Constitutional Court rules on Italicum electoral law

Judges overturn run-off vote, uphold winner’s bonus.

The Constitutional Court has ruled that the run-off vote contemplated under the 2015 Italicum electoral law is illegitimate.

However, in its eagerly awaited decision on 25 January it upheld other parts of the controversial reform concerning only election of the chamber of deputies, the lower house of Italy’s bicameral parliament, including the majority bonus for single lists taking at least 40 per cent of the vote.

Most significantly, the judges also ruled that the law as revised by the court can be applied immediately. This means that parliament does not need to approve a new electoral law in order for voting to take place.

However, already there have been calls from some quarters – including opposition party Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi, the anti-establishment Movimento Cinque Stelle and a minority left-wing faction within the ruling Partito Democratico (PD) – for parliament to harmonise the two systems in a new law before fresh elections are held.

Others, including former prime minister and PD secretary Matteo Renzi and the leader of the right-wing and anti-immigrant Lega Nord Matteo Salvini, would instead seem to be in favour of a snap vote under existing rules, possibly in the spring.

As things now stand, voting for the senate and chamber of deputies would take place under two separate systems, both of which are the result of constitutional court decisions concerning contested electoral laws.

In the senate a system of pure proportional representation with a regional threshold of 8 per cent for single parties or coalitions would apply, after the constitutional court declared much of the Porcellum (pigsty) law introduced under the former Berlusconi government in 2005 to be illegitimate.

The chamber of deputies would instead be elected on the basis of the Italicum law, but without a run-off ballot should no party take more than 40 per cent. In this event, seats would be distributed by proportional representation to all parties taking more than 3 per cent.

The court’s decision had been postponed from last autumn in order not to influence the outcome of the 4 December referendum on a controversial constitutional reform to abolish the senate in favour of a smaller indirectly elected chamber of regional representatives, to which the Italicum electoral law was closely linked.

As it turned out, the Yes campaign suffered an overwhelming defeat in the referendum, leading to Renzi’s resignation and the formation of a new government led by former foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni.

The 25 January constitutional court ruling puts wind in the sails of those parties that were opposed to the creation of a new executive without fresh polls, with more political manoeuvring and turbulence inevitably in store.