How people elect parliaments
The Italian election has produced the result anticipated by polls, and dreaded by most external observers – a complicated three-way scenario between the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement (5*M) and the battered remains of the establishment centre-right and centre-left wings of Italian politics.
The election result – on a fairly reasonable turnout of 73% (more than some pundits expected) has seen a surge in support for 5*M, and a very poor outcome for the political left.
Nearly a third of voters have gone for the anti-establishment option. The parliamentary situation is now extremely awkward, but that’s where the momentum is in Italian politics now – amounting to a sorry indictment on the traditional political parties.
The centre-right group is divided into the separate – and only partly allied – Lega and Forza Italia parties, as well as two smaller members of their election ballot coalition.
The center-left ballot coalition – which will make up the third largest grouping – consists primarily of the governing Partito Democratico, but also includes three minor left-wing parties.
The new election rules will share out the bulk of the seats in the Camera die Deputadi (Chamber of Deputies) – 386 in total – among all parties that won at least 3% of the national vote share. But small parties which are part of an official ballot coalition will also be eligible if their coalition in total amasses 10% of the national vote.
Last night’s election results will see 10 different national political parties have seats in the Camera.
5*M (32% of the Camera votes) and the small Luberi e Uguale party (3.5%) passed the seat eligibility threshold in their own right.
The four members of the centre-right (‘centrodestra’) electoral coalition all qualify, as their coalition amassed 36.8% of the vote. Lega (17.5%), Forza Italia (14.1%) and Fratelli d’Italia (4.1%) would have qualified in their own right, but the coalition rule also makes Noi Con L’Italia-UDC (1.1%) eligible to receive seats. (Two tiny local allied parties from Trentino and the Aosta Valley will also receive a seat or two.)
In the centre-left (‘centrosinister’) coalition grouping, Partito Democratico (19.0%) helps carry Europa (2.7%), Italia Europa Insieme (0.6%) and Civica Populare (0.5%) across the eligibility line.
On those numbers – which are not final, although the eligibilities are all pretty clear – 5*M will be the largest party with around 124 of the proportional seats. Other proportional estimates are Lega 68, Forza Italia 54, the minor right parties 20, Partitto Democratico 73, the minor left parties 14, and Luberi e Uguale 14.
But to those tallies must be added the wins in the 232 entirely new local single-member district contests. In determining who has the plurality of votes in each district, the right and left ballot coalitions get to pool all their votes in this highly unusual form of ‘first-past-the-post’, with the best-placed coalition member awarded the seat.
While 5*M should pick up most of the plurality wins in southern Italy – where it is strongest – the right coalition should pick up most of the seats in northern Italy. The left will be squeezed into second or third place almost everywhere.
So to guess fairly roughly on the available data, the 5*M should win, say, 95 of the district seats, Lega around 65, Forza around 45, with the Democraticos winning perhaps as few as 25.
Aggregating these numbers for the two parts of the chamber (and throwing in estimates for the final 12 overseas deputies) gives a chamber where 5*M has around 223 deputies. That’s far short of a governing majority of 316 votes, and no realistic different outcome in the single-member districts could possibly lift the party to the chamber majority.
On the right, the estimate of Lega seats is 133, Forza 104, with a further 20 minor right-wing deputies.
On the left, Partito Democratico should end up with around 103 deputies, with 14 other left-wingers. Luberi e Uguale rounds out the left wing with its 14 seats.
These numbers won’t shift by much as counting is completed. The Lega and Forza groups might win even more single-member districts, but it would not radically change the situation.
Nor would any surprisingly better result for Democratico in the single-member districts.
Nor would 5*M’s parliamentary position be much changed with any plausible smaller number of district seat wins.
So the only possible 316-vote new Italian governments are:
Most of the leaders of those parties have already refused to contemplate such alternatives. Needless to say, post-election their declarations might suddenly be revised ‘for the good of the country’.
But any governing majority would also need to also win approval in the upper chamber, the Senato. The Senato electoral system is basically the same as for the Camera, but with the seat numbers halved.
However with voting for the Senato limited to voters aged 25 and over, the numbers there might be slightly more in favour of the right-wing parties, and less for the left and the anti-establishment movements which broadly have more support among the young.
If no governing coalition can meet all those tests, a tolerated minority government might get formed. 5*M (~233 deputies) and the combined centre-right group (~257) might both claim the right to be the first to attempt to keep a minority government going in office.
The Italian president, former constitutional court judge Sergio Matarella, will need to sort this all out. Fortunately, Italian presidents have a lot of prior experience in managing such situations.