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Only Einstein Would Have Understood Italy’s Electoral System

I’ve often wondered whether I should attempt to explain how Italy’s electoral system works, then, after coming across an article by Chris Hanretty which does just that, I’m glad I have not bothered! It’s extremely messy and confusing, to say the least.

Actually, to say the rules are confusing is a distinct understatement.  The writer of the explanatory article linked to later on is one Chris Hanretty who is a lecturer in politics at the University of East Anglia. He obviously boasts an IQ in the region of 150, if not more. Maybe Hanretty is a descendent of Einstein.

If you are a MENSA member with a stratospheric IQ level, or are a descendent of Einstein, you may just fathom out from Hanretty’s article how Italy’s electoral system works, or rather, understand why it does not.

If you are not a natural born genius, after reading Hanretty’s explanation you may come away feeling pretty baffled. I felt baffled.

Here’s just part of Hanretty’s explanation as to how MPs end up sitting in Italy’s lower house:

  • If you are a list which is part of a coalition, and if the lists making up that coalition have received 10% of the national vote, and if one of the lists in that coalition has received at least 2% of the national vote, and if you have received at least 2% of the national vote, or if you are the largest party in your coalition with less than 2% of the national vote, then you have passed the threshold.

Baffling, isn’t it? I think I understood about 2%.

I suspect the vast majority of Italy’s voters find the system baffling too.

At first glance, the system Italy uses to create governments appears to be extremely democratic, in a proportionally representative kind of way – except that it more or less guarantees Italy always ends up with exceptionally weak governments, which, aside from the Berlusconi episode, does seem to be the case.

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Italy’s eternally weak governments never manage to achieve much because as soon as they do something which does not please enough people, they crumble. As a consequence, nothing changes, ever.

Out of curiosity I emailed Hanretty to ask him a couple of questions which were:

  • Why does Italy have such a complex electoral system? Hanretty’s take on this is here: Why does Italy have this electoral system?
  • I also asked if Italy’s system was odd compared to others, and Hanretty replied that: “It’s odder than most; only the Greek system runs it close”.

Isn’t Greece in one heck of a mess?!

Perhaps their odd electoral systems have contributed to the unhealthy economic state of both nations.

For those who really want to understand why Italy’s current electoral system came about, the academic paper Hanretty refers in his most recent article is definitely worth reading too. To save you clicking, it’s here: Partisan self-interest and electoral reform: The new Italian electoral law of 2005

So Democratic, It’s Not

Italy’s electoral system is an attempt to please all of the people, all of the time, except in reality, the opposite is true and most everybody ends up distinctly unhappy. Perhaps some kind of social cost benefit analysis of the Italian electoral system needs to be carried out?

The Link for the Brave

Well, I expect you are now dying to read Hanretty’s text, so here it is: How the Italian electoral system works – only click if you are 100% lucid, or have an exceptionally high IQ, otherwise, forget it!

Oh, by the way, Italy’s electoral system is due for reform, only the present system will be employed to create the government which is supposed to reform it. You do not have to be Einstein to realise that this does not bode too well.

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