Italy’s Election Law Makes Senate Race Tight: Highlights

Italy’s election law will make it difficult for any coalition, including the center-left bloc led by Democratic Party Secretary Pier Luigi Bersani, leading in all opinion polls, to win an outright majority in both houses of parliament.

Under Italy’s “perfect bicameralism” system, majorities are needed in both houses to survive confidence votes and pass legislation.

Timing of elections: national election will be held Feb. 24-25 in conjunction with regional votes in Molise, Lombardy and Lazio.

Voting age: 18 years for the Chamber of Deputies, 25 years for the Senate.

Election eligible age: members of the lower house must be at least 25 years old, senators 40 years old.

Coalitions: -- Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party with ally Northern League and other smaller center-right parties -- Bersani’s Democratic Party with ally Left, Ecology and Liberty and other smaller parties -- caretaker premier Mario Monti’s coalition of centrist parties backing his agenda -- comedian Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement -- former Palermo prosecutor Antonio Ingroia’s Civil Revolution

Election of Chamber of Deputies: the lower house has 630 deputies, the majority is 316. Twelve seats are assigned to electoral districts outside Italy and one to the small region of Aosta Valley. The remaining 617 deputies come from 26 constituencies with a proportional system. -- The party or coalition that wins a relative majority automatically gets 54 percent of seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The thresholds to get seats are 10 percent on a national basis for coalitions, and 2 percent for lists in coalition; 4 percent for unaligned lists and lists in coalitions winning less than 10 percent of votes.

Election of Senate: the upper house has 315 seats, the majority is 158. Getting an outright majority in the Senate is more difficult because the seat premium assigned to the winning coalition is allocated on a regional basis rather than at the national level, meaning the law tends to reward those parties, like the Northern League, that have a strong regional base.

Italian electoral system: passed in 2005, it has been nicknamed the “pigsty” or “porcellum” in Latin because it allows party leaders to hand pick their members of parliament, removing the ability of the electorate to appoint his representatives directly.

Under the rules, lists and coalitions don’t have to indicate a prime ministerial candidate. They must indicate the head of the list or the coalition. The Italian prime minister is appointed by the president of the republic after the elections and is usually the leader party or coalition that wins the most votes.

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