Italy readies for first national general elections under new voting scheme


Beppe_Grillo, founder of the Five Star Movement in 2012 (File) Wikimedia Commons/Niccolò Caranti

The upcoming national Italian elections for parliament will be the first under a 2017 election law that was designed to address concerns the Constitutional Court had with the previous system. But critics, primarily in the opposition Five Star Movement party, contend that new method was designed to keep the ruling parties in place.

That’s because the law favors coalitions over stand-alone parties, and the Five Star Movement party refuses to be part of a coalition.

“For me, this is an institutional coup,” prominent Five Star member Alessandro Di Battista said in an October broadcast a few days before the election law was passed by both houses of the Italian Parliament. That was done through a  procedure called “fiducia,” and it saw center-left ruling Democratic Party discard five amendments sought by Five Star.

The law enjoyed support from several major parties, both in and out of power, and was passed last month by both houses of the Italian Parliament. The election must be held before May 20.

The results of a party going it alone can be stark.

A similar law was in place during the last general election, in 2013. Even though the Five Star Movement party won the most votes nationally for the Chamber of Deputies, it was awarded just 109 of the 630 seats. It was third behind two coalitions, the top one with four parties and the second-place alliance with three parties.

 

Though it received the largest share of votes in 2013, the Five Star Movement trailed two coalitions.

The rather bureaucratic-sounding Italian Electoral Law of 2017 is commonly referred to as Rosatellum bis, after Ettore Rosato, the Chamber of Deputies legislator who proposed it.

It cements in place an “additional-member system,” where a portion of the parliament is elected person-by-person in legislative districts, and nearly the rest is chosen by the parties, based on the proportion of the vote each receives. The new proportions are the same in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate:

A minority of each house is decided by winner-take-all direct vote, called first past the post. Most members are seated proportionally to their party’s share of the vote.

The members chosen through proportional representation are chosen by the party, not the voters. That puts considerable power in the hands of party leaders.

Critics of the new Italian system (Reuters) say coalitions are likely to benefit greatly in this system, and letting party leaders dole out seats can keep struggling or ineffective lawmakers in office. Further, critics say, the system has the effect of shouldering aside unwanted political adversaries.

With more than three months before the election, the field of candidates and the coalitions are not firmly set. Here’s a look at how things are shaping up.

Five Star Movement

Luigi Di Maio is the party’s candidate for prime minister, and polling shows him with a slim but steady lead with just over 25 percent, two points ahead of the Democratic Party. Of the 11 parties on which voters were polled, only four were in double digits.

The 31-year-old Di Maio often has been criticized in the Italian press for a mediocre professional background, in particular for lacking a master’s degree. He has held political office for five years and is the youngest-ever vice president of the Chamber of Deputies.

He speaks with a slight Neapolitan accent; the pace is slow, the argument concise. If Di Maio wins, he could pursue his parties bold environmental measures, such as ending carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

The Five Star Movement has often been attacked by the opposition and the partisan media for its administrations in the key cities of Rome and Turin. Those criticisms have caused party members to refrain from televised debates and caused the Five Star Movement to seek international help against “fake news”.

But the party has a strong internet presence, mainly through its official website and that of the founder of the party, Beppe Grillo.

The Five Star Movement started as irreverent and populist, much like its founder. Grillo is an actor and comedian who never abandoned his edgy voice as he became a political leader.

The late Dario Fo, an Italian who won a Nobel Prize for literature, said about Grillo: “To be a clown is very serious.”

The party structure is highly democratic. It was among the first parties in Europe to use participatory democracy methods (The Conversation) through its website. It expels any party member who is indicted.

The Democratic Party

Generally polling just behind the Five Star Movement is the fractured center-left Democratic Party. The party’s scission began in 2013, when it chose as its leader Matteo Renzi, who had been at centrist mayor of Florence.

He became prime minister the next year. He resigned in 2016 after he unsuccessfully pushed a national referendum to radically alter the structure of the parliament.   

Renzi is a Toscanaccio, which means hardheaded, and has a strong attitude about leadership that could end the Democratic Party as it is known today. Some think he may strike out on his own, much like French President Emmanuel Macron who split from the socialists.

The Progressivist Field

The new leftist party is led by the former mayor of Milan, Giuliano Pisapia. Yesterday he has announced to the press that Progressivist Field will not be part of the coalition within the Democratic Party.

During the party’s recent assembly, Laura Boldrini, president of the Chamber of Deputies, she would not take part in today’s Democratic Party. The Italian press has said she could be a new potential candidate for the part. Boldrini has been threatened on Twitter often for endorsing the immigration policy of the European Union and for fighting fake news on the internet.

The Article One party

Other far left members of the Democratic Party broke off to found this party, whose name was inspired by the first job-right amendment of the Italian constitution. The party today features some of the old guards of the Italian left, who have had the virtue of performing a deep and intense philosophical, democratic and civic debate, though they have not led to the reforms Italy desperately needs.

Pietro Grasso, a former anti-mafia judge and current president of the Senate, recently announced to the press he will lead its own party “Free and Equal”.

Us With Salvini

Far-right candidate Matteo Salvini has his own party after being in a leadership position with the secessionist party Lega Nord.

Salvini has nationalist views similar to those of U.S. President Donald Trump and France’s Marine Le Pen, who was recently defeated in her run for prime minister. Salvini favors the same policies against both the immigration and the delocalization of the national enterprises.

The party has shown success, winning offices in Sicily. He’s widely considered to be an Islamophobe (Politico.eu) and opposed to accommodating refugees.

Recently, after his account was reported to Twitter for racist hate speech, he deleted a tweet that showed two Roma people digging into trash bins in Rome.

Forward Italy

The cake is crowned by the well known 82-year-old Silvio Berlusconi, who could not run because he has been interdicted from the public office functions, but he is still waiting for a decisional sentence of the Strasbourg Court (Repubblica.it)

Berlusconi has recently landed on Twitter for the first time, writing as usual of his old friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his hate for the “communist courts.” The party candidate is still unknown but is thought to be Antonio Tajani, who replied through a declaration released by AdnKronos press agency: “Berlusconi is the only Prime Minister.”

Berlusconi presented the party agenda for the 2018 elections and said to the Italian press, “Our program is fewer taxes, less euro, more job and security. Then the pension for our mothers, help the poor people and more rights for animals.”

The centre-right coalition to which his party belongs has won the recent Sicilian elections, and its governance is up to Nello Musumeci who has been elected governor of the autonomous region with about 40 percent of the vote.

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