Italy to vote on slashing the number of seats in its parliament

Italy's parliament is set to vote on Tuesday on cutting the number of representatives in the country's upper and lower houses from a whopping 945 to 600.

Italy to vote on slashing the number of seats in its parliament
Italy has the second-highest number of parliamentarians in Europe. Photo: Filippo Monteforte / AFP

Slashing the total number of MPs and senators in Italy by 345 – more than a third – was a flagship manifesto promise of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which is now in power as part of a coalition government, and has promised voters it would tackle political elitism and wasteful spending.

READ ALSO: Here are the main things Italy's prime minister says his government will do

The cut – dubbed the “taglia poltrone” by Italian media – would reduce the number of MPs to 400 and senators to 200 from the next legislature, with an expected saving of some 100 million euros ($110 million) a year.

“It's a well-balanced reform with an excellent profile,” legal expert Guido Neppi Modona told Il Fatto Quotidiano on Monday.

A reduced number of lawmakers will “lead parties to take particular care in choosing candidates,” he said.

Italy's current left-leaning government also hopes the planned constitutional reforms, which also include changes to electoral law, could help keep the populist right from power.

Italy's chamber of deputies in September 2019. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Critics have warned however that the cut could affect popular representation, and increase the influence of lobbyists over governing institutions – all for a minimal saving that will have little effect on debt-laden Italy's book balance.

Italy currently has one of the highest numbers of lawmakers in the EU – some 630 elected representatives in the lower house and 315 in the Senate.

Italy also has the third-highest number of lawmakers in the world, after China, which has nearly 3,000 members of parliament, and the UK, with a total of 1,443 (793 of which are unelected members of the House of Lords, or upper house).

On Monday, the chamber of deputies was almost empty as only 35 MPs turned up for a debate ahead of the vote, the Corriere della Sera reported.

This is Italy's eighth attempt to cut its number lawmakers since 1983, according to the Open news website.

This time it is broadly expected to be successful, with most opposition parties on board – though the head of Italy's far-right League Matteo Salvini warned on Friday that his party may not vote in favour of the cut.

Five Star (M5S) made the cut a condition of its alliance with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), following the collapse of its previous coalition with Salvini's League in August.

Five Star Movement leader and Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio in the chamber of deputies last month. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The PD, long a target of M5S jibes about “establishment” politics, had previously voted against the reduction, but has now agreed to support it in order to clinch a deal to form a government with the M5S.

The party has insisted the cut be followed by a new electoral law, and is pushing for the reintroduction of a proportional representation system

Under the current mix of proportional representation and first-past-the-post, a winning coalition needs more than 40 percent of the vote to have the necessary parliamentary majority.

With full proportional representation, parties or coalitions would need a much bigger majority to form a government.

That would make it more diffcultSalvini to win in future elctions if he chose to run alone or with a small fellow far-right party, and force him instead to turn to former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italy party for help, the weekly L'Espresso said.

Lorenzo Codogno, former chief economist at the Italian Treasury Department, told AFP the pressing need to change the electoral law could serve as glue to hold the coalition government together.
He warned however that “I have a feeling that (the electoral law) won't happen very soon”.

International markets and European investors watching the stability of the new coalition were right “to worry about everything,” he said.

READ ALSO: Four key economic challenges facing Italy's new government

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Milan fashion mobilises for Italy vote

Go out and vote to protect your rights, top Italian designers urged compatriots this week as the Milan shows coincided with elections predicted to see a far-right government take power in Rome.

Milan fashion mobilises for Italy vote

From Donatella Versace to Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli, calls to mobilise have been everywhere at Milan Fashion Week. Houses such as Gucci and Fendi are actively helping their employees cast their ballots in Sunday’s general elections.

“Go out and vote, these elections are so important for our country!” Versace said on Instagram ahead of her fashion house’s Friday show.

“On September 25 vote to protect rights already acquired, thinking about progress and with an eye on the future,” she posted.

“Never look back.”

Left-wing activists fear the ascent to power of far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, who is leading opinion polls, will lead to a step backward for rights in Catholic-majority Italy.

READ ALSO: Giorgia Meloni’s party will likely win the elections – but will it last?

Meloni and her main ally, League party leader Matteo Salvini, advocate traditional Catholic family values and rail against what she calls “LGBT lobbies”.

Meloni says she would not change the law legalising abortion, but says she wants to give mothers “the choice” not to terminate.

Piccioli, creative director at Valentino, published a lengthy post on Instagram in defence of tolerance, under the title, “A man of the left”.

‘Afraid of the consequences’ 

“The idea that there are people, human beings, who at this moment may be afraid of the consequences of this election fills me with rage,” he wrote.

He called on young people in particular to go and vote, because “we must not step back a millimetre on rights we have, and in fact the time is right to acquire new and fundamental ones”.

Influencer and fashion entrepreneur Chiara Ferragni has also called on her 28 million Instagram followers to defend LGBTQ and abortion rights.

While accepting that many people might feel unhappy about the choices on offer, she warned that not voting “is only to delegate to others what is up to us to decide”.

For millions of Italians, however, taking part in elections is not straightforward.

Postal voting is not available except for those living abroad, meaning they must physically return to their legal place of residence to cast a ballot.

And here again designers in Milan are getting involved.

READ ALSO: TIMELINE: What happens on election day and when do we get the results?

Giacomo, a member of staff for Gucci based in Rome who did not give his last name, said the fashion giant “has completely reorganised the work to allow us to go home to vote”.

Like the rest of his team, he is in Milan for the spring/summer 2023 catwalk shows that run until Monday.

Paying for travel home

“We organised a lot of things to finish up on Saturday — we’re on our knees but reassured to be able to go and vote,” he told AFP.

“Some of us will go back to Milan on Sunday evening or Monday to continue the post-show work, and everything is taken care of by Gucci.”

From designers and stylists to production and marketing staff, about 80 percent of the teams of fashion houses are mobilised to Milan both for the show and, afterwards, sales.

Serge Brunschwig, head of Fendi, which had its show here on Wednesday, said its Milan showroom would close on election day on Sunday.

“We are paying for the travel of our Italian teams so they can go to their polling stations and return to Milan on Monday or Tuesday,” he said.

With turnout predicted to be historically low, below 70 percent, many here feel that if they can get back to vote, then they should.

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

“Some of us have to go and vote in Puglia, in Sicily, in Sardinia,” said Roberto Strino, 39,  who works for Giorgio Armani, railing against the lack of a technological alternative.

“I will do it, because the elections are very important and we must take a stand against the far-right.”

READ ALSO: Your ultimate guide to Italy’s crucial elections on Sunday