New electoral law in Italy would weaken the populists

The Italian parliament is about to pass a new electoral law. In the last few days, the interim government lead by the social-democratic PD held a confidence vote to enforce new legislation on electoral reform, receiving broad support from right-wing opposition parties. All that is needed now to pass the proposed legislation is one final secret vote of confidence in the upper house and subsequent approval in the senate. The overwhelming majority of the supporting parliamentary parties in both houses of parliament is very likely to guarantee success. The reform contains the following crucial points: A good third of the representatives is elected directly by a majority ballot, while the remaining representatives are determined by proportional representation via party lists. Various parliamentary parties might still unite ahead of the election to form a majority party alliance and put forward a joint candidate for the majority election.

The new electoral law encourages the parties to join forces, as an alliance offers much better prospects for winning a direct mandate. Having rejected any alliances to date, especially with established parties, the left-wing popular M5S party in particular is likely to lose out. The party itself has voiced its concerns that it will lose 50 seats in parliament. Even if the electoral reform is expected to weaken populist forces, an improvement in the government and therefore in Italy’s ability to reform is still not expected. The multi-party coalitions that are being encouraged will no doubt call for a great willingness to compromise among the parliamentary parties. This is likely to curb the bold approach to tackling the country’s structural problems also in future. There is at least a theoretical possibility that by adopting the new electoral law, snap elections could be held in January/February instead of on a regular date in May. It would then be up to president Mattarella to pave the way for an early election.

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