Electoral Systems: The Mess of Italian Politics

A guest blog post on Italy from our European Politics students…


The Italian parliament is recognized for being a disorderly and unruly place. Just last October, two members of parliament came to blows during a session about pension reform. The fight highlights the Italian parliament’s reputation for being an out of control system and during parliamentary elections this is especially true. With over 160 political parties vying for seats and small parties fighting to form coalitions, it is a place of constant chaos.

The Parlamento Italiano is the bicameral parliament of Italy. The parliament is made up of 945 elected member. The lower house, known as the Chamber of Deputies, contains 630 of the elected members, while the Senate holds the rest. Members of parliament are elected for 5-year terms using a proportional representation (PR) system.  Italy became a full PR system after a referendum in 2006; based on this system the Italian voters directly elect parties and coalitions by party lists and never vote for particular candidates.

During the Chamber of Deputies elections, 26 constituencies elect 617 members. To keep the many parties at bay they have an electoral threshold: non-affiliated parties need four percent of votes and coalitions need ten percent to be represented in parliament. If a party or coalition does not receive the needed percentage of votes they cannot receive seats in the house.

The Chamber of Deputies is uniquely characterized for its ‘bonus seat’ prize that is given to the coalition that receives plurality.  For a political party or coalition to win majority in the Chamber they have to gain 340 seats. If for some reason a coalition does not win the 340 seats, who ever has the greatest number of votes will be given ‘bonus seats’ to meet the requirement. This is an incentive for political parties to form coalitions so they can acquire more votes to receive plurality and assigned extra seats.

Italy is able to represent many interests in parliament, with some favoritism to big parties. Although the electoral system of Italy can be a bit messy at times, they have a very fair legislative process, by giving both houses and political parties equivalent authority.

References:

Camera dei Deputati. 18 January 2012. Retrieved from the Inter-Parliamentary Union PARLINE Database at http://www.ipu.org/parline-e/reports/2157_D.htm.

Italian MP’s brawl in parliament over reform. 26 October 2012. Retrieved from Euronews at http://www.euronews.net/2011/10/26/italian-mps-brawl-in-parliament-over-reforms/.

List PR. 28 February 2012. Retrieved from ACE: The Electoral Knowledge Network at http://aceproject.org/main/english/es/esd01.htm.

Parliament. 2012. Retrieved from Senati della Repubblica at http://www.senato.it/english/business/28030/genpagina.htm.

Parties and Elections in Europe. 2012. Retrieved from http://www.parties-and-elections.de/countries.html.

Senato della Repubblica. 29 February 2012. Retrieved from the Inter-Parliamentary Union PARLINE Database at http://www.ipu.org/parline-e/reports/2158_B.htm.

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