Earlier today, Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi presented a proposed voting law reform, which he had agreed over the weekend with Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi.
The main points:
1. A national distribution of seats
2. 12% threshold for coalitions, 5% for parties in coalition, 8% parties running alone
3. Up to 18% majority prize for winner (on at least 35%) to guarantee 53-55% seats, otherwise run-off: winner takes 53% of seats
Based on current polls, the system would mean only three parties would make into parliament - Forza Italia, the Democratic Party and Beppe Grillo’s M5S. Lega Nord and the New Centre-Right (NCD) would currently fall just under the 5% threshold.
While I believe a lower threshold, say 5% for parties running alone, would guarantee greater representativeness, the proposed reform, in my view, addresses the key flaws in Italy’s current electoral and political system, which:
1. makes it near impossible to win a majority in the senate
2. incentivises the formation of excessively broad coalitions before an election
3. gives small parties disproportionate influence, and incentivises the creation of new spin off parties within coalitions.
The proposed law addresses all these points.
No electoral law is perfect, and will always be a compromise between ensuring both stability and representation. In an ideal world, Italy would have a system which guarantees a more proportional representation, and when one clear winner doesn’t emerge, coalitions are formed post-election between a coalition of parties around a common programme. A system of proportional representation and preference-based lists requires, and works in countries where there is a culture of proportionate representation - where parties are open to compromise, collaboration and alliances. Such a culture, unfortunately, doesn’t exist in Italy - small parties want proportional representation, but even with 5% want to behave like majoritarian movements rigidly anchored on their positions and rhetoric.
An electoral system is furthermore a reflection of a country’s political system and culture - and not vice versa - and the electoral results it produces a consequence of public opinion - you can’t just import a system from elsewhere and hope it produces the same results - and changing the system doesn’t in itself change the culture, improve the quality of candidates and lead to needed reforms. Yet, within the entirety of this context, I believe the reforms proposed today would provide basic stability and are a positive step forward.