Italy’s electoral law ruled unconstitutional

Italy’s Constitutional Court has invalidated the country’s electoral law. Reuters:

The constitutional court picked out the “winner’s bonus” system where the coalition with the biggest number of votes automatically gets 55 per cent of the seats in the lower house, irrespective of its actual share of the vote.

That can give a political grouping without an overall majority total control of the lower house, but none at all of the upper house, the Senate, which is voted in through a different system.

Actually, the Senate system is the same, but the bonus is calculated region-by-region, rather than nationwide, as it is in the Chamber.

If the ruling is against the bonus provision, then it is not quite accurate to refer to “a system blamed for creating parliamentary deadlock”.

The article says that options include a two-round system or a return to the 1994-2001 mixed-member system.

The ruling is not retroactive, so it does not invalidate the election held earlier this year.

Thanks to Filippo Tronconi for the tip. Filippo tells me that the provisions for a closed list were also mentioned in the court’s ruling. The reasoning behind the court’s decision will not be released for a few weeks.

13 thoughts on “Italy’s electoral law ruled unconstitutional

  1. If the ruling is against the bonus provision, then it is not quite accurate to refer to “a system blamed for creating parliamentary deadlock”.

    You could blame deadlock on the significant difference between bonus provisions in the Chamber and Senate. If they both had a nationwide bonus, the same party group would probably have a majority in both, hence no deadlock. If they both lacked a bonus, any two of the three major groups could ally to form a majority in both chambers. Instead, with the Chamber having a nationwide bonus and the Senate without one, there are only two feasible coalitions: PD + PDL, or PD + M5S.


    • As I’ve noted before in other threads at F&V, winner-take-all is just as capable of producing a hung chamber or a tie if (a) it’s used in separate multi-seat districts (or at large) and (b) the regions are divided equally (or the opposing parties’ strongholds have equal combined delegations). The US Electoral College uses closed-list MNTV in districts of magnitude 9.6, but still produced Bush v Gore. Australia used open-ticket MNTV (then MAV) for the Senate from 1901 to 1946, and in 1937 this gave Labor and the main conservative party 16 out of 36 seats each (the Country Party, then relatively new and not yet firmly aligned with the conservatives, held the balance of power with 4… there must have been some cross-ticket voting in some States). “Winner-take-most” in MMDs may even be worse than either PR in MMDs, or winner-take-all with SMDs, in this respect.


  2. Having a system where multiple parties happen to not be able to work together may lead to deadlock, but that is not necessarily the system’s fault. Having a system where one party is guaranteed command of one house can and, at least to me, will lead to deadlock because that party simply cannot be ignored when it comes to forming a government. Imagine if the 5 Star Movement had the majority bonus.

    Not to mention that directly giving 55% of seats to a party with far less votes isn’t remotely democratic. If Italy wanted first past the post, it could easily adopt first past the post for the Chamber or even just have a directly elected president


  3. ‘Not to mention that directly giving 55% of seats to a party with far less votes isn’t remotely democratic’ – What’s more, it’s more than a bit similar to the automatic 60% of seats system implemented by Mussolini to consolidate power…


  4. “Not to mention that directly giving 55% of seats to a party with far less votes isn’t remotely democratic” I’m not sure I can get this.

    In UK 2005 Labour got 55% of the seats with 35% of the votes. In France in 2007 UMP got 54% of the seats with 39% of the votes. Gallagher index of disproportionality was equal to 17 in Italy in 2013. This was an exceptionally high value, due to lack of coordination between parties (it was 3.6 in 2006 and 5.7 in 2008). On the contrary this is a normal value in the UK and France (as well as other countries with plurality and majority systems). So why should Italy’s system be considered not democratic on the basis of its disproportionality? It is surely a weird system on many aspects, but it is not undemocratic.


    • Filippo, two responses to your response to JD:

      (1) I think there is a qualitative difference between a 55% (or greater) majority for a party (or pre-electoral alliance) with well under a majority of the votes when, to win such majority, it must win pluralities in a majority of the districts vs. where it gets such a majority just for having more votes than anyone else.

      (2) There are very few cases of majorities of seats won in FPTP systems on vote shares as small as was the case for the winning alliance in the last Italian Chamber of Deputies election.

      Note: none of this is a normative argument in favor of any given FPTP election, just my claim that qualitatively the current Italian electoral system is just about the worst of all worlds.

      Also a note on your reference to France: Arguably, using first-round votes only to assess the proportionality of the result is incomplete. Perhaps we should aggregate the decisive-round votes, or sum up the first-round votes for allied parties.


  5. For what it’s worth, back in 2005 Berlusconi wanted nationwide majority premiums for both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, but then-President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi had serious reservations about the constitutionality of the Senate provision. If memory serves me well, Ciampi then appointed a committee of “wise old men” who worked out the compromise providing for regional majority bonuses – which as it turns out have led to parliamentary deadlock in 2007-2008 and following the 2013 election.

    At any rate, while there appears to be broad agreement in Italy that the electoral system needs to be reformed, so far there has been no consensus on an alternative, and the existing system with all its known flaws has remained in place. However, following the court’s ruling the politicians no longer have the luxury of doing nothing; going back to the 1994-2005 mixed systems is an obvious alternative, but if I’m not mistaken that system didn’t allow for Chamber open lists either, so that would have to be addressed, along with the “decoy” list loophole in Chamber elections (known from the outset but not exploited until 2001).


  6. I would want to read the reasoning in detail, but I fear my knowledge of italian is too close to zero… I was wondering:
    Why was the bonus grafted on PR declared unconstitutional? Because if it is unconstitutional, then how can a more simple majoritarian system be constitutional?
    Why was the ‘closed list’ aspect declared unconstitutional? Because if it is unconstitutional, who will dare going back to the open list PR system of the ‘first republic’?

    In any event, good luck, Italian lawmakers. The only thing they seem to agree on, is giving up bicameralism for the confidence vote on the government (stripping the senate of those powers or make both chambers more alike)
    The bigger coalition parner PD favors a majoritarian system (french style two round) while the smaller partner, the PdL-breakaway party of Alfano, favors PR. Or would PD find supporters for a majoritarian reform with Berlusconi or Grillo?


  7. Well, I’m glad to hear they agree on that, because I think that may make more difference than anything else…


  8. When Italy was using MMP which degraded to MMM because of decoy lists, why in Italy were their decoy lists, and that this doesn’t happy in other jurisdictions that use MMP? I remember Lesotho had this problem with MMP as well. Could Germany or NZ have a party split just so they could degrade MMP to an MMM system? Is the only way to solve this problem with decoy lists is by having a one vote MMP system?

    Wouldn’t Italy just be better using an open party list system with small to medium size district magnitude (maybe with a 10%) with a second nationwide tier adjustment tier with the threshold set at 5%?


  9. Pingback: Italy’s new electoral law | Fruits and Votes

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