[MSS here: Thanks to RAC for the post below, and to all those out there who treated this and the previous post as open thread on these elections. There is a wealth of great information on Peru and Italy in the comments below.]
Italy Update: After some projections showing Berlusconi’s center-right coalition with a narrow lower-house plurality, Prodi and the center-left appear to have captured control of the lower house by an extremely narrow plurality. Under the new electoral system (on which, see Federico Ferrara’s recent comment), this will produce a 340 seats — 55% — for the left coalition.
Final results in the two-day election that ended Monday showed Romano Prodi’s center-left coalition winning control in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament, with 49.8 percent of the vote compared to 49.7 percent for Berlusconi’s conservatives. The winning coalition is automatically awarded 55 percent of the seats, or 340 seats, according to a new electoral law.
For a time Monday projections had predicted center-right control of both houses:
[The polling company] Nexus said its projection based on 44 percent of the vote gave Berlusconi’s centre-right alliance a wafer-thin 49.9 percent to 49.6 percent edge over challenger Romano Prodi in the lower house.
Prodi’s alliance was set to win between 50 and 54 percent of the vote in both the lower and upper houses of parliament, giving it a working majority in the two chambers, a poll by the Nexus research institute said.
In various previous attempts to understand the new electoral system that Berlusconi cooked up for this weekend’s Italian election (just click on “Italy” above to see them all in their glory), I have always ended dissatisfied. I could not figure out just what Berlusconi’s “trick” was to divide the left and ensure that he wins even if he loses.
Previous descriptions had indicated that the system was sort of PR, but that the leading bloc of parties would get a guaranteed majority of seats (some sources say 55%, others 60%), and that various thresholds apply for parties in an out of pre-election coalitions. But it was all too confusing.
For starters, it makes sure that the “winning” coalition – even if it fails to win an actual majority – will take home at least 60% of the seats thanks to a majority premium.
…the threshold… will now keep out of parliament any party affiliated with a coalition that received less than 2% of the vote and any unaffiliated party that receives less than 3%.
As of yesterday, opinion polls indicated that the center-left coalition leads the center-right – at the national level – by about 5%. Assuming for a second this will end up being the margin of “victory,” one would expect that the center-left will receive the 60% of the seats promised by the electoral law and will then divide it up among those parties that have won more than 2% of the vote. Right? Wrong… Say that the left wins 51% of the vote against the right’s 46%. The preliminary distribution of seats to each coalition requires that the coalition be stripped of the votes received by those parties that flunked the 2% test. Assume, as it seems likely, that each of four left parties takes 1.5% of the vote, for a total of 6%. Final score: center-right 46% – center-left 45%. Berlusconi wins a legislature-proof, 60% majority…
I recommend the whole post. In fact, I left out all the juicy parts, in order to focus on the electoral system itself.
NOTE: Federico clarifies further beneath this planting (click on “seeds and scions” below if you are reading this from the main page), and Alex has more here.
Thanks to referral provided by the good folks at Make My Vote Count, I have now read the clearest explanation yet of the new Italian electoral system, to be used in the 9-10 April parliamentary election. Unfortunately, that is not saying much.
Under the heading, “Proportional representation explained,” the guide explains that the former mixed-member system has been abolished, describes the new system as “closed list” and outlines the thresholds (4% in the House, 8% in the Senate, with various complexities for lists presented by pre-election coalitions). So far, so good.
But then the kicker: In each house, the “coalition” (which might mean a unified list of several parties, or might mean separate but allied lists, it is not clear) that wins the most votes is guaranteed at least 55% of the seats.
Hmmm, that isn’t PR.
And then, for the Senate, after noting that some regions will continue to have single-seat constituencies, it says:
The new system means that small parties receiving less than two per cent of the overall vote will be unable to secure a seat in parliament, however successful they might be in an individual constituency.
OK, I am just a little bit confused here.
I sure hope this is not the last word on this new electoral system.
(For previous posts in which I try to sort out what this system is, just click on “Italy” above.)
In a post I had missed until being alerted to it in the comments, Paul Davies at Make My Vote Count had answered my question about whether the new electoral system proposed for Italy is really a return to PR or a “majority bonus” system. Both had been reported in various sources. Well, it seems it is indeed both–despite the seeming contradiction:
The scheme maintains the 4% threshold, but parties falling shy of it would be left out of the calculation to decide the winner, instead, the winning side’s tally of seats would be upped to ensure it had an outright majority. This thus discriminates against a coalition made up of a couple of big parties and a bunch of little ones, such as ‘Union’, for example. Bad luck for poor Mr Prodi, whose side are opening up a significant lead in the polls ahead of the next election, which must be held by May next year. In a further stroke of fortune for the Prime Minister, his coalition always tends to do better in the proportional vote, worth about two-points, according to Italian psephologists.
Well, that is one incredibly crafty bit of electoral engineering.
[UPDATE: Thanks to Roman Chytilek, who posted his interpretation of the Italian provisions!]
I continue to be confused by the (confused) media coverage of Berlusconi’s reform. Some stories imply it is essentially straight PR (occasioned by Berlusconi’s realization that he’s going to lose). Others (including the story quoted at MMVC) imply otherwise, referring to various “bonus” provisions for the largest bloc (which makes no sense if the current government fears falling into second place, as recent polls suggest.
My previous puzzlings over just what Berlusconi is up to make up three previous entries in the Italy block.
[UPDATE: Thanks to Roman Chytilek, in the seedbed below, for his interpretation of the actual Italian provisions.]
Reuters reports on a recent poll in advance of the April parliamentary election in Italy that shows the center-left alliance headed by Romano Prodi leading with 52.7% to 40.2% for the alliance headed by incumbent prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Under the current voting system, such a result would provide Prodi with a handsome parliamentary majority, but Berlusconi looks certain to push through an electoral reform that will restrict the winner’s majority to a little over 20 seats.
In other words, this is a pure loss-minimzation strategy, much like the French Socialists decision to adopt PR for the 1986 election (a change that was almost immediately reversed by the conservatives after the election). Berlusconi, like the French Socialists twenty years ago, knows he’s going to lose badly and thus would prefer an electoral system that does not magnify those losses.
Critics say the reform is intended to hobble Prodi’s ability to govern should he take power, given that he heads a disparate coalition that stretches from hardened communists on the left, to market liberalists in the centre.
Again, very similar to the French case. In addition to minimizing losses for the left, then-President FranÃ§ois Mitterrand wanted to cause problems on the right. PR, unlike the two-round majority system France has used in all other elections in the Fifth Republic, was guaranteed to give a bloc of seats to the far right (Le Pen’s National Front).
Playing with fire can be risky, however:
…the pending reform [...] is also creating unexpected problems for Berlusconi himself, heightening competition between parties within his centre-right bloc.
Reuters also makes the obligatory remark that the PR system Italy will adopt will be “complex.” It could hardly be more complex than the current Italian mix of FPTP, partially compensatory PR, and scorporo.
As noted here before, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia are looking to introduce some major changes to Italian political institutions. Some, such as a return to proportional representation (only this time, unlike before 1993, with a threshold of 4%), would take effect in time for general elections due in April. Others, which include some regional devolution and enhancement to the prime minister’s authority, include constitutional amendments that would require a referendum and hence would take effect later.
Currently, three-quarters of the seats in the lower house are decided in uninominal racesâ€”i.e. one candidate is elected out of each electoral districtâ€”while the remaining quarter is filled through proportional representation. The amendment that created the present system was passed in 1993, and has produced the most stable governments in Italyâ€™s post-war history.
A major impetus for the change to the mixed system more than a decade ago was the publicâ€™s disenchantment with habitually ineffectual governments. When Italy first became a republic following World War II in 1946, its constitution stipulated a full proportional representation electoral system. In the 47 years during which the system was in effect, there were 51 changes of government, as no party was ever able to cobble a viable mandate.
When the new mixed-member system was put in place, it was Berlusconi who was the immediate beneficiary, as the majoritarian nature of Italy’s unique and extremely complicated variant of mixed-member rules manufactured a majority for the alliance of parties supporting him. In the 1996 election, the electoral system again facilitated an alternation when Berlusconi’s allies lost to an alliance of the left. And the electoral system once again helped generate alternation in 2001, back to Berlusconi’s alliance. Three alternations in three elections under the new rules.
The majoritarian nature of the current system is clearly demonstrated by the fact that Berlusconi’s House of Liberty alliance won almost three fifths of the lower-house seats in 2001, on less than a majority of the votes (around 45% of votes cast for candidates in the FPTP races and about 48% cast for party lists associated with Berlusconi).
Given Italy’s history before 1993 of elections with such party fragmentation that electoral mandates and alternation were never feasible–instead post-election and inter-election bargaining determined the making and breaking of governments–a system that facilitated two blocs in the electorate was a salutary development for Italy.
However, Berlusconi has had a bit of a change of heart. From Angus Reid again:
The Union of Christian and Centre-Democrats (UDC), a faction in Berlusconiâ€™s right-wing governing coalition, were actually the first to suggest reverting to a full proportional representation electoral system. [...] Reports suggests that it was only after a meeting with market researchersâ€”who tested numerous statistical models and concluded that a proportional representation system is the governing coalitionâ€™s sole chance at a majority government in the next electionâ€”that Berlusconi became an advocate for the change.
Now, I have to say that last sentence contains a key logical flaw. The current system manufactures majorities for the largest alliance in the electorate, even if it is just a plurality of votes. So how could PR provide Berlusconi with a majority that the mixed-member majoritarian system would not? Clearly there is more here than meets the eyes of Angus Reid.
I suspect they mean plurality, not majority. That is, because the right is fairly unified and the left is currently anything but, PR will render Berlusconi’s alliance the largest in parliament, thus able to cobble together a coalition after the elections. [Note, this was written before it was clear to me that the new system put in place for the 2006 elections was not, in fact, PR. See some of the more recent posts in the Italy subdomain (click on the country name at the top of this post, which will take you to the most recent posts, and then scroll down).]
The current [i.e. 1994-2001] system, on the other hand, could produce a left-wing government. Why? Because it allows multiple parties to coordinate on single-member distirct nominations without having to present a common proportional list. That this is indeed the motivation is hinted at by this report about one leftist leader’s reaction, from Agenzia Giornalistica Italia [my emphasis]:
(AGI) – Rome, Italy, Nov 14 – DS party secretary Piero Fassino today described the centre-right’s approval of the electoral and devolution reform as “a desperate counteroffensive, and a dangerous one at that: their recklessness in nothing new, we knew they’d of anything to keep a hold of power, even changing the electoral system alone, barring any broader consensus with the opposition; with elections months away”. According to Fassino the centre-right coalition “has paved the way to a squalid barter, which would have the constitution reduced to a mere item of trade. [The government coalition] feels the drastic its slump in confidence and credibility and has changed the electoral system in order to avoid losing. The word at their headquarters runs more or less as follows: “if we don’t win, nobody must win. Samson and the Philistines must die together; they are an army on the retreat applying scorched earth”. The current electoral system “isn’t perfect – Fassino stressed – and that’s clear to us too: it doesn’t help to strengthen coalitions and grants parties an excess of power in the process of designating candidates”. However “it does have its positive aspects: its has made bipolar politics possible and has engendered alternation, and the constituency system has made for a more direct link between candidates and the electorate”. The reformed system, according to Fassino, will lead to “lesser cohesion and greater oligarchy, less stability and greater fragmentation, less bipolar politics and greater political ambiguity: that exactly the opposite of what the country needs. [...] We believe there are sound grounds for its unconstitutionality; we have made that point in all areas of governance, foremost in parliament; but that is an issue that warrants being judged” by the Constitutional Court.
As I mentioned, there are other reforms Berlusconi has in mind. A-R again:
This month, Berlusconi also pushed through a substantive constitutional overhaul of the authority of a number of government branches and offices. While some presidential privileges were eliminated, the prime ministerâ€™s power was expanded to include the ability to hire and fire ministers at his exclusive discretion, as well as the prerogative to dissolve parliament. Greater regional autonomy over education, health, and law and order was also granted. Following months of acrimonious debate, senators voted to adopt the motion.
[Note, this was written before it was clear to me that the new system put in place for the 2006 elections was not, in fact, PR. See some of the more recent posts in the Italy subdomain (click on the country name at the top of this post, which will take you to the most recent posts, and then scroll down).]
“Italy” has long been the one-word retort of opponents of proportional representation in the United States and other non-PR democracies. Italy’s long record of frequent cabinet changes in between elections and parliamentary fragmentation amongst multiple antagonistic parties is not in the least typical of PR systems, but did indeed offer a striking example of a political model not to be emulated.
After over a decade of experience with a new electoral system that was far less proportional than the one used from the end of WW II until 1993, there is now a bill before the Italian parliament that would return Italy to a proportional system. At least according to the BBC. Over at European Tribune, there is a quote from a Financial Times article that suggests the “reform” is something else. After first concurring with the BBC by saying the bill would impose “proportional representation for the selection of all parliamentarians,” the quoted portion at Eurotrib adds:
The bill would also allow majority parties to receive “bonus” seats, a mechanism first introduced in Italy in 1923, when Benito Mussolini sought to consolidate his power, and banned after the second world war.
Hmmm, both quoted passages can not be true!
[I cannot get the full article because I do not subscribe to FT.]
A little background here. In 1993, Italy dropped PR in favor of a mixed-member system that is quite majoritarian in its impact. 75% of seats are elected in single-seat districts (SSDs) and the rest from PR listsâ€”in contrast to the near 50:50 split in Germany and New Zealand. Even more importantly, unlike in Germany and New Zealand (which have mixed-member proportional, or MMP, systems), in Italy the natural large-party bonus from the SSDs is retained because the PR seats are allocated in parallel, rather than to compensate parties that are underrepresented in the SSDs (as would be the case under MMP). However, in a further twist, there is a complex mechanism (scorporo) by which a party’s list votes are reduced to account for their success in winning SSDs. The upshot is a system that is much more majoritarian than the MMP systems or the former Italian PR system, but that simultaneously permits many parties to attain representation.
The Italian mixed-member system, with the premium it puts on winning SSDs, encouraged the formation of two large blocs of the center-left and center-right. Each of these blocs contains many separate parties, which continue to be viable due to the party lists and scorporo, but the important feature is that Italian elections now produce clear governing alternatives between the incumbent alliance and a single large opposing alliance. In others words, voters can actually promote alternation in government, and they have done so several times since 1993 (after no voter-mandated alternations previously).
And that is precisely the problem: Berlusconi, the PM and head of the center-right alliance, might actually lose his majority in next year’s election. So, they are changing the rules! Proportional representation (if that is what it is) would minimize their losses, and also exploit tensions within the center-left alliance (which would probably break up under a return to PR). If it is all party lists, and primarily proportional, but with a “governability clause” to maximize the seats for the largest alliance (which would reconcile the different characterizations above) it could give Berlusconi (though not Italian democracy) a “best of both worlds” in the next election: An over-represented right and a fragmented left.
Of course, this is precisely the wrong reason to change an electoral system, but it looks like it will happen. It is reminiscent of a similarly naked political change of the electoral system in France in 1986, when PR was used for one election because the Socialists knew they were about to lose and that the rise of the National Front would be useful for splitting the rightist representation in the National Assembly.
If you read Italian, you can read the opinion of Giovanni Sartori (one of Italy’s and the world’s leading political scientists), who is less than thrilled at Berlusconi’s plan.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4