There are proposals afoot in Italy to depart from the parliamentary form of government, most likely replacing it with some type of semi-presidentialism. In addition, there is discussion of adopting a “constructive” vote of no confidence. (In Italian, see Repubblica, Libre Quotidiano).
Under a semi-presidential executive structure, the head of state (president) is elected popularly, and there is also a prime minister as head of government. The prime minister and cabinet are collectively responsible to the assembly majority. Under a constructive vote of no confidence, the majority that votes no confidence must also name a replacement prime minister. The two provisions are not often combined, although Poland has a semi-presidential system with a constructive vote (see Art. 158 of the Polish constitution).
The Brothers of Italy, party of the current prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, had in their manifesto for the last election a pledge to change to “direct election of the president.” One might presume that the subtype of semi-presidentialsm would be premier-presidential. Under premier-presidentialism, the president may have various initiative rights in proposing a premier following an election or resignation of incumbent premier, but does not have constitutionally delineated power to dismiss the premier, cabinet, or ministers.
A premier-presidential model certainly fits better with a constructive vote, given that both institutional features emphasize the primacy of the parliamentary majority in determining who is premier, in case of conflict. Nevertheless, the Repubblica article (linked above) states that the current proposal calls for “A President of the Republic …who presides over the Council of Ministers and can dismiss ministers.” The inclusion of power to dismiss would imply the other subtype of semi-presidential: in a president-parliamentaty model, the cabinet must maintain the confidence of both the parliamentary majority and the president. President-parliamentarism is, in general, a recipe for instability and competing legitimacy. When combined with a constructive vote, it would imply that a parliamentary majority could say “we want this person to be premier” and the president could turn around and dismiss him or her. Let’s hope when the proponents of this reform say that they want a “French” model they actually mean it. France has a premier-presidential system.
The debate could get even more interesting. There is a statement quoted by Libre Quotidiano (linked above) from Senator Carlo Calenda (Azione Party) and Matteo Renzi (former prime minister) in which they say they do not favor election of the president, but would be favorable to direct election of the prime minister (citing the example of Italian mayors). See also Agenzia Nova where Calenda expresses support for this idea along with a unicameral parliament. The point on unicameralism is important. Italy currently is a rare case of parliamentarism in which the cabinet can be voted out by either of the two chambers of a bicameral parliament. Having a cabinet that has to keep a president and two chambers supporting its continued tenure is probably unwise.
The proposal for semi-presidentialism also calls for changing the term of the head of state to five years. The current unelected presidency has a seven year term.
Italian reform debates will be worth keeping an eye on.
(Thanks to Francesco Bromo for sharing these links with me.)