• Italy's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Can Renzi's new law revamp Italian politics?

Rosie Scammell · 22 Jan 2014, 11:32

Published: 22 Jan 2014 11:32 GMT+01:00

Matteo Renzi’s announcement this week comes six weeks after an Italian court ruled the country’s current election law partly unconstitutional.

The court said in December that elections under the current system are unfair because voters have to choose from a fixed list of candidates, rather than between individual politicians.

In addition, the constitutional court criticized the bonus awarded to the leading coalition to grant it a majority number of seats.

READ MORE: Italy's electoral law ruled part unconstitutional

The announcement coincided with Renzi’s election as the Democratic Party’s (PD) new leader, and the Florence mayor has wasted no time in getting his proposal on the table.

Over the weekend Renzi met with Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Italy’s second-largest party, Forza Italia, to iron out his plan for a new election law. Having gained approval from PD politicians, the new election law must go through parliament before it can be implemented.

SEE ALSO: Berlusconi heckled at talks with leftist leader

Renzi’s plan includes a bonus of up to 18 percent, offered to the winning party or coalition that receives at least 35 percent of the vote. Smaller parties will only be given seats in parliament if they win at least eight percent of the vote, or five percent within a coalition.

The proposed system aims to avoid the paralysis which struck Italian politics after last year’s national election, in which three groups each won around a quarter of the vote, and rid the political system of the huge number of smaller parties.

After the two-month political stalemate that followed the 2013 elections, Renzi’s proposals have been greeted as a positive change.

Elections are a 'cultural issue'

“The current electoral system tends to create instability which, beyond the fact that it is hard to win a majority, over-emphasizes the influence and representation of smaller parties,” Alberto Nardelli, co-founder of election website, electionista, tells The Local.

While concerns have been raised that the threshold for seats in parliament could be a threat to small parties, Nardelli argues the change could prompt politicians to be more open to compromises within their own parties.

“We’re not talking about historical parties that have existed for 50 years; they are mainly parties which have sprung up between elections. Politicians argue and say they’ll create new parties,” he says.

This happens mainly because the existing electoral system allows politicians to wield greater influence as smaller spin-off parties than as minority voices within a larger party, Nardelli adds.

Paolo Bellucci, a professor at the University of Siena's Centre for the Study of Political Change (CIRCap), agrees that “the main purpose of this new law is to reduce fragmentation”.

He argues that the thresholds were set at five and eight percent for the benefit of the Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano, who recently broke away from Berlusconi’s party to create his own political group.

“The threshold answers the needs of Alfano’s New Centre-Right (NCD),” Bellucci tells The Local. This week a poll put the NCD polling at 6.4 percent, behind the PD, Forza Italia and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S).

Renzi’s proposals have not, however, done away with the closed lists of candidates, criticized by Italy’s Constitutional Court. But Bellucci argues that the criticism itself is controversial, as “most European systems have closed lists”.

The PD leader has instead improved the lists by revamping the way they are structured, Bellucci adds: “The new system allows voters to select from a list of four of five people, so voters can know the candidates they are going to select.”

For Nardelli, the problem of blocked lists stems from Italy’s political culture rather than the structure of the current law. “The problem with the lists is that parties would impose candidates that perhaps weren’t worthy - those that were owed favours - which was made possible by blocked lists.

“This is less of a technical and more of a cultural issue,” he says.

A higher calibre of candidates is needed in the first place, Nardelli says, which could be achieved by introducing primary elections for candidates.

The revised electoral law could be improved further by adopting the French system, Bellucci adds.

Story continues below…

“In the first round each party can present a candidate, even a small party. If no-one gets the majority then there’s another round with only the parties that win more than 12.5 percent," he explains.

"This would allow each party to run on its own then create alliances in the second round."

But in the absence of a perfect election law, Bellucci says that overall Renzi’ proposals, if adopted, “will definitely be a positive change”.

Nardelli agrees that the plan is a step in the right direction, although cautions that it will take more than a new law to overhaul Italian politics.

“On paper, it makes the system much more efficient. But the cultural change will take a long time; we’ve had a poor choice for 20 years and it’s got worse.

“Having a stable starting point is a positive step in the right direction,” he says.

Don't miss a story about Italy - Join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Rosie Scammell (rosie.scammell@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Pope visits Armenian genocide memorial
Francis laid a wreath and prayed at the Tsitsernakaberd site. Photo: AFP

Pope Francis on Saturday issued a rallying cry to protect memory at the Armenian genocide memorial in Yerevan, on day two of a trip likely to stir tensions with Turkey.

Italians in the UK: 'After all these years, we feel unwanted'
Thousands of young Italians have moved to London in recent years. Photo: TJ Morris

Italian expats in the UK shared feelings of anger, fear and confusion after Britain voted to leave the EU. And they never even got a say.

How to get Italian citizenship (or at least stay forever)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Looking to stay in Italy long term? Here's how.

Where does Britain's exit from the EU leave Italy?
(L) Nigel Farage, leader of Ukip, which campaigned for Britain to leave the EU and (R) Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Photos: Geoff Caddick/Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Britain may have taken a leap into the dark, but this is what's expected in Italy.

Europe needs renovating after Brexit: Renzi
Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, has called on the remaining EU members to reorganize the EU. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Renzi said it was "not an easy day."

'Brexit is a disaster for Great Britain': WW2 veteran
Harry Shindler MBE. Photo: Rosie Scammell

“I would have thought that 70 years of peace would have been sufficient for people to say ‘we’re not going to change’ anything."

Renzi calls urgent meeting as Italy's far-right rejoice Brexit
Italy's Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, summoned the country's top economic minds to his home on Friday morning. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Italy's Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, called an extraordinary meeting on Friday morning as global markets were plunged into turmoil by the UK's shock decision to leave the EU.

Brits in Italy left stunned after UK votes for Brexit
Britons on Thursday voted to leave the EU. Photo: Emanuel Dunand/AFP

Britons in Italy woke up to the shocking news on Friday that the UK has voted to leave the EU, sending the pound crashing and fuelling concerns about their future on the continent.

Venice beaches offer 'sun or your money back' deal
Venice beaches are offering 'weather insurance' in a bid to boost visitor numbers this summer. Photo: Darkbeach/Flickr

Authorities hope the move will attract more beachgoers.

Berlusconi plots Forza Italia relaunch from hospital bed
Silvio Berlusconi is reportedly hoping to relaunch his political party, Forza Italia. Photo: Alberto Solaro/AFP

Following a near-fatal heart attack and surgery to replace his aortic valve, the 80-year-old mogul shows no sign of slowing down.

Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
Politics
Has the time come for Italy’s Five Star Movement to shine?
Society
Why Italy must change after young woman’s brutal murder
Politics
Is Italy's Five Star up to the challenge of running Rome?
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
Six of the most bizarre Italian foods everyone should try
Culture
Italian restaurant crowned the best in the world
Travel
Ten breathtaking Italian gems you've never heard of
National
Eritrean held in Italy denies being trafficking kingpin
Health
Italian man 'turns French' after brain injury
Travel
Six reasons why South Tyrol will absolutely blow your mind
National
Why Italy's facing another tough summer
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
Politics
Five reasons Rome's mayoral elections actually matter
Travel
Ten Airbnb apartments where you'll feel at home in Rome
Politics
Quiz: Silvio Berlusconi versus Donald Trump - who said it?
National
Crew who sunk with WWII sub 'wanted to be found': relative
Culture
Why the average ancient Roman worker was dead by 30
Did a Nazi official save Ponte Vecchio from destruction?
National
How the brutal murder of an anti-mafia hero altered Sicily
Travel
These are the best beaches within easy reach of Rome
National
Why Italians are falling out of love with the EU
Business & Money
Foreign, female and a self-made success in arduous Italy
2,537
jobs available