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POLITICS

San Marino votes to legalise abortion

The microstate of San Marino voted on Sunday to allow abortion in a historic referendum result that brings the predominately Catholic country in line with most of the rest of Europe.

San Marino votes to legalise abortion
Campaign posters ahead of the abortion referendum in San Marino. Photo by Brigitte HAGEMANN/AFP

The tiny, picturesque republic, situated on a mountainside in the centre of Italy, was one of the last in Europe along with Malta, Andorra and the Vatican to have a total ban on terminating a pregnancy.

With final results declared, 77.28 percent of voters approved a motion to allow the termination of a pregnancy up to 12 weeks.

After the 12-week mark, abortion would only be allowed if the mother’s life was in danger or in the case of foetal abnormalities that could harm the woman physically or psychologically.

More than 35,000 voters, a third of them living abroad, were eligible to vote in the referendum initiated by the San Marino Women’s Union (UDS). The turnout was just over 41 percent, the ministry figures showed.

READ ALSO: The long road to legal abortion in Italy – and why many women are still denied it

In the absence of opinion polls, nobody had wanted to call the result beforehand.

Before the result came in, Francesca Nicolini, a 60-year-old doctor and member of UDS, had argued: “The majority of young people are on our side, because it’s an issue that directly affects their lives.

“It’s unacceptable to view women who are forced to have abortions as criminals.”

The influence of the Catholic Church remains strong here, and Pope Francis last week reiterated his uncompromising position that abortion is “murder”.

After the result, campaigners for the change wanted swift action in parliament.

“It’s a clear victory,” campaigner Vanessa Muratori told local television. “We are now waiting for a law to match the results.”

Photo: Brigitte HAGEMANN / AFP

Currently, abortion carries a penalty of up to three years in prison for the woman and six years for the doctor who conducts the procedure.

However, nobody has ever been convicted. Women who choose to have an abortion typically cross into Italy, where it has been legal for more than 40 years.

READ ALSO: San Marino offers tourists Sputnik Covid vaccine for €50

Opposition to decriminalising abortion was led by the ruling Christian Democratic Party, which has close ties to the Catholic Church and which called for a “No” vote to “defend the right to life”.

But its deputy secretary Manuel Ciavatta had told AFP before the referendum that his party, which has just over a third of MPs, would respect the result.

“The population is very divided on the issue,” he told AFP last week.

“And even in parliament, there are members of progressive parties who are against abortion, and MPs from the right who are in favour of abortion rights, notably in cases of rape or foetal abnormalities.”

His party would “respect the voice of the voters”, he added.

Parliament must now act to make the change law.

The vote signals a radical change for San Marino, where the ban dates back to 1865 and was confirmed by both the fascist regime in the early 20th century and then again in 1974.

Figures from Italy suggest few women from the tiny state cross the border to take advantage of the abortion laws there.

Between 2005 and 2019, only about 20 women a year from San Marino had abortions in Italy, falling to 12 in 2018 and seven in 2019, according to official Istat data cited by the campaigners against abortion.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Italian elections: What’s the difference between a majority and ‘super majority’?

Italy's elections on Sunday are expected to produce a far-right government, but how big a majority will it have and what difference does this make? Here's what you need to know.

Italian elections: What's the difference between a majority and 'super majority'?

The right-wing alliance of parties led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy is expected to win the September 25th general election by a landslide. 

In fact, the question many people have been asking for a while now is not whether the right will win, but by how much.

READ ALSO: Far-right Brothers of Italy eyes historic victory as Italy votes

The right-wing bloc, led by Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy and also including Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, is expected to easily win a big enough share of the vote to take a majority of the seats in both houses of parliament and form a government.

But will they win a simple majority or a ‘super majority’? Here’s a quick guide to how the system works, what the difference is, and why it matters so much.

What’s a simple majority?

A government with a simple majority has the support of just over half of either the Senate or the Lower House – so at least 201 seats in the House and 101 in the Senate (not counting the six senators for life).

Getting a large enough share of the vote to ensure this is already quite an achievement in Italy, where the electoral system is set up to favour coalition governments precisely in order to stop any one party from ending up with too much power (it was, after all, designed after WW2 and the fall of Mussolini’s Fascist regime).

READ ALSO: Is Brothers of Italy a ‘far right’ party?

So under this system, the party that takes the largest share of the vote still needs help – a coalition partner, or several – to get a majority of seats in parliament and form a workable government. This usually requires major compromise and sees parties striking difficult bargains with others from across the political spectrum.

This time, the right-wing alliance looks more than likely to win by a landslide and take a majority between them – in which case it won’t need to seek outside support.

Some political analysts predict that Meloni and Salvini’s parties will win enough seats to form a government on their own, without involving Berlusoni’s more moderate party. They might choose to join forces anyway – but the more parties involved, the less stable a government is.

And, with a smaller number of parties involved, it would basically be easier for a government to pass the laws it wants to pass. (That is of course discounting the still enormous potential for bickering and power plays between even just a few coalition partners.)

So what’s a super majority?

Known more officially in Italy as a maggioranza speciale o qualificate (special or qualified majority) a ‘super majority’ is a two-thirds majority of the seats in both houses of parliament.

The prospect of Italy’s right-wing parties reaching this threshold has been hotly discussed in the media, since a government with such a large majority would be able to make changes to the political system itself, and therefore the constitution, without consulting voters via a referendum.

EXPLAINED: Who’s who in Italy’s general election?

A political force achieving a majority large enough to change the constitution would be unprecedented in Italy’s postwar history, and could bring major changes to the country’s political system – including to how the president is elected, or the powers the prime minister has.

and right-wing parties Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia, FdI), the League (Lega) and Forza Italia at Piazza del Popolo in Rome, ahead of the September 25 general election.

Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi (centre), set to return to government with Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni. Will they be forming a governmnt together after this election? Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

All three leaders of the right-wing alliance have called for Italy to adopt a ‘French-style’ system which would mean the president is directly elected by voters,, instead of by lawmakers as is currently the case. This would mean changing the constitution.

Which scenario is likely?

If the most recent polls are to be believed, the right is on course to easily win a simple majority and possibly go on to reach the two-thirds threshold.

Talk of a super majority came about as the last polls (published two weeks before election day, when a polling blackout began) showed the right-wing alliance was just two or three percent away from achieving the share of the vote needed to give it a ‘super’ or qualified majority of the seats in both houses of parliament.

The right was polling 19 percent ahead of the centre-left bloc, and will need a lead of at least 21-22 percent to secure a qualified majority in both houses, according to projections by Youtrend/CattaneoZanetto & Co.

READ ALSO: An introductory guide to the Italian political system

A two-thirds majority is “possible” for the center-right “if the advantage in both chambers is around 21-22 percent,” Youtrend’s analysis explains.

Such a majority then becomes “probable” with “an advantage over the center-left of more than + 26 percent”, it says.

The winning alliance will need a majority in both houses of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, and taking a majority in the Senate is forecast to be more of a challenge.

Recent reforms mean parliament has shrunk by a third: there will now be 400 MPs in the Chamber instead of up to 630, and 200 Senators instead of 315.

A view of the Italian Chamber of Deputies.

Following constitutional reform in 2020, the number of deputies will go from 630 to 400 in the upcoming elections. Photo by Yara NARDI / AFP

Italy has a fiendishly complicated hybrid voting system: about 36 percent of seats in both houses of parliament are allocated in a first-past-the-post vote in single-member constituencies, while the rest are elected by proportional representation via party lists of candidates.

If you want to see what this looks like, try out Sky TG24’s seggiometro, or ‘seatometer’, which allows you to visualise how different election results would translate to seats in parliament.

Is there any chance of a surprise result?

This definitely hasn’t been an election campaign that has kept us on the edge of our seats. The right-wing bloc led by Giorgia Meloni has been expected to win all along – but voter sentiment has apparently shifted somewhat in the two weeks since polling blackout began.

Since the publication of opinion polls ended, support for the left-leaning Five Star Movement appears to have surged while the hard-right League is flagging, according to pollsters interviewed by Reuters this week.

Most said the prediction that the right will take a majority in both houses of parliament and form the next government remains by far the most likely outcome, even if it has been thrown into doubt somewhat by Five Star’s rise.

With Italy’s famously unpredictable politics, and many voters expected to make their minds up only on the day itself, nothing can ever really be ruled out.

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