Italy’s politics is currently paralysed. Since the resignation of PM Matteo Renzi last December, the majority of the population and most political parties want an election, even though one is not scheduled to occur until next year. The country is now on its fourth consecutive unelected PM, Paolo Gentiloni. As he leads the government Renzi remains behind the scenes, calling the shots for his party and itching to get back into power. Yet an early election cannot occur immediately, nor can electoral reform happen overnight. It is a debate Italians and Canadians are quite familiar with. Italy has seen such proceedings, on and off, for more than two decades. The numerous reforms that have emerged from this debate demonstrate perfectly the various tradeoffs that electoral reform entails, and illustrate the idea that no electoral system is perfect.
Following the war, Italy ran elections using proportional representation (PR), with a very low barrier to entry – any party with 300,000 votes nationwide was entitled to seats, as well as some even smaller parties with regionally concentrated voters. The era was characterized by competition between the pro-West, pro-European, catch-all Christian Democracy party (DC) and the Communist Party of Italy. Every election saw at least six other parties also enter parliament and produced the same outcome: a coalition between Christian Democracy and similar pro-European parties. The former party usually determined the Prime Minister, being the largest in the coalition.
In the 1980s began a tradition of Pentapartito, an all-encompassing grand coalition of Socialists, Social Democrats, Republicans, Christian Democrats, and Liberals – essentially everyone upholding the liberal-democratic, pro-Western order against the Communists and neo-fascists. There was no credible opposition.