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Italy's elections and parliament

Country to elect nearly 1,000 parliamentarians Feb. 24-25

Feb. 7, 2012

Italians will go to the polls on Feb. 24 and 25 to elect a new parliament. Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is hoping to reclaim power after resigning in 2011. He is squaring off against current Prime Minister Mario Monti.

The country's parliament consists of two houses and nearly 1,000 parliamentarians.

Here is a look at Italy's electoral and parliamentary system.


Italy's parliamentary electoral system uses proportional representation; parties that meet or exceed the preset popular vote "threshold" are allotted seats in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate according to their vote share.

The country uses a "closed list" form of proportional representation, which means the candidates are selected by the party, placed on a sequential list and then named to parliament in the order they are listed.

Most parliamentarians are elected to five-year terms, though parliament can be dissolved and elections called before the term is up.

Poll clerks count ballots after the 2008 parliamentary election. (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

Parties and coalitions

Unlike in other countries, where parties fend for themselves on the hustings and then form coalitions once the ballots have been counted, Italian parties often form coalitions before citizens go to the polls.

In 2008, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi led a coalition consisting of three parties.

Some parties are able to elect parliamentarians without being part of coalitions. The popular vote thresholds for pre-election coalitions, parties within coalitions and parties not in coalitions differ, and are not the same for the two houses of parliament.

The Chamber of Deputies. (Andrew Medichini/AP)


The Senate has 322 seats to the Chamber of Deputies' 630. All of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies are contested by election, whereas only 315 of the Senate seats are elected.

The remaining seven Senate seats go to five people selected by the president — usually people who have worked in public service, including former presidents — and two ex-officio members.

If a coalition or party wins a plurality of votes in the Chamber of Deputy elections, it is automatically awarded a minimum of 340 seats in the chamber.

The Senate. (Andrew Medichini/AP)

The president

The Italian president — the country's head of state — is elected by a joint session of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Unlike Italian parliamentarians, the president is elected to a seven-year term.

Italian citizens aged 50 and over who do not hold any other public office are eligible to stand for the presidency. Former presidents are made senators for life after their term.

The current president of Italy is Giorgio Napolitano. The next presidential election will be held in May 2013.

Giorgio Napolitano has been president of Italy since 2006. (Andrew Medichini/AP)

The prime minister

The Italian prime minister is the head of government. Following a general election, the president symbolically appoints the leader of the party or coalition that has formed the government prime minister.

Those descriptors might sound vaguely familiar to followers of Canadian politics, but the Italian prime minister cannot ask for the dissolution of parliament and cannot unilaterally fire cabinet ministers.

Mario Monti became prime minister and formed a government following the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi in 2011. He is facing off against Berlusconi in the 2013 election. (Riccardo De Luca/AP)


Many countries have one parliamentary building, with separate chambers for different houses of parliament. Italy's two chambers meet in separate palaces.

The Chamber of Deputies meets in Palazzo Montecitorio while the Senate meets in Palazzo Madama. The palaces date back to the 16th and 15th centuries, respectively, and are located in Rome, a few blocks from each other.

The Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome, where the Chamber of Deputies meets. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)


Parliament is responsible for passing and amending Italian laws. Legislation can be proposed in either house, where it is then debated and voted on. If passed, it moves on to the other house, which can vote for or against it, or amend it.

If the second house amends a bill, it is returned to the first house for further debate and another vote.

A bill only proceeds if both houses approve the same version of it. It is then formally declared law by the president.

Governments can be forced to resign if they lose a vote of support. Either house can bring about a vote of support if enough members ask for one. If a government resigns, it is up to the president to either appoint a new government or dissolve parliament and call an election.

An electronic board displays the results of a vote of confidence in the government of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2010. (Gregorio Borgiay/AP)

Source: Election Guide

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