistically, but very successfully, the DC championed that ideological framework right into the 1980s by which time, however, the mobilisational power of both socialism (whether social democratic or communist) and Christian democracy was waning.

Mmost governments were short-lived, lasting 11 months on average. This is often cited as a sign of Italian political instability, but in fact throughout this period the parliamentary majority remained much the same, with the Democrazia Cristiana being the largest party, and the only change worth noting being the entrance of the Socialists in the government during the 1960s. The Democrazia Cristiana was the party collecting most right-wing votes, even though its orientation was initially defined as a centre party looking to the left.

When forming a government, a set of rules, dubbed Manuale Cencelli from the name of a politician particularly skilled at this art, was applied. Governing parties received ministries and charges (dubbed seats) according to their electoral weight. Some were permanently linked to a party. The Ministry of Internal Affairs which was always appointed to a member of the Democrazia Cristiana from 1948 to 1994. Minor parties, like the Italian Socialist Democratic Party, the Italian Liberal Party and the Italian Republican Party, could leverage their decisive contribution to attaining a parliamentary majority in order to be over-represented in terms of distributed seats. This system resulted in a long series of incompetent ministers in many areas, who received their "seat" only because the Cencelli system calculated there was a gap to fill for a certain party.

The year 1968 was one of profound political and social change in Italy that impacted substantially on the customs and mentality of the people. The 1970s brought major institutional and social reforms such as the Charter of Workers' Rights, regional administrative laws, the laws on divorce and allowing use of the referendum, as well as the rise of those political movements that degenerated in later years into extreme left and right wing terrorism. The Christian Democrat party, which united moderate and conservative centralists, were part of the government from 1946 to 1993, usually in coalition with other centrist parties, and over this period of time-except for rare occasions-the position of Prime Minister was held by a member of that party.

Major changes and transformations of the Italian political system were produced by the international consequences of the breakdown of Eastern European communist regimes and by the investigations of the Italian judiciary into the illegal financing of political parties and into political corruption (Tangentopoli - Italian for bribesville). In 1992 the "Tangentopoli" scandal and resulting "Clean Hands" inquest shook the political world and, from the disintegration of the previous order was born a pre-party known as "Forza Italia" (Go Italy) which was highly successful in 1994, bringing the center-right coalition to the government.

The "Second Republic" was marked by bi-polarism and an alternation of the two coalitions at the helm of the government: from 1996 to 2001 the center-left governed; from 2001 to 2006 the center-right took over; from 2006 to 2008 the government went back into the hands of the center-left coalition while, after the elections of 2008, the center-right government was installed.

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Page last modified: 17-02-2014 18:09:34 ZULU