4 min read.Updated: 01 Jun 2016, 04:01 AM ISTAjit Ranade
The upper house of the Parliament should develop a convention to avoid unnecessary impasse on policies with broad, bipartisan support
Italy is Europe’s fourth most populous country, and in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), the eighth largest in the world, only slightly behind India. It has been a parliamentary democracy since World War II. But not even once did it elect a government that could last a full term of five years. It has had 63 different governments so far. One source of this instability is the nature of its bicameral legislature. The upper and lower Houses have 315 and 630 members, respectively, elected by proportional voting. Hence, smaller parties (with more than a threshold of 3% of the vote) can hold great sway. A party with less than 10% of seats can even form the government, typically with a coalition. Passing legislation requires it to pass the simple majority test in both Houses. On many occasions, legislation has stumbled because it was blocked by the upper House. In that sense, the upper House has equal power and a very unusual veto. This dysfunctional feature has led to instability, revolving-door governments and frequent charges of horse-trading. To change this, Italy needs to reform its constitution, and curtail the power of its upper House. Indeed, this reform has been the top priority of Matteo Renzi, who at age 39 became Italy’s youngest prime minister two years ago. After a lot of jockeying, this reform bill was finally passed in Parliament in April, despite huge opposition. One opposition party tried desperately to derail the passage, by proposing 82 million amendments to the draft bill! These were computer generated multiple versions by changing small stuff like a comma or full stop. The rules required that each version had to be printed and put on record. Obviously, some people can go to ridiculous lengths to stop reform. Luckily for Italy, this reform has passed at long last, and a referendum in October will lead to the constitutional overhaul. This portends more stable governments in the future.