You are here

Italy’s political system favours coalitions, instability

Sep 20,2022 - Last updated at Sep 20,2022

Lega supporters attend on Sunday the annual meeting of the League Party (Lega) in Pontida, northern Italy, ahead of the September 25 general election (AFP photo)


ROME — Set up as a safeguard against dictators after World War II, Italy’s political system is notoriously volatile, producing no fewer than 67 governments since 1946.

Designed by the founders of Italy’s Republic after the downfall of fascist leader Benito Mussolini, it favours coalitions, forcing often antipathetic parties to join forces.

The voting system is a mix of the first-past-the-post system and pure proportional representation.

Meanwhile, prime ministers need the support of both houses of parliament — both of which have exactly the same powers.

But that support can be easily withdrawn, with fractious coalition members periodically pulling the plug, toppling governments long before their five-year term is up.

Individual lawmakers themselves can also change parties mid-term, as many times as they like.


All change 


The challenges were clear from the start: the Republic’s first government, led by Alcide de Gasperi, comprised four parties and lasted six months and 18 days.

But De Gasperi, who holds the record for having presided over eight governments, had it easy.

The government led by Romano Prodi in 2006 boasted no fewer than 14 parties in its coalition — but had just a two-vote majority in the upper house of parliament, the senate.

The instability has long been a concern among Italy’s political leaders, and the electoral system has changed four times in the post-war period, most recently for the 2018 vote.

But no party or coalition has secured a majority in both chambers since Silvio Berlusconi led the right-wing alliance to victory in 2008.

Since he left office in 2011, there have been seven different governments in Rome, under six prime ministers.

Under the current system, 61 percent of the seats in both houses are allocated by proportional representation, 37 percent by first-past-the-post — majority vote — and two percent by Italians living abroad.

The system is confusing both to those at home and abroad, with Pope Francis admitting he did not understand it when asked for his views last week.

Noting that Italy had had 20 governments this century, the Argentine pontiff said it “seems a bit strange, but everyone has their own way of dancing the tango... you can dance one way or another”.


Fewer lawmakers 


As a result of a 2020 constitutional referendum, there are fewer seats up for grabs this year. The senate is shrinking from 315 to 200 members, while the lower house will drop from 630 to 400.

The voting age for Italians to elect their senators has also been reduced from 25 to 18 years old, the existing threshold for those voting for MPs.

Those running for the upper house must be at least 40 years old, while there is no age limit for the lower house.

Turnout for general elections is relatively high in Italy, though on the decline. In 2008, over 80 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots, dropping to some 75 per cent in 2013 and 73 per cent in 2018.

24 users have voted.


Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.