Italy to vote on slashing the number of seats in its parliament

Italy's parliament is set to vote on Tuesday on cutting the number of representatives in the country's upper and lower houses from a whopping 945 to 600.

Italy to vote on slashing the number of seats in its parliament
Italy has the second-highest number of parliamentarians in Europe. Photo: Filippo Monteforte / AFP

Slashing the total number of MPs and senators in Italy by 345 – more than a third – was a flagship manifesto promise of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which is now in power as part of a coalition government, and has promised voters it would tackle political elitism and wasteful spending.

READ ALSO: Here are the main things Italy's prime minister says his government will do

The cut – dubbed the “taglia poltrone” by Italian media – would reduce the number of MPs to 400 and senators to 200 from the next legislature, with an expected saving of some 100 million euros ($110 million) a year.

“It's a well-balanced reform with an excellent profile,” legal expert Guido Neppi Modona told Il Fatto Quotidiano on Monday.

A reduced number of lawmakers will “lead parties to take particular care in choosing candidates,” he said.

Italy's current left-leaning government also hopes the planned constitutional reforms, which also include changes to electoral law, could help keep the populist right from power.

Italy's chamber of deputies in September 2019. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Critics have warned however that the cut could affect popular representation, and increase the influence of lobbyists over governing institutions – all for a minimal saving that will have little effect on debt-laden Italy's book balance.

Italy currently has one of the highest numbers of lawmakers in the EU – some 630 elected representatives in the lower house and 315 in the Senate.

Italy also has the third-highest number of lawmakers in the world, after China, which has nearly 3,000 members of parliament, and the UK, with a total of 1,443 (793 of which are unelected members of the House of Lords, or upper house).

On Monday, the chamber of deputies was almost empty as only 35 MPs turned up for a debate ahead of the vote, the Corriere della Sera reported.

This is Italy's eighth attempt to cut its number lawmakers since 1983, according to the Open news website.

This time it is broadly expected to be successful, with most opposition parties on board – though the head of Italy's far-right League Matteo Salvini warned on Friday that his party may not vote in favour of the cut.

Five Star (M5S) made the cut a condition of its alliance with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), following the collapse of its previous coalition with Salvini's League in August.

Five Star Movement leader and Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio in the chamber of deputies last month. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The PD, long a target of M5S jibes about “establishment” politics, had previously voted against the reduction, but has now agreed to support it in order to clinch a deal to form a government with the M5S.

The party has insisted the cut be followed by a new electoral law, and is pushing for the reintroduction of a proportional representation system

Under the current mix of proportional representation and first-past-the-post, a winning coalition needs more than 40 percent of the vote to have the necessary parliamentary majority.

With full proportional representation, parties or coalitions would need a much bigger majority to form a government.

That would make it more diffcultSalvini to win in future elctions if he chose to run alone or with a small fellow far-right party, and force him instead to turn to former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italy party for help, the weekly L'Espresso said.

Lorenzo Codogno, former chief economist at the Italian Treasury Department, told AFP the pressing need to change the electoral law could serve as glue to hold the coalition government together.
He warned however that “I have a feeling that (the electoral law) won't happen very soon”.

International markets and European investors watching the stability of the new coalition were right “to worry about everything,” he said.

READ ALSO: Four key economic challenges facing Italy's new government

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Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Days after Italy's far-right leader made a multilingual appeal to foreign commentators to take her seriously, her main rival in September elections issued his own tit-for-tat video Saturday condemning her record.

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Former prime minister Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, declared his pro-European credentials in a video in English, French and Spanish, while deriding the euroscepticism of Italy’s right-wing parties.

It echoes the trilingual video published this week by Giorgia Meloni, tipped to take power in the eurozone’s third largest economy next month, in which she sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist roots.

“We will keep fighting to convince Italians to vote for us and not for them, to vote for an Italy that will be in the heart of Europe,” Letta said in English.

His party and Meloni’s are neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of September 25 elections, both with around 23 percent of support.

But Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni is part of an alliance with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini, Letta has struggled to unite a fractured centre-left.

Speaking in French perfected in six years as a dean at Sciences Po university in Paris, Letta emphasised European solidarity, from which Italy is currently benefiting to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($205 billion) in
post-pandemic recovery funds.

“We need a strong Europe, we need a Europe of health, a Europe of solidarity. And we can only do that if there is no nationalism inside European countries,” he said.

He condemned the veto that he said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor “Orban — friends and allies of the Italian right — is using every time he can (to) harm Europe”.

In Spanish, Letta highlighted Meloni’s ties with Spain’s far-right party Vox, at whose rally she spoke earlier this summer, railing at the top of her voice against “LGBT lobbies”, Islamist violence, EU bureaucracy and mass

In English, he condemned the economic legacy of Berlusconi, a three-time premier who left office in 2011 as Italy was on the brink of economic meltdown, but still leads his Forza Italia party.

Letta’s programme includes a focus on green issues — he intends to tour Italy in an electric-powered bus — and young people, but he has made beating Meloni a key plank of his campaign.

Meloni insisted in her video that fascism was in the past, a claim greeted with scepticism given her party still uses the logo of a flame used by the Italian Social Movement set up by supporters of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

In a joint manifesto published this week, Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini committed themselves to the EU but called for changes to its budgetary rules — and raised the prospect of renegotiating the pandemic recovery plan.

Elections were triggered by the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government last month, and are occurring against a backdrop of soaring inflation, a potential winter energy crisis and global uncertainty sparked by
the Ukraine war.