Italy’s parliamentary vote deadlocked as most ballots filed blank

Italy's deadlocked parliament reconvened on Friday, with a battle for the positions of speaker in each house laying the ground for a future fight over who will lead a new government.

Italy's parliamentary vote deadlocked as most ballots filed blank
The Italian Senate during its first session today. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

The newly-elected lower house Chamber of Deputies and upper house Senate began the process of electing their new speakers, with a row over who takes Senate speaker role highlighting the deep divisions between the forces vying for control.

Friday's vote is important because until both are chosen consultations between President Sergio Mattarella and those vying to form a new government cannot begin. The process could last till Easter and beyond.

The right-wing coalition led by nationalist Matteo Salvini's League party, which gained the most votes with 37 percent, is fielding Paolo Romani, the economy minister in Silvio Berlusconi's last government and a member of the media mogul's Forza Italia party, for the post of Senate speaker.

Forza Italia is the second largest party in the coalition, with 14 percent of the vote compared to the League's 17 percent. The right and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5s) are working on a deal that would let the right have the Senate speaker and see the M5S take the Chamber, a prelude to potential power-sharing talks between the two.

However the M5S, Italy's largest single party with 33 percent, announced on Thursday that it “cannot vote for” Romani due to his 2014 conviction for embezzlement for which he was given a suspended 16-month sentence that was confirmed on appeal in October.

The M5S is opposed to any candidates with previous convictions or under investigation by the authorities. Romani was found guilty of giving an official mobile phone to his 15-year-old daughter, who then spent over 12,000 euros in phone bills between January 2011 and February 2012.

READ ALSO: Italy's new parliament is younger, more diverse and more female

Italian lawyer and Democratic Party (PD) member Lucia Annibali casts her vote. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Blank ballots

On Friday morning M5S leader Luigi Di Maio wrote on the official M5S blog that the party would return blank ballots for both the Chamber and Senate votes. The centre-left Democratic Party (PD), whose coalition came third, is refusing to form an alliance with either of the other two groups. It will also return blank ballots in both houses.

In total 592 blank ballots were returned in the Chamber's first vote. The M5S's rejection of Romani has infuriated Silvio Berlusconi, who demanded a meeting with Di Maio.

Late on Thursday, the M5S's incoming chief whips in the Chamber and Senate, Giulia Grillo and Danilo Toninelli, published a joint post saying they would only deal with Salvini and not Berlusconi who “wasn't legitimized by the people.”

M5S leader Luigi Di Maio gestures in the Chamber of Deputies on Friday. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Warm up

The current negotiations are a warm up for government talks, with the M5S and right saying they are ready to work with anyone who would be willing to adopt their programme. The selection of the 321-seat Senate speaker is relatively straightforward, with the winning candidate being chosen after a maximum of four rounds of voting over the weekend.

If no-one achieves an absolute majority by the third round, the two most popular candidates of the third ballot will face a run-off. The vote for the Chamber speaker is more complicated with no limit to the number of ballots that can be held before a candidate is elected and no one group close to a majority.

If the aspiring speaker fails to earn a two-thirds majority vote from 630 MPs, the quorum will progressively lower until the fourth round, when a simple majority of voting MPs is needed.

READ ALSO: Italy's League opens the door to a deal with Five Stars

Italy's League opens the door to a deal with Five Stars
Matteo Salvini (L) and Luigi Di Maio. Photos: Tiziana Fabi/AFP


By Terry Daley


Who can vote in Italy’s elections?

With Italy's next general election scheduled for September 25th, who is eligible to vote - and how can those who are do so?

Who can vote in Italy's elections?

Who can vote in Italy?

For the upcoming election in September, the answer is simple: only Italian citizens are eligible to vote in Italy’s general elections.

Foreign EU nationals who are resident in Italy can register to vote in municipal and European parliamentary elections, but national elections are reserved for Italians only.

Until recently, not even all Italian adults could participate fully in the process: just last year, voters needed to be over the age of 25 to take part in senate elections.

That finally changed with a reform passed by parliament in July 2021. It’s now the case that any citizen over the age of 18 can vote for their representatives in both the lower house and the senate (both ballots are held at the same time).

READ ALSO: An introductory guide to the Italian political system

You don’t need to be resident in Italy to vote; Italian citizens living abroad can register to vote via post.

In fact, Italy is unusual in assigning a set number of MPs and senators to ‘overseas constituencies’ that represent the interests of Italians abroad.

These constituencies are split into four territories: a) Europe; b) South America; c) Northern and Central America; d) Africa, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica. Each zone gets at least one MP and one senator, with the others distributed in proportion to the number of Italian residents.

Up until recently, there were as many as 12 MPs and six senators dedicated to overseas constituencies. This will drop to eight MPs and four senators from September, thanks to another reform enacted in late 2020.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

How can you vote?

While Italy has a postal vote option for citizens living abroad, Italians resident in Italy must vote in the town in which they are registered to vote (i.e., their comune, or municipality of residency), at the specific polling station assigned to them.

What's behind Italy's declining voter turnout?

Italian citizens who are resident in Italy can only vote in person. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

The lack of a postal vote for Italians in Italy is thought to be one of the main factors behind Italy’s declining turnout in elections, and a parliamentary committee on elections has advised introducing one to help remedy the situation; but for now, only in-person votes count.

READ ALSO: What’s behind the decline in Italian voter turnout?

Italians living abroad who are on the electoral register should receive their ballot papers (pink for the Chamber of Deputies, yellow for the senate) from their consulate in the lead up to the election. Their completed ballots must arrive back at the consulate no later than 4pm local time on September 22nd.

Those who haven’t received their ballot papers by September 11th should contact their consulate to request that the documents be resent.

Italians in Italy must have a tessera elettorale, or voter’s card, to be allowed to vote in person. The card contains the holder’s full name, date of birth, address and polling station. Every time the holder goes to vote, the card – which takes the form of a piece of reinforced folded paper – is stamped.

The tessera elettorale should be automatically sent out to Italians at their home address when they reach the age of 18; for those who acquire citizenship and move to Italy later in life, it should be automatically sent to their address by the comune where they are registered as a resident.

If the tessera gets lost, damaged, or becomes filled up with stamps, the holder should request a new card from their comune. 

When an individual moves towns, they should turn in their tessera in order to receive a new one from their new comune. For those who move house but stay in the same town, their comune should send an official slip confirming the new address that can be used to update their tessera.

Anyone who hasn’t automatically received a tessera elettorale and is entitled to one should contact their comune to claim theirs.