Can Matteo Renzi Fix Italian Politics?

2014. március 26. 19:49

A similar situation can be found in Hungary, where firebrand Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is set to run for re-election on April 6 under a new electoral law that has much in common with Renzi's reform.

„Many have blamed Italy's complicated, conflict-prone electoral system as the reason behind its inglorious status as the sole European economy whose per capita gross income has actually fallen since 1999. Its recent history has been marred by an unending political feud between parties that, having failed to obtain steady majorities, have resorted to horse-trading and corruption to gain support.

The new system aims to create more stable governments with higher majorities and with fewer political parties. To this end, the law provides for an electoral prize that is handed out to the party (or coalition) that obtains at least 37 percent of votes in the lower chamber of Parliament. Some critics have argued that this arbitrary figure seems tailor-made for Renzi's coalition government, polls giving it roughly the same percentage among voters.

Nevertheless, if no party reaches this threshold, the two most voted parties would then go to a run-off. While Italians will still cast their ballots for a list of candidates proposed by parties, the new law demands an equal number of male and female candidates in order to encourage political participation.

Furthermore, the threshold for entry into Parliament has been raised to an astonishing 8 percent of the vote, striking a blow to one of the most resilient Italian fringe parties, the Northern League, which now stands a slim chance of gaining access to Parliament. The reform also cuts the number of deputies and paves the way for abolishing the Senate, replacing it with representatives of Italy's regions.

Renzi's reform seems to be part of a general move in Europe toward electoral systems that seek to create greater majorities at the expense of strict proportionality, which are increasingly seen as counterproductive.

A similar situation can be found in Hungary, where firebrand Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is set to run for re-election on April 6 under a new electoral law that has much in common with Renzi's reform. Like in Italy, the constitutional court declared the previous system unconstitutional in 2005. The incumbent government addressed this problem with the aim of simplifying the former system and creating healthier majorities.

To this end, the winning party gains an electoral bonus, while political competition is encouraged by easing the access of individual candidates to participate in elections. The system is kept in check by raising the electoral threshold. The reform has widespread implications: MPs are not allowed to hold other positions while in office, companies and NGOs are not allowed to finance the political campaign and parties are ensured equal airtime on both public and private broadcasters.

In many ways, the two reforms seek to improve the way leaders are elected and allowed to rule. Unlike Renzi, Orbán doesn't enjoy the same favorable international image, as his electoral law came under heavy scrutiny over accusations of autocratic behavior. With polls crediting his Fidesz party with 50 percent of votes, this is clearly not the case. The goal of the reform is simply to create steady majorities by leveling the playing field and increasing access for newcomers.”
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