Italian electoral law of 2015

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Palazzo Montecitorio, seat of the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Republic, one of the two branches of the Parliament.

The Italian electoral law of 2015, better known as Italicum,[1] a name given to it in 2014 by the Democratic Party secretary and subsequently head of government Matteo Renzi, who was its main proponent (until the end of January 2015 with the support of Forza Italia's leader Silvio Berlusconi) provides for a two-round system based on party-list proportional representation (the former being ruled out as unconstitutional),[2] corrected by a majority bonus and a 3% election threshold. Candidates run for election in 100 multi-member constituencies with open lists, except for a single candidate chosen by each party who is the first to be elected.

The law, which came into force on 1 July 2016, regulates the election of the Chamber of Deputies, replacing the previous electoral law of 2005, modified by the Constitutional Court in December 2013 after judging it partly unconstitutional.[3]

The law was written under the assumption that, by the time it came into force, the upper house would have become an indirectly-elected body representing regions, with greatly reduced powers, thus making a reform of its electoral system unnecessary. The upper-house reform, rejected in the 4 December 2016 Constitutional Referendum, was originally assumed to be adopted without a Referendum by 1 July 2016.

It is the first electoral law, which even if it was approved by the Italian Parliament, has never been used in a general election.


The electoral law passed by the centre-right government in 2005, immediately received widespread criticism: among other things, critics called into question the use of long closed lists of candidates (which gave party executives great power in deciding the composition of the Parliament), and the regional mechanism of allocation of seats in the Senate (which made the existence of a "clear winner" of the elections less likely).

After two unsuccessful attempts at repealing the law by referendum, in the 2013 general election the law failed to produce a majority in the Senate: as a consequence, the only way to form a government was by means of a grand coalition between left wing and right wing parties that had harshly fought each other in the election. The resulting Letta Cabinet was perceived by many people as the second "unelected government" in a row (after the Monti Cabinet).

While the coalition agreed that a new electoral law was needed, it failed to agree on a specific model. The Democratic Party executive and prime minister Enrico Letta even went as far as requesting that his party vote against a parliamentary initiative by fellow democrat Roberto Giachetti to restore the previous Mattarella law. This was probably done out of concern that the grand coalition supporting his government would not hold.

On 4 December 2013, the Constitutional Court judged the electoral law of 2005 partly unconstitutional: in particular, its unlimited majority bonus was repealed. This made an electoral reform ever more urgent, since proportional representation without majoritarian correction is thought to be incompatible with the competitive party system of Italy.

A few days after, on 8 December 2013, Matteo Renzi became the new leader of the Democratic Party. In his victory speech, he vowed to change the electoral law against the risk of "stabilized grand coalitions". Renzi's initiative ultimately led to him taking the place of Letta as the prime minister. Finally, Renzi made a deal with Silvio Berlusconi for a set of institutional reforms, including a new majority-assuring law based on a two-round system, conceived to make the event of a forced Grand Coalition impossible.

The bill still faced harsh opposition, even by members of the proposing parties: however it was approved by the Chamber of Deputies on 12 March 2014 and, in an amended form, by the Senate on 27 January 2015 with the support of a large majority.

After the election of Sergio Mattarella as the new President of Italy on 31 January 2015, Berlusconi withdrew his support to the bill. In order for it to receive its final approval by the Chamber of Deputies, the government decided to link it to a confidence vote (hinting at a snap election in case of a negative outcome). The bill was finally approved on 4 May 2015 and signed by President Mattarella two days later.

Main characteristics and operation[edit]

The Italicum system regulates the attribution of 617 of the 630 seats of the Chamber of Deputies, excluding 12 seats attributed to representatives of Italians living abroad, and one seat for the Aosta Valley region. An uncommon feature of this system is that it is majority assuring, thanks to a jackpot that is assigned to the winning party, possibly after a second electoral round.

The territory of Italy is divided into 100 constituencies electing between 3 and 9 deputies depending on their size. For each constituency, the parties designate a list of candidates: "head of list" candidates can run in up to 10 constituencies, while other candidates are limited to a single constituency. Gender balance is promoted by requiring that, in each region, head of lists of either sex for the same party should not exceed 60% of the total; additionally, candidates in all lists must be in a sequence alternating by gender.

At the first round, electors receive a ballot allowing them to vote for a single party and for its head of list candidate (pre-printed on the ballot), and are given the option to express up to two additional preference votes for other candidates of that party, by writing their name next to the party symbol. If two preference votes are expressed, they must be of a different sex: otherwise, the second preference is discarded.

Only parties passing a 3% minimum threshold in the first round are assigned seats. If the party receiving the plurality of the votes passes a 40% threshold, it is attributed a minimum of 340 seats (54%). The remaining seats are allocated to the other parties in a proportional fashion, and no second round takes place.

If no party has been able to pass the 40% threshold, a second round takes place two weeks after the first one: this time electors receive a ballot where they are allowed to choose between the two parties that received most votes in the first round. The party winning the second round is attributed 340 seats, and the remaining 277 seats are allocated to the other parties in a proportional fashion, according to the results of the first round.

The proportional allocation of seats follows the largest remainder method. Each party receives a certain number of seats depending on its national result: these seats are then projected onto the 100 constituencies and attributed to the candidates of that constituency, starting from the head of list and then according to the number of preference votes.

An amendment, known as "Erasmus amendment", makes sure Italians studying abroad in the Erasmus programme can vote.


Several events have contributed to the development of the electoral law into the current system:

  • The collapse of the consociative party system that dominated Italian politics between 1946 and 1993, which was replaced by a new (sometimes harshly) competitive system, making pure party-list proportional representation undesirable and arguably demanding a strong majoritarian correction
  • The mediocre performance of electoral coalitions from 1994 to 2013: the two electoral laws of this period (based first on an additional member system, then on a majority bonus for the winning coalition) gave origin to electoral coalitions which were subject to dissolution once in power
  • The presence, in the Renzi Cabinet, of small centrist parties, with a uniform distribution on the national territory, which were understandably hostile to solutions based on single-member constituencies, like a first-past-the-post system
  • The good performance of the system used to elect Italian mayors and city councils which, like the Italicum, assures a majority and employs a runoff election (but unlike the Italicum gives the majority bonus to an electoral coalition and not to a single party).


Roberto D'Alimonte (LUISS), who was the main scholar proposing the new system, said that "the Italicum is a good instrument that represents a point of satisfactory equilibrium between governability and representativeness. However [...] good government [...] depends mostly on the men and women who use it".[4] He also made a comparison with the 2015 United Kingdom general election, stating that "the Italicum's advantage is indeed that the winner will be assigned 340 seats and the losers will have to divide the remaining 278 seats.... The point is that the Italicum is a majority-assuring system, such that it ensures that there will be an undisputed winner, but unlike the British system, it is not a winner-takes-all system. In fact, the winner does not take the entire pot, but only 54 percent".[5]

Former president of Italy Giorgio Napolitano, who was a key player in pushing Italian parties into reforming the electoral system, remarked that "this law certainly hasn't been written in a month, it took more than one year, there have been many discussions, there has been a committee of scholars who opened the way, therefore I believe this has been an important accomplishment".[6]

Among the politicians critical of the reform, former prime minister Enrico Letta judged the Italicum "a close relative to the Porcellum" and voted against its adoption.[7]

Likewise, scholars have been divided on the electoral reform. Augusto Barbera (emeritus professor at the University of Bologna and one of the most prominent experts of Italian constitutional law) was unhappy with the possibility for a candidate to run in more than one constituency and with the low 3% election threshold but otherwise praised the law. He said that the system does not introduce presidentialism but strengthens the powers of the prime minister, which is "the characteristic of all functioning parliamentary systems (United Kingdom, German chancellorship, Spanish premiership)".[8]

According to Stefano Ceccanti (Sapienza University of Rome), the law is "definitely a good one, it would have been difficult for this fragmented, troublesome Parliament... to do any better".[9]

Tommaso Frosini (Suor Orsola Benincasa University of Naples) stated that "it is to the lawmaker's credit to have been able to make a synthesis of the two principles" of governability and proportionality.[10]

According to Pasquale Pasquino (New York University), the Italicum "should be preferred over pure majoritarian systems" in which "the electoral law decimates not only small parties, but even parties going close to a 20% of the people's votes".[11]

Among critics, Gianfranco Pasquino (University of Bologna) wrote that "the Italicum is a bad reform with a single merit: the runoff giving real power to electors. As for the rest, the party bonus is wrong, as well as multiple candidatures and the low threshold for the access to the Parliament".[12]

Constitutional law expert Michele Ainis (Roma Tre University) was also critical of the reform. According to him, "the Italicum determines a direct election of the prime minister, giving him a turnkey majority", introducing a constitutional reform by means of an ordinary law.[13]

Among the foreign press, the Spanish newspaper El País commented that "the important thing is that the law approved by the Chamber of Deputies obtains stability and governablity, nevertheless respecting the decision coming from the polls as much as possible"[14]

Moshe Arens, writing for Haaretz (the main left-wing journal in Israel), has suggested to use the Italicum to regulate the election of the Knesset.[15]

Constitutional review[edit]

On February 24, 2016 a court in Messina sent the election law for review to the Constitutional Court: declaring admissible the application[16] by petitioners,[17] the judges called for the Constitutional Court to decide whether eight out of the petitioners' 13 claims that the Italicum breached the Italian Constitution. The Constitutional Court might still decide that the unconstitutionality hypothesis is not founded, and even refuse to examine it. The court's decision is not expecting until after 2017 January.[18]

A constitutional reform bill passed by the Italian Parliament in April 2016, which is still awaiting popular confirmation by referendum, will require the Constitutional Court to decide on the consititutional legitimacy of the electoral law even if the aforementioned application is rejected. This extraordinary procedure will only take place if the referendum confirms the bill.


  1. ^ ‹See Tfd›(in Italian) LEGGE 6 maggio 2015, n. 52.
  2. ^ "Italicum run-off KO'd, bonus OK'd". ANSA English.
  3. ^ ‹See Tfd›(in Italian) [1] Riforma elettorale
  4. ^ The Long Road to a Majority System
  5. ^ The English Lesson
  6. ^ ‹See Tfd›(in Italian)
  7. ^ ‹See Tfd›(in Italian) Letta: Italicum parente del Porcellum, domani voto no. Cuperlo: noi contrari, ma no agguati
  8. ^ ‹See Tfd›(in Italian)
  9. ^ ‹See Tfd›(in Italian)
  10. ^ ‹See Tfd›(in Italian)
  11. ^ ‹See Tfd›(in Italian)
  12. ^ ‹See Tfd›(in Italian) Quel premier debordante
  13. ^ ‹See Tfd›(in Italian) Le regole come atto di fede
  14. ^ ‹See Tfd›(in Spanish) Renzi arriesga y gana
  15. ^ Israel's formula for a stable government lies in Italy
  16. ^ To save the Italicum from the application that hangs over its head, it would have been enough to pass an amendment to Article 66 of the Constitution, thereby eliminating the electoral esclusive cognisaince of the elected House, which is unknown in other countries : Buonomo, Giampiero (2015). "Legge elettorale: l'Italicum e la Corte". Mondoperaio edizione online.  – via Questia (subscription required)
  17. ^ They objected to the law mainly on the grounds that it awards an unfairly large bonus to the winner and does not sufficiently enable voters to pick their MPs:
  18. ^ "Constitutional Court postpones judgment on new electoral law after referendum a done deal". Constitutional Court postpones judgment on new electoral law after referendum a done deal. Retrieved 29 December 2016.

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