Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Italian Election Blogging

So, as alluded to yesterday, Italy just completed a general election (in addition to a number of regional and civic ones, about which I will not go on!). Here's your guide!

The System:

The Italian political system is bicameral, with members of both houses elected by proportional representation. The two houses, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, have the same rights and powers; a piece of legislation may be proposed by either house, and must then be approved by the other. The leader of the majority coalition (more on all this later) in the Chamber of Deputies becomes the President of the Council of Ministers, a position roughly equal to a British or Canadian Prime Minister. This individual appoints a number of ministers, who do not have to come from his own party or coalition, or even from Parliament at all.

The Italian Head of State is the President of the Republic. This person is elected by Members of Parliament (both the Chamber and the Senate), along with some other delegates, not by the voting populace itself. The President of the Republic has control of the armed forces, can veto legislation, and is in charge of calling elections. Currently, the position is occupied by Giorgio Napolitano, an ex-Communist whose term expires in 2013.

Turning now to the two houses of Parliament, and how they're elected:

The Chamber of Deputies has 630 members, elected on a national proportional representation system. Voters select a party, and the national percentage of votes for that party determines the number of seats it receives. Who actually occupies those seats is based on fixed lists published before the election; if a party wins enough of the vote to hold 15 seats, the first 15 candidates on the list get those seats. The elected candidates are then portioned out among geographical constituencies, based on where the particular party did well. Most of the 20 regions of Italy have one constituency, but a few of the more populous ones have two or even three. Fairly simple so far, but there are a couple of wrinkles.

First of all, the Italian electoral system is designed to encourage parties to band together and form coalitions. Therefore, the threshold (the minimum percentage of the vote necessary to receive at least one seat) is lower for parties in coalitions than it is for parties acting independently, and the President of the Council of Ministers is the leader of the winning coalition, rather than the winning party (usually this is one and the same, but in theory...). Secondly, the winning coalition is guaranteed 55% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies no matter what its actual percentage of the vote, a feature known as the Majority Principle. Finally, and rather unusually, a small number of seats are set aside for Deputies who will represent Italians permanently living abroad. Thus, for example, there will be two Deputies in the next Parliament representing North and Central America.

The Italian Senate has only 315 members, again elected by proportional representation. However, in the case of the senate, the percentages of the vote are tallied regionally, rather than nationally, and each party submits a fixed list of candidates for each region. The Majority Principle applies, again regionally; the winning coalition in each region is guaranteed 55% of that region's seats. There are also Senate seats for Italians living abroad. Finally, there are 7 "Senators for Life," and I confess that I don't know how one attains that status, although I believe that meritorious service to Italy plays a role!

Before moving on, I should mention that this is the system that applies to most of Italy; A couple of regions, Valle D'Aosta in particular, do things differently, but I shall skip the particulars since they don't affect very many of the seats at all. There are some differences in the rules for those Italians voting abroad, as well.

The Players:

This election featured four coalitions, and a number of independent parties. The coalitions were unusually small in this election, in terms of number of parties involved, compared to the last one. The coalitions were as follows:

Walter Veltroni's coalition. This group was comprised of the centre-left Partito Democratico, led by the ex-Mayor of Rome Veltroni, the anti-corruption party Italia dei Valori ("Italy of Values"), and some other small regional parties. The PD itself is an amalgamation of a number of left-wing parties who contested the last election, including the Partito Democratico della Sinistra.

Silvio Berlusconi's coalition. Prior to this election, Berlusconi, a billionaire businessman and twice already President of the Chamber, merged his old conservative Forza Italia party with the even more conservative (ex-neo-fascist, in fact) Alleanza Nazionale to form the new Popolo della Libertà party (the AN's former leader, Gianfranco Fini, was number 2 on the PdL's fixed list for the Chamber of Deputies). They were joined in coalition by the Lega Nord, who advocate for increased autonomy from Rome fpr the northern regions of Italy, and by the Movimento per L'Autonomia, a party advocating increased southern Italian autonomy. Politics makes for strange bedfellows indeed, given that the Lega Nord's opinion of southern Italians is, well, not very nice. Berlusconi's coalition also included a number of small parties of no particular note.

Those were the two main groups contesting this election. The other two, who were not expected to do much, were the Unione di Centro (centrists, or mild centre-right parties), and the La Sinistra – L'Arcobaleno ("The Rainbow Left") coalition, comprised of a number of hard-core socialist and communist parties. Among the independent parties were regionalist groups of various political leanings and a handful of one-issue parties, including a disabled-rights group.

The Results:

Short answer: Berlusconi won, and will be, again, President of the Chamber (at least until he gets indicted again, a thing that seems to happen to him fairly frequently). Skilled Kobold cartographers slaved away this morning producing the following map, to show you how things broke down regionally. The results shown below are based on total vote for both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

See below for a key to the regions, as well as some observations on the map!

1: Piemonte8: Emilia Romagna15: Campania
2: Valle D'Aosta9: Toscana16: Puglia
3: Lombardia10: Umbria17: Basilicata
4: Trentino Alto Adige11: Marche18: Calabria
5: Veneto12: Lazio19: Sicilia
6: Friuli Venezia Giulia13: Abruzzo20: Sardegna
7: Liguria14: Molise

Some observations:

  • Valle D'Aosta, which works independently of the national proportional representation system, elected a Deputy and Senator from a couple of small, more-or-less centrist, Francophone parties.
  • The map does not take into account how close the races were in each region. Rome itself, for example, went for Veltroni, but the rest of Lazio was heavily in favour of Berlusconi.
  • Odd things happened in Molise. First of all, Italia dei Valori beat out their coalition partners in the Partito Democratico. Secondly, despite the fact that Veltroni's coalition beat Berlusconi's in that region, Berlusconi took more seats thanks to the Majority Principle.
  • While Berlusconi did take Veneto, he did so mostly thanks to his partners in the Lega Nord, rather than his own party.
  • Veltroni's best results were in Toscana.

Overall, Berlusconi's coalition ended up with 340 of the Chamber of Deputies seats (as noted above, the Majority Principle did come into play here), with the Popolo della Libertà party holding 272 of those. The Lega Nord took 60, and the Movimento per L'Autonomia the remaining 8. Veltroni's group ended up with 239 seats, 211 of those going to the Partito Democratico, and the rest to Italia dei Valori. The breakdown is similar in the Senate; Berlusconi took 171 seats (PdL 144, NL 25, MpA 2) while Veltroni ended up with 130 (PD 116, IdV 14). Of the other coalitions, the Unione di Centro managed to pick up 36 seats in the Chamber, and 3 in the Senate, but the "Rainbow Left" failed to make the threshold. A very small number of other seats ended up with regional parties from Valle D'Aosta and Trentino Alto Adige. The seat number will probably change slightly over the next couple of days, since the seats designated for Italians abroad have not yet been designated.

Over the next few days, Berlusconi will be appointing his cabinet, and trying to figure out how to keep his coalition together. He will have to give concessions to the Liga Nord, which is not really good news, particularly for the South. On the geopolitical front, George Bush unfortunately gets one of his key European allies back, for what its worth; it's highly unlikely that even Berlusconi would be foolish enough to re-commit Italian troops to Iraq, or that his government would survive long if he did, or that Napolitano would let him if he tried.

One final note: as during the recent provincial elections here, there was much concern in Italy over the possibility of low voter turn-out in this election. And indeed, turn-out did fall... all the way to 80.4% (from about 83%). Alberta voters, I'm looking at you...

If you want to see more detailed election results, go here! Note that the "Chamber of Deputies" in Italian is "Camera dei Deputati" or just plain "Camera" while the "Senate" is "Senato."


Chorus said...

Am I correct that these Italian elections are annual?

Chunklets said...

More or less... :)

Actually, the set term for a government in Italy is five years, but, in the past, very few of them have made it that far. The inability of governments to survive was one of the reasons that the Majority Principle was enacted.