The Political Economy of Italian Electoral Reform
The Locke Institute series
Chapter 2: A History of the Italian Political System – 1913 to the Present
When the Kingdom of Italy came into existence in 1861, it took its electoral system from the pre-existing kingdom of Piemonte. This was a singlemember constituency, plurality system. There were no organised parties and elections were fought basically by competing notables or loose ad hoc associations, most of which called themselves liberali (liberals) or democratici (democrats). Less than 2 per cent of the population had the vote in 1861, but successive extensions of suﬀrage had increased the percentage to 23 per cent by 1913, though it was still exclusively male. Women did not receive the right to vote until 1946. In 1919 mass Catholic and Socialist parties appeared for the ﬁrst time and forced the adoption of proportional representation (PR). This transformed the political system and ended the hegemony of the old liberal élites. After only two elections, the Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party) achieved a parliamentary majority in 1924 and changed the electoral system to its own advantage. Soon afterward free elections ceased altogether. When democracy was restored after 1945, the PR electoral system was restored with it. It was clear that Italian politics would be dominated by the two traditional mass parties, the Cattolici (Catholics) and the Socialisti (Socialists), with the addition of the Comunisti (Communists), who had hailed the introduction of PR in 1919 as a decisive step towards the democratisation of ‘liberal’ Italy. In 1946 the liberals wished to revert to the pre1919 system, but they were hopelessly outnumbered. Within the chosen form of...
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