Italy’s constitution came into force in 1948. It provides that Italy must be a republic with a parliamentary rule, which is based on the principle that the government must have support in parliament in order to govern. The president has relatively great power. All laws must be approved by the president, who can return the laws to the elected officials.
The president has relatively great power. In government formation, the president proposes a candidate as prime minister and, on the recommendation of him, also appoints the members of the government. If, after a government crisis, the parties in Parliament fail to form a new government, the president can dissolve parliament and announce new elections. All new laws must be approved by the President, who can also return laws to Parliament if they are considered to be in violation of the Constitution or if formal errors have been committed.
- Countryaah: Total population and chart of Italy for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024. Also covers population density, birth rate, death rate and population growth rates.
The President is elected every seven years by an electoral college made up of members of parliament and representatives of the country’s regions. The president can be re-elected once.
The members of the legislative parliament are elected for five years in general elections. Parliament consists of a lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, with 630 members and an upper house, the Senate, with 315 elected members. In addition, there are a handful of senators appointed by the president for life. Twelve of the members of the lower house and six of the senators are appointed by Italians abroad. The two chambers operate independently of each other and all laws must be adopted by both chambers. In some cases, the government may introduce laws through decrees.
In the fall of 2019, Parliament decided that the number of MEPs would be sharply reduced. From the 2023 elections, the Chamber of Deputies will have 400 members and the Senate 200.
Parliament may request a referendum if it has not been able to reach a sufficient majority for decisions on constitutional amendments. A referendum can also be held to amend or repeal customary laws, if the request is supported by five regional councils or half a million voters’ signatures.
The limit for voting is 18 years in the House of Representatives elections and 25 years in the Senate elections.
Systems in change
Short for IT by Abbreviationfinder, Italy has a long tradition of unstable governments, which was based on the fact that Parliament was usually divided with many small parties. Several changes to the electoral system have been implemented to eliminate this. Until 1993, the voting system was proportional, that is, the votes were distributed among the parties according to their share of the votes at national level. After a referendum, majority voting was introduced to three-quarters of the seats in both chambers, which meant that voters in each constituency had to cast their vote on one person. Whoever got the most votes won a mandate in parliament.
Prior to the 2006 elections, the proportional system was reinstated, but with a special rule that would make it easier to create stronger governments. Under the new rule, the party or alliance that received the most votes was guaranteed at least 340 seats in the House. In the Senate elections, the system was similar. This system was applied in the 2013 elections, which was won by a left-wing alliance, which thus received the 340 seats.
But the Constitutional Court declared at the end of the same year that the current electoral law violated the Constitution on several points, including that there was no lower limit on how many voting parts a party / alliance needed to win to get the 340 bonus mandate. On the basis of this, Matteo Renzi’s left government pushed through a new electoral law, which meant that a party (not an alliance) had to win 40 percent of the vote in the election to the Chamber of Deputies to get the 340 bonus mandates. However, the law was quickly overplayed when it became clear that the extensive changes in the Senate that the government planned did not materialize. In 2014, the government had submitted a legislative proposal to give the lower house only the legislative power to avoid the legislative process dragging on in time, which is further aggravated if the lower house and upper house are controlled by various political majorities. The proposal was approved by Parliament in 2016 but was voted down in a referendum later that year, which provoked a government crisis (seeModern History).
In order for parliamentary elections to be held, a new common electoral law was needed for both chambers of Parliament. In October 2017, after lengthy negotiations and political maneuvering, a new law was passed, which meant that just over one third of MPs should be elected by majority and about two thirds proportionally. The electoral law shall apply to both parliament’s chambers. The bar for seats in Parliament under the proportional system is 3 percent for one party and 10 percent for partial alliances. The new electoral system was considered by analysts to favor the formation of party coalitions, thus making it easier to form stable governments. In order to be able to win the majority elections, parties with similar ideologies will have to work together in order not to steal votes from one another.
Italy is divided into 20 regions which have largely their own responsibility for tax collection and the right to legislate on most non-national issues. Five regions, Sicily, Sardinia, Trentino-Alto Adige (South Tyrol), Val d’Aosta and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, have historical status with greater autonomy for historical reasons. Each region is governed by a Giunta (usually a coalition of two or more parties) which is responsible to a legislative assembly, the Regional Council, whose members are elected in direct elections.
The regions are divided into just over a hundred provinces and major cities, and just under 8,000 municipalities sort. The country’s provinces have gained less political importance since the modern regions were created, but they are responsible for, for example, local transport, parts of the environmental protection and some education.
Reform is ongoing at the provincial level. Previously, there were 109 provinces. 14 of those covering large cities are being converted into a new administrative unit, cittá metropolitane, (approximately metropolitan area). They will be governed by a mayor who, with his help, has two newly created bodies, called city councils and a city conference.
Italy’s legal system is based on the French civil law code, civil code, which has its roots in ancient Roman law. The system is to a significant extent old-fashioned and legal processes can last for years. The highest court for both criminal and civil cases is the Supreme Court (Corte Suprema di Cassazione). Under this there are a large number of courts of first and second instance as well as appellate courts.
An independent constitutional court has the task of monitoring that the laws that are enacted do not contravene the constitution. The court also takes a stand on charges against the country’s president. The highest authority in administrative matters is the Council of State (Consiglio di Stato).
Italy’s legal system differs from those in other Western countries in that the roles of judges and prosecutors are not separate – a judge can thus go on to become prosecutor and vice versa.
Important political parties
Italy’s party system was fundamentally changed after 1992 when it was revealed that leading politicians had been in contact with the mafia in a major corruption legacy. The two parties that previously dominated Italy’s governments – the Christian Democratic Party and the Socialist Party – were dissolved because of the scandals. The Communist Party, which was the largest opposition party, lost ground and was rebuilt as a result of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe at the same time. In the void that arose, a large number of new parties were born.
Changes to the electoral system made it advantageous for electoral cooperation in alliances and from 1994 two major alliances came to dominate – one with left and middle parties and one with right and middle parties. Alliances have been reformed a number of times over the years.
The Social Democratic Party (Partito Democratico, PD) was founded in 2007 through the merger of two parties in the large Left Alliance Union (L’Unione) in power after the elections in 2006. The party formed in 2013 an alliance with some smaller parties, including the Green Party, Left Ecology and freedom (Sinistra ecologia e libertà), the Socialist Italian Socialist Party (Partito Socialista Italiano) and the Democratic Center (Centro Democratico), who won the election that year and gained a majority in the House of Commons. Since former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi failed to get support for his reform of the political system in the 2016 referendum, a group of influential politicians from PD broke up and formed a new party (Movimento Democratico e Progressista, MDP) that joined the parliamentary elections 2018 three middle-left parties in the Free and Equal Party (Liberi e Uguali, LeU). PD backed strongly in the 2018 election.
The right has for many years been dominated by the financier and politician Silvio Berlusconi. In 1994 he founded the Heja Italia party (Forza Italia) in the vacuum that arose when the Christian Democratic Party collapsed. From the beginning, the party had its political base mainly in the supporters clubs of the Milan AC football team that Berlusconi long owned (the party name is taken from the crowd cheering when the Italian national team plays). Silvio Berlusconi has been prime minister three times – 1994, 2001-2006 and between 2008 and November 2011, when he was forced to resign after several scandals (see Modern History). In 2013, he was convicted of tax offenses. Nevertheless, the populist center-right party is still strongly linked to Berlusconi’s person.
Heja Italy has been the leading force in the various right-wing alliances that succeeded each other since 1994. Heja Italy’s most important partner has been the Northern Italian autonomous movement Lega Nord (Northern League) and the Social Conservative National Alliance (Alleanza Nazionale).
Federation North emerged in the late 1980s as a result of criticism in the north against the large government grants being transferred from northern to southern Italy. The party wants a federal Italy with far-reaching regional autonomy, but in recent years the federal issue has faded. The party is now profiling itself as EU-critical and anti-immigrant in the hope of winning right-wing votes across the country and now calls itself only Lega.
The national alliance emerged in 1995 from the neo-fascist party Italian social movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano) under the same leader, Gianfranco Fini.
Both Heja Italy and the National Alliance were part of the Berlusconiled alliance, the People of Liberty (Popolo della Libertá), who won the election in 2008. The parties dissolved when the alliance was transformed into a political party of the same name just a year later. However, Fini and Berlusconi ended up in conflict and Fini founded a new party, which was dissolved a few years later.
In 2013, the Right went to elections in an alliance led by the people of Liberty with Lega, the Italian brothers (Fratelli d’Italia) and dozens of small parties. The divide within the people of Liberty grew after the election and several party members openly revolted against Berlusconi. In November 2013, the people of Freedom disbanded when Berlusconi re-launched Heja Italy.
However, before the March 2018 parliamentary elections, Berlusconi’s Heja Italy again formed a valiant alliance with Italy’s brothers and Lega. The party alliance received the most votes in the 2018 general election, but more voters chose to vote for Lega than Heja Italy.
New power towards the establishment
Berlusconi lost its leadership role in the opposition after a few years in the split of the party in 2013 and because of the scandals and legal processes. Instead, the protest movement shook the Five Star movement (Movimento 5 Stelle, M5S), founded in 2009 by comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo, emerged as the largest opposition group. The five-star movement does not want to call itself a party and harshly criticizes the establishment, which is linked to frugal politics and corruption. The movement advocates a society without parties where citizens control politics through regular referendums on the internet. The five-star movement has in recent years questioned Italy’s membership of the euro and also wanted a more restrictive immigration policy. The five-star movement was the individual party that received the most votes in the elections in March 2018. In May 2018, the five-star movement agreed with Lega to form a coalition government. However, the collaboration became stormy and short-lived. Already in September 2019, the Five Star Movement formed a new coalition government together with the Democratic Party (seeCurrent policy).