Wednesday, November 23, 2005

New Italian Electoral Law: Destroying the Italian Democracy

As a follow up to Lorenzo’s article on Berlusconi’s new electoral bill, as result of a request from some Italian friends, I read and summed up an excellent power point presentation (in Italian) on the political effects of Berlusconi’s electoral reform. If anyone wishes to receive a copy of this presentation please leave a comment on this blog entry giving us a clue of how to contact you and send the PP presentation to your e-mail address.

According to several public opinion surveys Prodi’s Center Left Coalition would receive 51% of votes, while Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition gets, in the most optimistic scenario around 47%. Berlusconi is aware of this and he decide to embark on the electoral reform (less than a year before the elections, during the campaign) to mitigate the effects of the popular will, thus, to stay in power.

To understand the effects of the electoral change one has to bear in mind that the two Italian major coalitions (occupying almost the entire political spectrum) are very different in nature. While Berlusconi’s coalition is composed of a small number of political parties that individually receive more than 2% of votes (Forza Italia, Allenaza Nazionale, UDC and Lega Nord), Prodi’s coalition, albeit more popular, consists of numerous political entities that remain below 2% of the votes, however, altogether they receive from 7% to 10% of votes. These members of the centre-left coalition are: Italy of Values (Di Pietro); The Italian Communists; Socialists Union (SDI), Popular Party (UDEUR) etc.

Berlusconi’s electoral engineering introduces two mechanisms.

First one introduces a threshold of 2% for political parties that are part of a coalition and 3% for those that are outside of the coalition. All the abovementioned members of the Prodi coalition in this way lose the right to be represented in the parliament. In this way the centre-left coalition goes down from 51% to 44% of votes that can actually result in assignable parliamentary seats. The same mechanism does not affect the centre-right coalition because as previously mentioned they all individually receive above 2% of votes. In this way Berlusconi’s coalition will still receive its votes on the basis of intact 47% of popular vote. Hence, they will surpass Prodi’s coalition in the percentage of popular votes that is to be considered for assignable seats. Still, despite the first change, according to the present electoral law the Centre-left coalition would receive the so-called majority premium on the basis of the overall number of votes (51%) despite the introduced threshold. In this way, overall Prodi’s coalition would still be victorious over Berluconi’s.

Second mechanism of the new electoral bill takes this fact into account and establishes that the majority premium does not get assigned on the basis of number of votes but on the basis of percentage of votes that results in assignable seats (thus 47% for Berlusconi and 44% more or less to Prodi). In this way, despite its unpopularity Berlusconi’s coalition will still manage to stay in power.

Berlusconi will defend this law, and some of his partisans already do, arguing that it is perfectly in compliance with European standards, which is probably true in some sense. What is, however, not in accordance with principles of any decent democracy is making the change of the electoral law on the eve of the elections. Electoral law must represent a broad societal consensus (must reflect the genuine will of the population) and should not be engineered according to short-term political needs. Changing the electoral law is a feature of a banana republic not of an established democracy such as Italy. In this way Berlusconi not only goes against the electoral will of the Italian population but continues his endless damaging of the Italian image abroad. Media monopoly beyond decency and best democratic practices is no longer sufficient, now he needs to change the very electoral law to stay in power. It is not enough to remain passive in front of such undemocratic processes, it is not enough to wait and hope that the electoral results will be such that Berlusconi will anyways lose. Something must be done to stop this electoral law. In this way we try to help our italian friends and to contribute to the international raising of awareness of the magnitude of, what could even say, the electoral fraud in Italy.


Raphaël Paour said...

If such a law went in front of the Italian Constitutional court it would probably be struck down. Don't you think ?

Srdjan Cvijic said...

Possibly! To reply to Raphael’s question regarding the Italian Electoral Bill. Namely, Raphael asked, “If such a law went in front of the Italian Constitutional court it would probably be struck down. Don't you think ?” This is possible and many argue that the Italian President Ciampi can refuse to sign the law on the basis of its unconstitutionality, particularly regarding one particular contesting point.

Namely, the threshold of 2% or 3% would prevent minority parties (Union Valdotaine and Sudtiroler Volkspartei) to be represented in the Italian Parliament. This would go against the constitutional duty of the state to protect country’s ethnical minorities.

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