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Aprile 2008

E like Elections!

etching of Montecitorio by Giuseppe VasiIt’s time for general elections in Italy, but for those who learn Italian abroad or are in Italy for their studies it is not easy to understand the Italian electoral system, and I must say this is not very clear event for most of the Italian voters.

Speaking about the political system in our country the historian Paul Ginsborg says: “Under the precepts of the constitution no single part of the state, no institutional force, had a clear autonomous mandate to govern. Each instead – parliament, government, the president of the republic, the courts, the public administration, and so on – could constrain, in different ways and to different degrees, the powers of the other. Relations between different elements of the state were thus more horizontal then vertical, lacking in a clear hierarchy of command. Intended as a delicate system of checks and balances, the system rapidly revealed itself as the perpetrator of weak and ineffectual government.”

The Republican Constitution of 1948 turned Italy into a parliamentary democracy, which means that the parliament is the very core of the political system.

The Parlamento Italiano is divided into the two Houses: it is so a bicameral legislature with 945 elected members (parlamentari). The Chamber of Deputies, with 630 members (deputati). The Senate of the Republic has 315 members (senatori).

Members of both Houses are elected through a proportional system as well as through majority prize, which is only given to the coalition obtaining a relative majority: at national level for the Chamber, at regional level for the Senate. That is why the last coalition ruling the country had a strong majority in the Chamber and and a weak-one in the Senate (158 Senators supporting the government against 155 of the opposition).

Last January 3 senators withdrew from the coalition and the centre-left winged government lost confidence in the parliament. The prime minister Romano Prodi (“Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri”) was thus bound to step down and the President of the Republic, had then to call for new general elections, which will take place on April 13th and 14th (yes 2 days for voting!). As you may have already noticed the Italian political and electoral system is quite different from those ones of other western democracies. A very particular aspect is that voters cannot state a preference for any given candidate, but they only must tick on the symbol of the party they want to support.

Italian citizens living permanently abroad can also vote in the nearest Italian Embassy or consulate.

Needless to say that most of the national and international press describes the Italian electoral system as flawed and unclear. If you wish to clarify the general aspects of it you may read this brief profile of Italy. If you also want to have an idea of the current political campaign you can refer here.

The picture shows an etching of Montecitorio Palace (since 1871 housing the Chamber of Deputies)  by Giuseppe Vasi.

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