Italy’s Constitutional Court Opens Review of Electoral Law

Italy’s Constitutional Court is opening a review into the country’s electoral law, often blamed for the political instability that has plagued Parliament since the measure’s 2005 introduction.

The court held a hearing in Rome today before the 15-judge panel entered deliberations. The ruling on its constitutionality -- following a civil court challenge by a group of Italian citizens -- may take weeks to produce if the judges determine they have jurisdiction.

“The court could declare the whole law unconstitutional,” Federico Santi, a London-based analyst with Eurasia Group, said in a telephone interview. “Or it could just void specific parts of the law and give mandate to parliament to make changes.”

The court’s decision may not come until next year, news agency Ansa reported today, without citing anyone.

Italy’s law produced an inconclusive result in the February general election and has drawn criticism from each of the four major political parties in parliament because of its complexity. Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who came to power in April at the head of a coalition of rival parties, has said his government wants a new electoral law before the next elections.

Parliamentary Support

The last four Italian prime ministers, Romano Prodi, Silvio Berlusconi, Mario Monti and Letta, have struggled to keep their parliamentary support. One of the main difficulties stems from from having to maintain majorities in two houses of parliament. That’s a challenge because the existing law tends to give one party control of the Chamber of Deputies, while fragmenting representation in the Senate.

Letta’s Democratic Party has 293 seats, or 47 percent, of the 630 seats in the Chamber. In the upper house, the PD has just 108, or 34 percent, of the 320 seats, and needs the cooperation of at least two other parties to reach a majority.

Berlusconi’s government approved the current electoral law as the second of his three stints as premier drew to a close. It reintroduced a proportional voting mechanism after Italy’s elections were run for 11 years with a majority system. Proportional representation produced 51 governments in 47 years before being replaced in 1994.