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Italy has No Government…well, not quite

Cara Jo, a fellow blogger from over the pond, was a little disappointed to see that I had not written about Italy’s current state of non-government. Well, I’ve decided to attempt to explain the current political situation in Italy.

First of all, it’s not true that Italy is without a government, in that Prodi’s crew still run things, however, his government, or rather coalition, is unable to create new laws. It can administrate the country up until the results of the elections of 13 and 14 April are known.

Now, as to what happened. As many will know, the actions of one Clemente Mastella, the leader of one of the parties that made up Prodi’s fragile coalition, effectively destroyed Prodi’s government’s tiny majority. This meant that Prodi’s government could not continue, and Prodi lost a confidence vote. He therefore felt obliged to hand in his resignation and step down as prime minister.

This is where the fun starts. As you may be aware, the electoral system in Italy is based on a complex proportional representation system, meaning that governments are destined to be based a coalition of bigger and smaller parties. The bigger parties are not large enough to command a total majority and so they need to rely on the support of other smaller parties to obtain, hold onto power, and to push through new laws. This reliance on big/little party coalitions has led to the recurring instability that Italian governments have experienced since the second world war, incidentally.

In an attempt to resolve this situation, Berlusconi introduced a reform which meant that parties with much less than 5% (I’m ready to be corrected on this – I have been corrected! Thanks Cristian.) of the vote could not obtain seats in parliament, thus reducing, very slightly, the influence of the smaller parties on the larger ones and introducing a theoretical touch of stability. The fact that this reform may also have helped Berlusconi’s coalition to retain power, is neither here nor there.

Anyway, moving back to Prodi’s situation. Prodi’s gang wanted to introduce more electoral reform in order to further reduce the ‘little’ party effect on Italy’s governments. Only his government collapsed before such a reform could be passed.

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However, despite the collapse of Prodi, talks about carrying out electoral reform went on, and there was an apparent wish to introduce such reform before elections for a new government were held. But, although it appears that such a reform would have been feasible, it could only have been pushed through with the consensus of just about all of the parties having seats in the Italian parliament.

So what happened is that all the parties had a think and a re-think, and many, including obviously the little parties, decided that it would not be particularly advantageous to them to agree to such a reform.

As it had become evident that a form of deadlock had been reached, meaning that electoral reform could not be introduced, Italy’s president, Napolitano, was obliged to initiate the election process and set a date for the elections. Indeed, elections have now been set for the 13 and 14 April, although the warring factions, otherwise known as political parties here, are not even happy about the election date – so it may change.

In summary: Prodi’s government collapsed, but there was still the slim possibility of introducing electoral reform before the general elections. However, nobody wanted the reform to go through, so a general election was called.

What all this means for poor old Italy, is that the chances are that the next government may well be as short lived as Prodi’s, and so Italy’s revolving door governments will continue. Unless the next government actually manages to introduces electoral reform, in which case there may be a chance that the subsequent government is quite stable.

OK, I hope that has clarified the situation. I did check out my facts with my ex-politican student, but I’m prepared to be corrected. So correct away (Rob, Man of Roma – this means you!).

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