Anyone getting too comfortable with the idea that Paolo Gentiloni and his competently low-key Italian government can make it until 2018 was given quite a jolt this week. Mr Gentiloni, who took over as prime minister last December from Matteo Renzi, is in fact skating on pretty thin ice.
This week brought a vivid reminder of that reality. In Italian politics, there is an ever-present danger that even the smallest accidents can spiral out of control. Read more
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Not only is Mr Renzi still reeling from having to resign as prime minister after losing a constitutional referendum in December, but the country’s judiciary has now struck down a key aspect of his flagship electoral reform, passed with much fanfare in 2015. Specifically, the court said that the idea of a run-off between the two leading parties, which was central to the law because it ensured that the winner would be able to govern with a comfortable majority in the lower chamber of parliament, is unconstitutional. What is left is a single-ballot contest in which seats in a general election will be apportioned by proportional representation, with one unlikely exception: if a party wins more than 40 per cent of the vote, it will gain enough bonus seats to govern with an absolute majority. For anyone familiar with Italian politics – where coalitions of unstable governments have been the name of the game for decades – this looks a lot like the return to old days, for better or for worse. But while the ruling looks on paper like a setback for Mr Renzi, he may actually welcome the the blow to his legacy as it could, ironically, help him return to power. The key point is that the decision makes it more likely that Italian elections will be called earlier than expected, possibly as soon as June instead of the scheduled date of February 2018. And since Mr Renzi – arguably still Italy’s most influential politician – has been calling for early elections in order to attempt a comeback as prime minister, this would seem to fit his political goals. The main reason early elections are potentially closer is that the judges made the electoral law in the lower chamber more consistent with the one in the Senate, Italy’s upper house. Many political leaders, beginning with Sergio Mattarella, Italy’s president, see such a reconciliation as a prerequisite for any general election. The other reason early elections are closer is because the magistrates said the ruling could be applied immediately, without any intervention of the parliament, which would have meant drawn-out negotiations and delays. Other fans of early elections who may be cheering at the ruling are the populist Five Star Movement and Northern League, who have ardently called for snap polls. On the other side of the divide is Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, which wants to slow things down, along with Mr Mattarella and Paolo Gentiloni, the current prime minister who is loyal to Mr Renzi but may want to spend some more time at the tiller. They may still prevail. Ultimately, the decision on early elections will be made by Mr Mattarella, together with Mr Renzi, based on their calculation of the odds of locking the Five Star Movement out of power, even if means a “Grande Coalizione” with Mr Berlusconi. At this juncture, their chance of that are pretty high. But whether that still holds a year from now is a gamble they may not want to take. Email: email@example.com Twitter:@JamesPoliti Read more
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Move over, France and the Netherlands: there might be another big election in the first half of 2017 with the potential of delivering a populist leader to the helm of government in an influential EU state. Read more
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It may have already been abundantly clear that Matteo Renzi is in full campaign mode ahead of his do-or-die December 4 referendum, after his attacks on the EU at the end of this month’s Bratislava summit. Read more