Renzi's new electoral law: five impacts on Italy's stateless nations

Winning list in the parliamentary election will always be granted the absolute majority · Italy-wide major parties likely to benefit from change · Aosta Valley, Trentino-South Tyrol are excluded from new system of seat allocation, their parties are likely to retain place in Parliament · Friulian, Sardinian lists need to overcome 20% threshold in their territories

The Chamberof Deputiesof theItalian Parliamentyesterday approveda newelectoral lawthatPrime MinisterMatteo Renzi argues will ensurestabilityof futuregovernments.The law -nicknamed Italicum-was supported by Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party, centristCivicChoice, and pro-autonomySouth TyroleanPeople's Party. Main opposition partiesForzaItalia,Northern League,Movement5Stars and LeftEcologyFreedomboycottedthe vote, as they consider tthe new lawto beundemocratic.

An absolute majority will be always granted. According to Italicum, a winning list obtaining more than 40% of the votes will automatically be granted an absolute majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies: 340 out of a total 630. In the event that no list obtains more than 40% of the votes, a second round will be held between the two with the most votes. The second-round winner will then be granted 340 MPs, so in one case or the other the winner will always enjoy an absolute majority. Predictably, the new law will further strengthen the power of Italy's major parties. The lists can be made up by one single party or by several ones.

Minor influence by the parties of stateless nations. Faced with this new reality, MPs beloning to parties of stateless nations seeking to influence Italian institutions could adopt two different strategies. On the one hand, they can try to reach post-election agreements with the winning list, even though they know their votes will not be decisive, their bargaining power not very significant. On the other, the parties of stateless nations can reach pre-election agreements with major Italian parties in order to form a single list to run elections together, seeking to grant themselves winning places within the lists.

The 3% threshold. In order to be allocated seats, lists will need to overcome a 3% threshold of the total votes Italy-wide. The results will then be projected onto 100 sub-constituencies in which Italy will be divided -their distribution is expected to be decided in summer- so that the seats are porportionally allocated between the lists -except for the winning list's 340 seats, as already explained. Such a threshold means that smaller parties with an Italian-wide constituency can easily expect to be winning seats, whereas the parties of stateless nations or regions will find it all but impossible to enter Parliament on their own.

Exceptions in Aosta Valley and Trentino-South Tyrol. Both Alpine autonomous territories have been excluded from the Italicum general rules. As has been the case until now, the Aosta Valley will be allocated one seat. The party with the most votes will win it -as of now, pro-autonomy Valdotanian Union could secure the seat. Meanwhile, the Trentino-South Tyrol autonomous region will be divided into eight first-past-the-post constituencies. The system is likely to benefit the South Tyrolean People's Party (SVP), which has always been the strongest party in South Tyrol. Other South Tyrolean parties have criticized the rule, as they find it makes it very difficult for them to win a seat.

20% of the votes needed for Friulian, Sardinian parties. The Italicum law includes another safeguard for lists "representing recognized linguistic minorities" which are found in territories with special autonomy, that is Sardinia and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The law says those lists can be allocated seats even if they do not reach the 3% Italy-wide threshold if they overcome a different threshold of 20% of the votes "in the same region." But Friulian and Sardinian hardly ever reach that threshold. Only in the elections to the Assembly of Sardinia, Sardinian parties place themselves close to the 20% figure. In order to be allocated seats, the Italicum law de facto forces the myriad of Sardinian parties to unite into one single list, which is unlikely to happen in the short and medium term. Friulian parties even face an extra hurdle, since Friuli makes up one single autonomous region together with Trieste, where those parties are very unlikely to receive a significant share of votes.

(Image: Matteo Renzi / Photo by SPÖ.)