The Italian electoral system’s dirty tricks

Italy 2013 Election results

Italy 2013 Election results

The Italian general elections, held on the last 24th and 25th of February, gave as dread as comical situation.

Admittedly, the centre-left Partito Democratico, gets the majority at the Chamber of representatives but at the Senate where it gets the same score than the right Popollo della Liberta party and due to the humorist Beppe Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle good result. In other words, there is no clear majority within the second Chamber and Italy plunges into instability once again, at the point more and more people are dealing with new ballot.

The institutional and political deadlock, in which Italy currently is, is not only due to the PDL or MV5 good performance but rather its political system, a complex system supposed to encourage alliances and coalitions but which parcels out the political landscape a little more, in reality.

The voting is based on a proportional system with the introduction of an electoral bonus for the headed party or coalition to get a stable majority within the two chambers. Nonetheless, if this bonus is applied at the national level for the Chamber of representatives, it is only applied at the regional level for the Senate. This is very important insofar as the composition of the second Chamber and the struggle of powers inside largely depend on the demographic and political weight of some key-regions, without whom it is impossible to have the Senate under control and get a stable majority to govern. Thus, regions as Lombardy or Emilia-Romagna are key, not to say, strategic regions, without which any party or coalition can control the Senate.


Controlling the Senate is all the more important because contrary to France, Germany or United-Kingdom, the second House holds the same powers than the Lower Chamber. This is an extremely important point, partially explaining the chronic political instability Italy has experienced for years, the Senate being able to block a legislative text or overthrow a government especially if it has a different political tendency, Romano Prodi, twice president of the Council (1996 – 1998 than 2006 – 2008) is well placed to know!

Roberto Calderoli, Lega Nord MP, at the initiative of the 2005 voting system bill

Roberto Calderoli, Lega Nord MP, at the initiative of the 2005 voting system bill

So, it is easier to understand why Italy is experiencing this situation due to a very complicated and hybrid voting system favouring the big parties and mostly the PDL who shaped and modified the system in 2005. Roberto Calderoli, Lega Nord (populist and extremist party, traditional Berlusconi’s political partner) MP even confessed the voting system, he imagined and designed for the 2006 general elections to minimise loss vis-à-vis the announced Romano Prodi’s large victory, was a “porcellum” (“dirty trick” in Italian). His strategy was quite successful because the PDL managed to limit the centre-left coalition victory at the Chamber of representatives and even became the first party in seats at the Senate (thanks to its performance in Lombardy, traditionally in favour of the right and where the Lega Nord party has good results) forcing Prodi to lead improbable coalitions which turned against him, two years after.

To be clear, it is easier to analyse the large satisfaction of Silvio Berlusconi, the evening of the results, all the more so as his party, getting the majority at the Chamber and the Senate in the outgoing legislature, had not interest to modify a voting system made to measure and very favourable. Thus, the challenge of the future government (in the hypothesis, it is led by Pierluigi Bersani) will be to tackle this electoral “porcellum” on condition that he has the majority and especially the time to do it, which largely resolve the chronic instability Italy has got used to being for years.