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|The majority does not work for Italy|
La Stampa - September 14th 2010
It has been flattering to us British that so often during the Italian debate about politics and the electoral law, our system has been praised. It was even flattering this year, in May, when so many Italian commentators expressed worry about how our “first-past-the-post” majoritarian system had failed to produce a strong government for the first time in 36 years, and had forced the formation of a coalition government for the first time since 1945. Yet, flattering though the attention has been, in my view it is mistaken. A majoritarian system has worked well for
For the past year, I have been touring
The present crumbling of the Berlusconi government is the latest evidence. Some will say that the conflict inside the centre-right coalition is personal, a conflict based on support for, or opposition to, Silvio Berlusconi himself, so that structural or fundamental conclusions should not be drawn from it. But that is a sufficient explanation. The deeper reality, surely, is that the coalition formed in 2008 was artificial. So was the coalition of 2001-06, even though it lasted longer. These have been coalitions of incompatibles, of southerners and the Lega Nord, of liberal reformers and conservatives, of fiscal profligates and of proponents of austerity.
It is the same on the left. Does the Partito Democratico really exist as a party? Why are the liveliest and most active forces on the left outside the PD, such as Nichi Vendola’s Sinistra Ecologia Liberta or Antonio di Pietro’s Italia dei Valori? Why is the party riven with factions? You can say, accurately, that all great parties are gatherings of differing tendencies, such as the Democratic Party in
The hope for alternation, for competing potential governments, was an understandable one after Tangentopoli and the collapse of the
The list of reforms that seems to be on everyone’s agenda includes justice, education, labour, federalism, constitutional change, and more. All these reforms need a broad consensus if they are to have a chance of being carried out. All need a basic acceptance by the principal political parties that their opponents have a legitimate right to be in government. Yet neither that consensus nor that acceptance is present, as long as the current majoritarian, hyper-partisan system continues in place.
For that reason, in my book I propose that the majority premium be abandoned and that the electoral law be reformed to a system that discourages tiny parties but that nevertheless recognises the diversity and diffusion of political interests and identity. A system like that used in Ireland, which avoids party lists by having direct voting for candidates in multi-member constituencies, chosen by a “single transferable vote” under which candidates are ranked according to preference, with a threshold of 5% for a party to gain seats: that is the sort of system that seems to me likely to match Italy’s basic characteristics, and to produce governments capable of reform.
No electoral system is foolproof. But any system needs to channel a country’s politics, not seek to subvert or transform it.