Analysis | What Will Be Different About Italy’s Snap Elections

Barring any surprises, Italy is on track to have its first far-right prime minister, following the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government. Elections are scheduled for Sunday — the first to be held since constitutional changes were adopted that shrank the size of the two parliamentary chambers. It also comes as the euro area’s third-largest economy — and one of its most indebted — is contending with the fallout of soaring energy prices, rising interest rates and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

A right-wing alliance led by Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy, which also includes Matteo Salvini’s League party and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which brought down Draghi’s government. If the bloc wins, Meloni could become Italy’s first female prime minister. Former Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s Democratic Party is running with smaller center and left-wing allies, while the anti-establishment Five Star movement is running solo. A centrist coalition of former Democrats is also present.

2. When will we know the results?

Polls close at 11 p.m. local time and exit polls will be out immediately, with more precise seat projections coming in through the night. Parliament is scheduled to meet Oct. 13 to elect its speakers. After this, the process of forming a new government officially starts. Draghi will remain as caretaker prime minister until the new government is in place, probably in the second half of October.

3. What’s different about this election?

Constitutional reforms approved in a 2020 referendum cut the number of senators to 200 from 315, and deputies to 400 from 630. As a result, constituencies have been remapped and enlarged. About 37% of seats will be allocated to party candidates that win the most support in constituencies, while the rest will be allocated in proportion to the number of votes they receive nationally. The system encourages parties to form coalitions because that increases their chances of winning the first-past-the-post seats. Parties need to reach 3% of the vote to qualify for proportional representation seats, and coalitions 10%. The campaign coincided with the summer holiday season — scheduling that had been avoided for the past century, mainly due to the need to have the annual budget passed by mid-fall. Officials have been busy preparing new forecasts for growth, debt and the deficit as part of an abridged budget that must be published within days of the vote by Draghi’s outgoing government.  

4. What’s the difference between the lower house and the Senate?

Under the Italian constitution, the two chambers have equal powers and the appointment of the prime minister and all legislation has to be approved by both. Party leaders typically run for a seat in the Senate, the speaker of which is the country’s second-highest ranking official. A recent constitutional change lowered the minimum age to vote for members of the Senate to 18 from 25, to bring it in line with the lower house, called the Chamber of Deputies. Candidates must be at least 40 years old to be elected as a senator and at least 25 to be chosen as a deputy.

5. How is the prime minister chosen?

The premier is appointed by the president, whose role as head of state is mostly ceremonial, following consultations with the political parties. In practice, the coalition that wins the election designates who the person should be. He or she then selects ministers (also formally appointed or rejected by the president) to form a government, which requires a vote of confidence from parliament within 10 days of its first session. If there’s no outright election winner, the president can give a conditional mandate to a person he thinks is able to muster enough support to form a unity government or a broad coalition. Should no one manage to cobble together a majority, the president can dissolve parliament and call fresh elections — although that would be unprecedented.

6. Why has Italian politics been so unstable?

The country has been highly fragmented, with allegiances split between a multitude of parties — more than 20 of which are represented in the outgoing legislature. Several have similar ideologies but have been at odds over who gets key leadership posts. Coalitions have often comprised three or more parties and are notoriously unstable. Party hopping is also commonplace, with more than 400 deputies and senators having switched allegiances since 2018. Five Star, once the country’s single largest political force, has seen its number of deputies in the lower house more than halve since the previous vote.

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