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You are here: Home > Diritto di Voto / EU, Italy, Turin > directly elect a Prime Minister or the President? contextualizing reforms in Italy

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Published on 2024-04-21 22:45:00 | words: 2783

As previously announced, within the EP2024 article series the focus is the EU and the European Parliament elections- Italy is just one of the 27 Member States, or, if you want to consider some elements, one of the five largest economies within the EU.

The EP2024 series articles go online once every two weeks, and in the "off" week usually I post articles about other subjects.

Anyway, this week would like to share some ideas and concepts about Constitutional reforms that have been discussed at least since the early 1990s, when the Italian Second Republic started.

One of the most frequently read articles on this website is Il paese dei leader, so far read almost 18,000 times- and it the fourth most read article.

Few sections in this short article:
_ the Italian obsession with leaders and leadership
_ who gets the mandate for what, and spreading seats
_ electing directly a Prime Minister or a President?
_ again Frankenlaws- importing exogenous elements

Consider the first two sections as a kind of "contextualization" of the third one, and the last one the conclusions.

The Italian obsession with leaders and leadership

The concept was making easier to get a Government that could stay on a full term- but eventually took a personal turn, the identification with a leader, already in the early 1980s, starting frankly first on the centre-left of the political spectrum (i.e. my side).

To me, did not sound right- reminded too much the identification of State and politics with one person as we had in the early 1920s to early 1940s.

In Italy, shifting toward what we called "governabilità" (the ability of the government to execise executive power without being subjected to routine "sniping" from representatives of parties within its own government, and associated potential bartering to retain a majority)...

... was implied to mean building acceptance for a shift from our traditional purely proportional voting system to a system where the leading party or coalition would get a larger share of the seats.

When I first saw it developing, I was in my early teens, in the 1980s, at a time when we had some of the highest turnouts at each election, if compared with other Western democracies- but it was also helped by some side-effects if you were not to vote.

I never liked any form of "premium" given to a leading party or coalition: but I am an old-fashioned supporter of a purely proportional electoral system, notably because Italy is still cultural divided in tribes (yes, tribe is within over 100 articles on this website).

Decades ago, my British colleagues told me how shifting party in UK, where basically there were two block sitting one in front of the other, implied physically crossing side, and was not so common.

In the early 1990s, in Italy in a short while we had a major scandal, a referendum introduced a change that shifted our proportional system toward something closer to a first-past-the-post, had a new political party win the elections, and gradually had a continuous stream of changes, involving also the Italian Constitution (that originally had resulted from the shift from monarchy to republic after WWII).

And, also, switching party once elected (sometimes right after the elections) became quite common in Italy.

The obsession with "leaders" in Italy gradually shifted from having political parties that had a leader, to asking voters to cast their vote for political parties whose leader put the name within the symbol at the polls.

If you created your own political party, it might make sense: your castle, your rules.

Personally, never liked that shift toward the identification between political parties and their temporary leaders, as could carry along other consequences.

Who gets the mandate for what, and spreading seats

So, what are at least some of those consequences? Probably, first it is useful to share a bit about Italy.

I never supported those advocating changing Article 67 of the Italian Constitution, which simply states (from the official translation that you can find on the website of the Italian Senate):
Each Member of Parliament shall represent the Nation and carry out their duties without a binding mandate.

In Italy, citizens are represented via those that they elect in Parliament- like it or not, it is better than what we had between the 1920s and 1940s, when the Parliament was really a pro-forma.

Since 2012, I routinely saw spreading across the political spectrum the approach of having the same lead candidate at the top of the list of candidates in multiple districts.

So, we started in the 1990s with reforms to avoid having the possibility to give our preference to multiple people within the same party, in order of preference (to avoid what was called a "market"), shifting potentially to a single name, and ended up having the leader elected in multiple districts, and choosing which seat to leave to others.

Meaning: we did not change article 67 of the Italian Constitution, but de facto we introduced a kind of additional electoral power for political leaders.

Personally, I think that the names put on the ballot should be those who get in Parliament- implying being a candidate only in a single district, and only if you really want to then take that seat you were elected for- and wrote this repeatedly in the past.

Aynway, obviously I am just a voter as many others.

But, for once, in this election cycle, I found that even high-ranking politicians and former holders of higher office at last challenged the assumption that it is fine to add your name on the party symbol or be a candidate for offices that you have no intention to take.

Living here since 2012 almost full time (just few trips to UK and Germany, plus few business trips elsewhere), I keep wondering if this "I vote A, and then find that B takes the seat" has a part within two issues:
_ disaffection of voters, with increasing numbers not bothering to vote
_ a political debate increasingly turning into bullying- the loudest wins.

It used to be that a basic tenet of democracy is to be able to say "I agree to disagree".

Personally, I think that "political faith" does not belong to the political realm in a democracy.

The Italian Constitution says:
"Article 19
Everyone shall have the right to freely profess their religious beliefs in any form, individually or in association, to promote them and to worship in private or public, provided that the religious rites are not contrary to public decency."

In my view, for politics instead something else is more relevant: "Article 21
Everyone has the right to freely express their ideas through speech, in writing and by any other means of communication." (it is much longer, this is just the incipit)

Anyway, often it seems as political debate over the last decade in Italy started assuming that your own side has exclusive access to the absolute truth.

And politics based on faith, not on trust, already produced enough damages in Europe (not just in Italy) for a long time.

Electing directly a Prime Minister or a President?

As promised within the introduction, the first two sections had really the purpose to page the way for this section.

If you were to look at my CV page, you would see that worked in few countries, few industries, and different roles- but since I was made to return in Italy in 2012 my activities were focused on missions on a couple of roles that were part of my prior activities, PMO and PM (on the latter, actually first delivered training to PMs in 1990).

I shared above and in plenty of prior articles my dislike for "leadership" as often meant in Italy on the political domain: almost an ego trip.

At least once a week I read on Linkedin commentary on "servant leadership", e.g. a leader as somebody who works toward an objective with the team, but focuses on removing roadblocks and having care of making team members "grow".

I am not claiming to be a prime example, but I think that it is duty of every leader to help develop talent whenever (s)he meets it, and to help it achieve full potential.

Potentially spawning new leaders- including those that would outshine you.

As a project is something that is non-repeatable (there is always some degree of contextualization), it is de facto a learning experience.

Shifting to a higher degree of complexity, actually the way the Italian Constitution describes how the President of the Republic is elected and the role that has to cover is an example of the same, at a higher degree.

I could go on and on describing, but promised to keep this article short.

And, anyway, shared ideas and concepts in previous articles on this website.

Hence, I think that the best description of the relationship between the President of the Italian Republic role and the relationship with other structures and roles is actually outlined within the Italian Constitution itself: "Article 83
The President of the Republic shall be elected by Parliament in joint session of its members. Three delegates from every Region, elected by the Regional Council, shall take part in the election so as to ensure that minorities are represented. Valle d’Aosta shall be represented by only one delegate. The election of the President of the Republic shall take place by secret ballot with a two-thirds majority vote of the assembly. After the third ballot a majority vote shall suffice.

Article 87
The President of the Republic is the Head of the State and represents the unity of the Nation. ...

Article 89
No act of the President of the Republic shall be valid unless it is countersigned by the Ministers who have submitted it, who assume responsibility for it. Acts having the value of law and such other acts as are set forth by law shall be countersigned also by the President of the Council of Ministers.

Article 90
The President of the Republic shall not be held responsible for acts carried out in the exercise of their presidential duties, save in the case of high treason or attempts to overthrow the Constitution. In such cases, the President may be impeached by Parliament in joint session, with a majority vote of its members.

Article 91
The President of the Republic, before taking office, shall take an oath of allegiance to the Republic and swear to uphold the Constitution before Parliament in joint session."

Now, the debate in Italy about a direct election of a Prime Minister (currently is a different role- President of the Council of Ministers), and others instead are talking about a direct election of the President of the Republic.

Also while I was living first in London then in Brussels, routinely read on media and heard from others about plans to do something that I had already heard in my days in political activities within a European integration advocacy, in the early 1980s.

And during my Summer School at the London School of Economics in 1994 was told a joke about the "staying power" of the UK Prime Minister.

Now, after reading those articles from the Italian Constitution, I think that probably you have already an idea about what I would prefer between the two options, electing directly a Prime Minister or a President.

Again Frankenlaws- importing exogenous elements

I will start with a reference to a documentary about January 6th 2021 in Washington- I saw many, both bipartisan and highly partisan.

Probably, one of those that liked more was one presented I think by Discovery January 6th.

For an Italian, the commentary from Liz Cheney (I think nobody can call her a leftist) on the events, that showed how the continuity of institutions is a bipartisan interest- and political expediency takes a second fiddle on the common good.

In Italy, sometimes unfortunately I kept seeing over the last dozen years that happen less often than would have been needed, for the sake of the State.

Long, long ago, long before returning to Italy, already called our Italian approach of building laws out of "best practices" from elsewhere "Frankenlaws".

In Italy, we still have to "digest" the evolutions of the regional devolution of powers from the central government that was implemented in the early 2000s, and we are continuously having proposals or even attempts at further reforms.

Within our excessively partisan environment, where since 2012, seen with the eyes of somebody who was born here but lived (and also voted- in Brussels) abroad, too often we forget that we share the same boat

Tinkering is the only continuity I observed- and tinkering continuity is an oxymoron.

When I was in political activities as a teenager for European integration, in the early 1980s, I remember attending debates where already the discussion was about introducing changes on the way a Government could be replaced, and also how to differentiate the role of the Camera dei Deputati from that of the Senate, to avoid a back-and-forth.

Recently Italy reduced the number of seats of both of the Camera dei Deputati and Senate, and this could in the future create some issues when you have routinely governments whose majority is razor-thin, and usually Ministers are also Member of the Parliament.

So, any reform to introduce a direct election of a Prime Minister probably would be coupled with a "safety net" to have a sustainable majority.

Still, in a purely Frankenlaws approach, in Italy we keep talking about, say, reforming one bit and not what would make it structurally sustainable.

Personally, in our current "liquid" environment, I would leave the office of President of the Italian Republic as it is now- indirectly elected by Parliament and Regional delegates, and having a de facto "servant leadership" super-partes role: as article 87 states "represents the unity of the Nation"- something we still need somebody to continuously highlight to us.

Therefore, while electing directly a Prime Minister would just be recognition of the current trend (that I still dislike) to put the name of the temporary party leader within the party symbol, few further changes would be needed to make such a change "organic".

Meaning: yes, we are importing a concept from other countries- but we need to adapt it, and have a look at associated checks and balances within the Italian Constitution, otherwise we will keep doing the same mistakes that we made since the early 1990s- and what all the aggregated tinkering produced is represented by our continuous need for further reforms/tinkering, as well as the expansion of the national debt.

I wrote at the beginning that this article was not going to be about the European Parliament elections- but in Italy it has been a long-standing tradition to send to Brussels politicians to remove them from Italy (and from potential roles in Italy), following the old approach of "promoveatur ut amoveatur".

In these times, when also at the EU level there will be critical reforms during the next term, following this practice would actually risk weakening the impact on such reforms- notably if those sent there were to spend more time looking at openings and opportunities in Italy, than proactively being involved in EU reforms.

Stay tuned...