“At first sight the results of the Italian elections offer quite an unworkable situation. The logical majority in the Chamber has no majority in the Senate. But this alone happens in more countries: 13 of the 27 EU Member States have a bicameral system and regularly a government has to be formed that has no majority in Parliament”, Omtzigt – who as an econometrist studied electoral systems – explains.
In Italy the problem is more complicated because the Chamber and the Senate have the same democratic weight. In other countries one of the Chambers usually outweighs the other. The Italian Chamber and Senate are elected on the same day by direct vote and yet their outlook is totally different due to a complex electoral system.
Bonus seats to Bersani
In order to create workable majorities and to avoid dependence on small parties, the largest list automatically receives at least 340 of the 630 seats, or 55% in the Chamber. Although the difference between left and right was marginal (less than 0.4%), Bersani got the ‘bonus seats’, while Berlusconi received only 124 seats and Beppe Grillo 108 seats.
How democratic is this? With less than 30% of the votes Bersani gets 55% of the MPs. The remaining 70% (!) of the electorate gets only 45% of the MPs. An MP in the opposition therefore represents no less than three times as many voters as a delegate in the coalition.
Had Berlusconi gone go Südtirol
Berlusconi should ask himself why he never tried to cooperate with the conservative regional party of the German speaking region of Südtirol (SVP), in that case he would have won the Italian elections.
In the Senate the winners ate awarded a premium by region. Berlusconi won his regions with less than 55% and received substantial bonuses. The left got slightly smaller bonuses. As a result Berlusconi received 116 senators and Bersani 113 of the total of 315 senators. Grillo, who didn’t win regions and got only 58 senators. Note that two of the three blocks are needed to form a majority in the Senate, so from that perspective all three groups have equal powers.
Immunity, or not?
What is next? Who will now form the Italian government? Everyone writes about the programme and the collapse of Monti, who rendered himself irrelevant with only 10% of the vote. My prediction? Immunity is key.
In many countries, MPs cannot be prosecuted for things they say in the Parliament. In Italy – the majority of the Senate decides – members of the Chamber can be put in prison, investigated or tapped.
This scheme is intended to protect politicians against the judiciary, but it also attracts people who have something to fear: dozens of MPs, like Berlusconi. Immunity can only be lifted if a majority of the Chamber (for MPs) and the Senate (for senators) supports it.
No criminal record in politics
Beppe Grillo said he wanted no people with a criminal records in politics. Since he was convicted of manslaughter in a traffic accident, Grillo doesn’t feature on his own list. I assume that his list will lift immunity each time a judge asks
So if Berlusconi wants to remain out of the hands of justice, he must strike a deal with the left: tacit support in exchange for not lifting his immunity as an MP. That will be a tough one for Bersani, but it will be this type of deals that Italy and the Euro now depend on.”
Pieter Omtzigt is Member of the Dutch Parliament and Member of the Council of Europe. He taught Economics in Italy during some years and regularly writes columns for ScienceGuide.