Politics of Italy

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Template:Politics of Italy Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2, 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum (see birth of the Italian Republic). The constitution was promulgated on January 1, 1948.

The Italian State has twenty regions and about a hundred provinces.

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Administrative division

Main article: Regions of Italy

The national constitution provides for 20 regions, most of them with limited governing powers. The prefect of each of the provinces is appointed by and responds to the central government, which he locally represents. Provinces also have their own local elections. While the number of regions is somewhat stable (the only modification to the original set is the separation of Molise from Abruzzo), there has been a tendency in later years to create new provinces, such as Crotone, Verbania, Lodi, Biella, Lecco and others.

Five regions (Sicily, Sardinia, Valle d'Aosta, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia) have special charters granting them varying degrees of autonomy. The raisons d'tre of these charters is in most cases the presence of significant linguistic and cultural minorities, but in the case of Sicily it was historically an early attempt by the mafia to create its own independent state in the 1950s. The other 15 regions were in practice established in 1970, even if their ideation had been a much earlier idea. They vote for regional councils.


Main article: Italian Government

The 1948 Constitution established a bicameral parliament, with a lower and an upper chamber (Chamber of Deputies and Senate respectively), a separate judiciary branch, and an executive branch composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet), headed by the president of the council (prime minister). The government depends on confidence from both branches of the parliament, and has in turn the power to make decrees. Decrees have to be confirmed in the parliament, and "decree jam" has been a problem in recent years as governments try to reform the structure of the state using chiefly decrees instead of passing laws directly through the parliament.

Electoral system

Main article: Elections in Italy

The national elections have Additional Member System which is a mixed system of 75% of seats allocated using a single-turn majoritarian method and 25% using a proportional method.

Voters can cast two independent votes for the lower chamber, while the proportional 25% of the upper chamber is collected from the best losers.

The lower chamber has a 4% admittance threshold, while the upper has none; furthermore, an overly complicated mechanism (known as scorporo, a previously unknown word in Italian) to dampen the effect of the majoritarian system was implemented out of fear that the new system might promote a prevalence of one political party over another.

In practice, the system has proven useless, as majoritarian candidates usually declare their formal allegiance to some phony list (decoy list) that will collect no votes (known as liste civetta), and relieves their own party of a reduction in votes in the proportional quota.

National elections are held every five years, but the president of the Republic can call for earlier elections. In fact, no parliament in Italy has ever lasted its full five years, even if by a few days.

The Italian Chamber of Deputies has 630 members, of whom

  • 475 are directly elected
  • 155 are elected by regional proportional representation
  • of whom, twelve will represent Italians residing overseas at the next elections (2006).

The Senate includes 315 elected members, of whom:

  • 232 are directly elected
  • 83 are elected by regional proportional representation
  • six represent Italians residing overseas
  • a small number of senators-for-life include former presidents of the Republic and several other persons appointed for life by a president (no more than 5 for each president), according to special constitutional provisions (scientists, writers, artists, social workers, politicians, tycoons).

See also: Parliament of Italy

The president of the republic is elected by an electoral college consisting of both houses of Parliament and 58 regional representatives for a seven-year term. Its election needs a wide majority that is progressively reduced from two-thirds to one-half plus one of the votes as the ballots progress. The only presidents ever to be elected on the first ballot are Francesco Cossiga and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. Mr. Ciampi is the current incumbent, and his term is due to end in may 2006.

The prime minister is appointed by the president, and along with his government must be confirmed by parliament.


Main article: Elections in Italy

Senate - last held April 2001; Chamber of Deputies - last held April 2001

Election results:

  • Senate - seats by party:
    • Olive Tree + Southern Tyrol People's Party 128,
    • House of Freedom 177,
    • Communist Refoundation 3,
    • Di Pietro List 1,
    • European Democracy 1,
    • Others 4.
  • Chamber of Deputies - seats by party
    • Olive Tree 242,
    • House of Freedom 368,
    • Communist Refoundation 11,
    • Olive Tree + Southern Tyrol People's Party 8,
    • others 1


The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and later statutes.

It is based on a civil law system. Appeals are treated as new trials.

There is only partial judicial review of legislation in the American sense. Judicial review under certain conditions in Constitutional Court.

The Constitutional Court or Corte Costituzionale is composed of 15 judges: one-third appointed by the president, one-third elected by Parliament, one-third elected by the ordinary and administrative supreme courts. The constitutional court passes on the constitutionality of laws, and is a post-World War II innovation. Its powers, volume, and frequency of decisions are not as extensive as those of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Italy has not accepted compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice .

History of the political landscape

campaigners working on posters in Milan, Italy, 2004
campaigners working on posters in Milan, Italy, 2004

There have been frequent government turnovers since 1945. The dominance of the Christian Democratic (Democrazia Cristiana) party during much of the postwar period lent continuity and comparative stability to Italy's political situation, mainly dominated by the attempt of keeping the Partito Comunista Italiano out of power to maintain Cold War equilibrium in the region.

From 1992 to 1997, Italy faced significant challenges as voters (disenchanted with past political paralysis, massive government debt, extensive corruption, and organized crime's considerable influence collectively called Tangentopoli - "bribeville" after being uncovered by Mani pulite - "clean hands") demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms:

In 1993 Italian referenda, voters approved substantial changes, including moving from a proportional to an Additional Member System which is largely dominated by a majoritarian electoral system and the abolishment of some ministries (some of which have however been reintroduced with only partly modified names).

Major political parties, beset by scandal and loss of voter confidence, underwent far-reaching changes. New political forces and new alignments of power emerged in March 1994 national elections. The election saw a major turnover in the new parliament, with 452 out of 630 deputies and 213 out of 315 senators elected for the first time.

The 1994 elections also swept media magnate Silvio Berlusconi (leader of "House of Freedoms" (Casa delle Libert) coalition) into office as Prime Minister. Berlusconi, however, was forced to step down in January 1995 when the Lega Nord withdrew support. The Berlusconi government was succeeded by a technical government (=non-party) headed by Prime Minister Lamberto Dini, which left office in early 1996.

A series of center-left coalitions dominated Italy's political landscape between 1996 and 2001. In April 1996, national elections led to the victory of a center-left coalition, the Olive Tree) under the leadership of Romano Prodi. Prodi's government became the third-longest to stay in power before he narrowly lost a vote of confidence (by three votes) in October 1998.

In May 1999, the Parliament selected Carlo Azeglio Ciampi as the Republic's President. Ciampi, a former Prime Minister and Minister of the Treasury and before the governor of the Bank of Italy, was elected on the first ballot with an easy margin over the required two-thirds votes.

A new government was formed by Democrats of the Left leader and former-communist Massimo D'Alema but in April 2000, following poor performance by his coalition in regional elections, D'Alema resigned.

The succeeding center-left government, including most of the same parties, was headed by Giuliano Amato, who previously served as Prime Minister in 1992-93.

National elections held on May 13, 2001 returned Berlusconi to power at the head of the five-party center-right "Freedom House" coalition, comprising the prime minister's own party, Forza Italia, the National Alliance, the Northern League, the Christian Democratic Center, and the United Christian Democrats.

Political parties

a poster for the European Parliament election 2004 in Italy, showing party lists
a poster for the European Parliament election 2004 in Italy, showing party lists

Italy's dramatic self-renewal transformed the political landscape between 1992 and 1997. Scandal investigations touched thousands of politicians, administrators, and businessmen; the shift from a proportional to an Additional Member System (with the requirement to obtain a minimum of 4% of the national vote to obtain representation) also altered the political landscape.

Party changes were sweeping. The Christian Democratic party dissolved; the Italian People's Party and the Christian Democratic Center emerged. Other major parties, such as the Socialists, saw support plummet. A new liberal movement, Forza Italia, gained wide support among moderate voters. The Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance) broke from the (alleged neo-fascist) Italian Social Movement (MSI). A trend toward two large coalitions (one on the center-left and the other on the center-right) emerged from the April 1995 regional elections. For the 1996 national elections, the center-left parties created the Olive Tree coalition while the center-right united again under the House of Freedoms.

2001 national elections

The May 2001 elections (where the two main parties used decoy lists (liste civetta) to undermine the proportional part of the electoral system) ushered a refashioned center-right coalition dominated by Berlusconi's party, Forza Italia into power. The Olive Tree coalition now sits in the opposition.

This emerging bipolarity represents a major break from the fragmented, multi-party political landscape of the postwar era, although it appears to have reached a plateau, since efforts via referendums to further curtail the influence of small parties were defeated in 1999 and 2000. The constant debate among the components of both coalitions, is however intense, and some observers noted in this dialectical activity some, perhaps inertial, similarities with the previous system.

The largest parties in the Chamber are:

  • Forza Italia (28.8%);
  • Democrats of the Left (22.1%);
  • the National Alliance (16%);
  • the Daisy center-left coalition, which includes elements from Italian Renewal;
  • Democrats and Union of Democrats for Europe (13%);
  • the Whiteflower coalition of two centrist parties (6.4%).

Similar rankings generally apply in the Senate, in which Forza Italia and the Democrats of the Left remain the dominant parties.

Political parties and leaders

Main article: List of political parties in Italy


Country name:
conventional long form: Italian Republic
conventional short form: Italy
local long form: Repubblica Italiana
local short form: Italia
former: Kingdom of Italy

Data code: IT

Government type: republic

Capital: Rome

Independence: 17 March 1861 (Kingdom of Italy proclaimed; Italy was not finally unified until September 20, 1870, conquest of Rome)

National holiday: Anniversary of the Republic, June 2 (1946)

Constitution: 1 January 1948

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal (except in senatorial elections, where minimum age is 25)

Political pressure groups and leaders:

  • Italian manufacturers and merchants associations (Confindustria, Confcommercio);
  • organized farm groups (Confcoltivatori, Confagricoltura);
  • Roman Catholic Church;
  • three major trade union confederations:
    • Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro or CGIL (Guglielmo Epifani) which is left wing,
    • Confederazione Italiana dei Sindacati Lavoratori or CISL (Savino Pezzotta) which is Catholic centrist, and
    • Unione Italiana del Lavoro or UIL (Luigi Angeletti) which is lay centrist.

See also

fr:Politique de l'Italie ja:イタリアの政治 lt:Italijos politinė sistema pt:Poltica da Itlia


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