Italy’s electoral law is unconstitutional, its top court ruled on Wednesday, piling pressure on political parties to reform a system blamed for creating parliamentary deadlock. Most politicians agree, at least in public, that the electoral rules which helped produce a hung parliament after February’s national vote must change to give Italy a chance of forming a stable government. But despite repeated exhortations from business leaders, union chiefs and President Giorgio Napolitano, progress on voting reform has long been blocked by parties worried that a new system could damage their electoral chances. “Now there is no more room for excuses from anyone, we have to move, quickly, to change the law,” said Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, whose breakaway group from Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right is a key part of the fragile ruling coalition. The ruling is not retro-active and therefore does not affect the status or validity of the current parliament, a source close to the constitutional court told Reuters.
With Silvio Berlusconi now out of parliament, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta is under pressure to overhaul a voting law blamed for dragging Italy into political and economic stalemate after the last election. Letta was appointed to lead an unwieldy government of left and right forces after a vote in February this year yielded no clear winner. When he named the 47-year-old centre-left politician, President Giorgio Napolitano gave him the task of overhauling a dysfunctional political and justice system that has stifled Italy’s economic growth for years. Letta’s administration was supposed to repair the system to prevent chronic political instability. The ripple effects of Berlusconi’s legal battles – in particular the lead-up and aftermath of the former premier’s conviction for fraud in August – largely sidetracked the government during its first seven months, however. That disruption has ostensibly subsided after Berlusconi’s ejection from the Senate.
It is the most famous quote in modern Italian literature, because it captures so well the cynicism and conservatism of modern Italian politics. “If we want everything to remain as it is,” says Tancredi in Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard”, “everything needs to change.” For once, Italy’s politicians have turned the saying on its head. On April 20th they arranged for things to stay as they were in order to get them to change. After failing to find agreement to elect a new president, the heads of Italy’s two leading mainstream parties, Pier Luigi Bersani of the Democratic Party (PD) and Silvio Berlusconi of the People of Freedom (PdL) movement, went to the 87-year-old incumbent, Giorgio Napolitano, and begged him to stay on. Unsurprisingly, given his age, Mr Napolitano had discounted a second term. So he was able to make demands: he would agree only if the PD and PdL broke the deadlock that was stopping the formation of a new government.
Italy was stalled in political deadlock on Saturday after a new round of talks failed to move forward toward forming a government, officials said, and news reports said President Giorgio Napolitano was weighing whether to resign to give a new team a chance at breaking the impasse. Such a move would allow Parliament to elect a new president, who would then also have the option of dissolving the body and calling new elections. The president’s office called journalists to the presidential palace around midday on Saturday, when his decision is expected. Mr. Napolitano has been under some pressure from all sides to act quickly as Italy struggles through one of its most difficult economic crises since World War II. “Enough With Games!” ran a banner headline Friday in Il Sole 24 Ore, the country’s main economic newspaper.