Italian Court Could Help Renzi’s Bid for Early Elections by June

  • Constitutional court to review voting system for lower house
  • Renzi seeking return to power after December’s referendum loss

Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s bid for early elections in Italy may get a boost from the Constitutional Court’s review of the electoral system.

The court will assess whether Renzi’s 2015 reform, which awards an automatic majority to the biggest party in the lower house, must be amended starting Tuesday. It is likely to announce its decision the same day, a court official said.

If the judges order only minor tweaks, premier Paolo Gentiloni, a Renzi ally, may be able to push the changes through parliament in time for a vote in mid-June. If wholesale reforms are needed, he may need more time to win support from other parties, leaving voters to wait for elections in the fall or, as scheduled, next year. 

Paolo Gentiloni. Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

Paolo Gentiloni.

Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

Gentiloni said he is confident an agreement on a new electoral law can be reached in time for “elections this summer or in the fall” in an interview with RAI state television Jan. 22. Any change to the voting system will also have to take into account a detailed report the court is due to release in late February.

Gentiloni was named prime minister in December after Renzi resigned following defeat in a referendum on reining in the powers of the Senate. Renzi remains the head of the biggest group in parliament, the Democratic Party, and backed Gentiloni as his successor.

Blocking Five Star

The largely ceremonial head of state, Sergio Mattarella, has said that inconsistencies with the more proportional system for choosing Senators must be ironed out before he’ll call a new election. The Italian establishment is concerned that the populist Five Star Movement could win the bonus for topping the election, helping them achieve their goal of a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro area.

The so-called Italicum law was designed to provide more political stability in Italy by awarding bonus seats, and thus an automatic majority, to the leading party. But with the composition of the Senate determined by a proportional voting system, the new law has raised the prospect of potential gridlock if different majorities control the two chambers.

“In order to reduce the risks of a hung parliament, Italy needs to put the two electoral systems in line before going to elections,” Lorenzo Codogno, founder of LC Macro Advisers Ltd., wrote in a Jan. 22 note. “Tuesday’s ruling will determine the starting point of negotiations among parties.”

Codogno said judges are most likely to order only minor amendments to the law and sees a 55 percent probability of elections in June, compared with a 45 percent probability of a 2018 ballot. 

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