In an immediately applicable verdict, Italy's constitutional court has upheld the concept of a winner's bonus but rejected a rule calling for a run-off. The ruling could pave the way for new elections.
Italy's top court had been asked to review Italy's complicated rules deciding how to fill the lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies. It supported a law that provides an automatic majority, 55 percent of seats, to any party that manages to win 40 percent of the vote. However, it rejected the second-round run-off that typically takes place between the two strongest parties if no group clears the 40-percent hurdle. Now, the court ruled, seats should be appointed on a proportional basis if all the parties are below 40 percent.
The ruling opens the way to early elections, before the legislature is due to expire on February 2018, as the judges said that their verdict would be immediately applicable. It also makes it much less likely for any party to claim a majority in the chamber, increasing the probability of coalition governments.
The leader of the ruling Democratic Party (PD) in the lower house, Ettore Rosato, said his party still favored a new voting system, but if no "immediate" consensus on this could be found in parliament then fresh elections should be held without delay. The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and most other opposition groups have called for a vote to be held this year, using a system in line with the court's recommendations.
According to the Termometro Politico (Political Thermometer) website, the ruling center-left Democratic Party (PD) currently has 30.3 percent support among voters followed by the populist, euroskeptic Five Star Movement (M5S) at 27.7 percent, the far-right Northern League at 13.1 percent, and Silvio Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia (FI) at 12.7 per cent.
The "Italicum" reforms applied to the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies but not to the 315-member Senate, which was supposed to be scrapped under reforms proposed by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. But a rejection of the reforms in the December 4 referendum prompted Renzi to resign.
President Sergio Mattarella, who has the power to dissolve parliament, has said the systems for the lower and upper houses must be harmonized before the next election.
"Italicum" or the Italian Electoral law of 2015, officially Law 6 May 2015, no. 52,, provides for a two-round system of voting based on party-list proportional representation. It is corrected by a majority bonus and a 3 per cent election threshold in 100 multi-member constituencies with open lists. The law came into force in July last year and regulates the lower-house, the Chamber of Deputies.
The reform of the upper-house Senate was rejected in the December referendum. The plan had been to reduce the number of senators from 315 to 100, and they would no longer have been directly elected.
Both chambers voted in favor of the the changes last year, but the measures did not reach the required two-thirds majority to force the legislation through, resulting in the December referendum in which the reforms were rejected.
jm/msh (Reuters, AFP)