Listening to Italy
FIXING NEW VOTING SYSTEMS
Several issues currently fuel passions within the Italian political scene. Matteo Renzi (Secretary of the Partito Democratico, Pd) is being accused of using problems in the banking sector, and Bankitalia particularly, to his political advantage. There has also been very thick, injurious smog in Turin and Milan that resonate with concerns about pollution in London. Meanwhile two significant electoral issues are unfolding.
The first is the development, approval and implementation of a new electoral system. The previous one, declared unconstitutional, needs to be changed before the general election is due in early summer 2018. Time is very short. There is also an interesting technical point. As the current government was elected by this illegal system, the legitimacy of its decision-making could be questioned.
The second imperative, of enormous concern to the main, traditional parties was, and is, the rise to similar levels of popularity of Beppe Grillo’s M5S. (Movimento Cinque Stelle, Five Star Movement). The parties needed to devise something that would stop M5S being able to enter parliament in sufficient numbers to form a government. The political left and right, usually enemies, coordinated to do this.
Italian governments have been relatively stable in recent times. But from 1946 to 1993 they lasted an average of nine months. The proportional representational system of that time gave small parties a great deal of power. It also took away the connection for the voters between their votes and those who actually entered parliament. The system became very corrupt and extremely unsatisfactory for a country in the democratic West.
New systems, one given a disrespectful nickname, was introduced to rectify this. The Mattarellum lasted from 1993 – 2005 and was devised by the current President, Sergio Mattarella. The legge-Calderoli followed and came to be known as Porcellum. It was referred to as una porcata: crap, a dirty trick. Not good. This was followed by Italicum, which is now being superseded by Rosatellum, named after its progenitor Ettore Rosato. This passed into law after a parliamentary vote on 26 October. It is likely that elections will be held in the Spring.
The traditional parties have successfully devised a system that favours themselves. Naturally this produced loud protests from M5S, but it was carried in a majority secret vote in the Lower House. Very simply, the new structure will fill 36% of seats by first past the post and the remaining seats by proportional representation.
The second electoral development, particularly relevant with the current example of Catalonian independence, was the referendum on political autonomy in two Italian regions: Liguria and The Veneto. This took place on 22 October.
There was a vote in favour of autonomy but the results themselves were advisory (as was the Brexit referendum) and so are not binding on central government. Five existing regions already have a measure of autonomy. They are: Friuli-Venezia Giulia; Sardinia; Sicily; Trentino – Alto Adige/Süd Tirol; Valle d’Aosta. Although change is not automatic or immediate it strengthens the positions of the Presidents in future negotiations with central government. The two jubilant Presidents: Roberto Maroni of Liguria and Luca Zaia of The Veneto both run right-wing Lega Nord administrations. Both realise that fiscal autonomy is not one of the 23 negotiable areas allowable under the constitution.
The second interesting point is that Lombardy trailed electronic voting for these elections. choosing a Venezuelan company. President Roberto Maroni could be seen on video demonstrating the clear, simple voting process. You pushed a rectangle for NO, SI or SCHEDA BIANCA that is: NO, YES or BLANK VOTE. Wow! It looked very easy.
Unfortunately, said the press, there was a “flop del voto elettronico”. A splendid idea but there were technical difficulties. The final results did not come as quickly as anticipated and Maroni was repeatedly forced to postpone the press conference. Then hackers, and these seem to be a section of the public now able to have an opinion, said that the system was easy to destabilise. There was a reference in La Repubblica saying Norway had abandoned electronic voting. M5S members vote electronically on their internal issues and they have also been “hacked” on at least two occasions.
The next general election is on its way. The electorate’s choices are likely to be made without enthusiasm for more of the same offered to them. Will there be a descisive vote? Who will be able to coordinate a coalition? Will the eternally scheming Berlusconi still be a player? Will, as La Stampa suggested (13 Oct) he be out of the game and then “biology and age will do the rest”.