GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
THE ITALIAN STATE
In 1948 a new constitution made Italy a parliamentary republic. Since
unification in 1861, Italy had been ruled under a statute of
constitutional monarchy that, as the years passed, took on an
increasingly parliamentary tone. This did not, however, signal broader
democracy, since it was within this system that Mussolini's Fascists
rose to power.
The new post-WWII constitution created a bicameral parliament,
consisting of a senate and a chamber of deputies. The difference between
the two house, which have equal legislative power, are relatively minor,
calling into question the need for such duplication. From the ranks of
the houses, governments and their prime minsters are formed and
officially appointed by the president, whose role as impartial guarantor
if the constitution is designed to help maintain stability and
accountability, although to a large extent the position is symbolic. The
president is elected by both houses of parliament and 58 regional
representatives for a seven-year term.
Since 1994 deputies and senators have been elected by a mixed voting
system. 75% based on the UK-style first-past-the-post system and 25% by
proportional representation. The previous system of 100% proportional
representation had encouraged the growth of a plethora of minor parties
and it was hoped that the reform would move Italy in the direction of
other western democracies that tend to be dominate by no more than two
or three major political parties or groupings. Although this has not
really happened, the many parties now tend to form coalitions. National
elections are meant to take place every five years, although frequently
they are brought forward.
On average 88% of Italians go to the polls. Although there has been
much talk of major constitutional reform since the Tangentopoli scandal
of the 1990s, little of note has been achieved. To the average Italian
voter, although some (but by no means all) of the faces have changed,
the system has remained largely untouched. Much talk of passing from the
"first" to the "second" republic is largely hot air as no substantial
constitutional change has occurred.
The seat of national government is in Rome. The president resides in
Palazzo del Quirinale, the Chamber of Deputies sits in Palazzo
Montecitorio and the Senate in Palazzo Madama, near Piazza Navona.
At the time of writing, Italy's president is Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and
the prime minister is the somewhat controversial Silvio
Belusconi who heads
up Italy's 59th government since 1945.
For administrative purposes, Italy is divided into 20 regions (regioni),
which approximately correspond to the historical regions of the country.
The regions are divided into provinces(province), themselves
further divided into town councils (comuni).
Five regions (Sicily, Sardinia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia
Giulia and Valle d'Aosta) are semi-autonomous or autonomous, with
special powers granted under the constitution. Their regional assemblies
are similar to parliaments and they have a wider range or economic and
administrative powers than those of the other 15 Italian regions.
Indeed those remaining regions are the weakest element in the
country's political hierarchy. Each is ruled by a giunta
government) formed in elections (held every four years) to the consiglio
assembly). These parliaments only came into being in 1970 and the
regional governments, with no revenue-raising powers, remain little more
than an administrative link between the central state and local
government. They receive funds from the state and can legislate on a
limited field of issues such as tourism and the hospitality industry.
agriculture and forests, museums and libraries, some areas of
professional training, markets and fairs and so on. These regions, so
far with minimal results, are pushing for much wider-ranging powers and
a more genuine autonomy from the central government. Devolution in some
form is high on the current government's agenda.
provincial equivalent of the regional assembly, does the day-to-day work
of administration, usually in conjunction with the lowest tier of
government, thecomune, or
town council. Local government elections are held every five years.