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It's a bit of a running joke but Italy has many political parties and this causes its governments to be unstable.

For example currently it has six major political parties plus dozens of minor players.

I've always been told it was due to the proportional voting system, however in the past 20 years Italy went through different systems - majority voting - and the number of parties has only increased.

Why is that?

More info on Italy's complex electoral laws

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In Italy, the electoral system can be changed with the majority of the Lower and Upper houses. The current electoral system called by Giovanni Sartori "Porcellum" gives the majority (and a bonus of elected, "premio di maggioranza") to a coalition of parties, not to a single party, so small parties can survive. Some parties of those are present only in some territories.

Post-war Italy hadn't a pure majority electoral system, the current one is proportional and the previous (Mattarellum) was a mix (75% majority, 25% proportional).

During last 10 years, only two parties become strong enough (more than 20%) to lead coalitions: PDL (center-right) and PD (center-left).

So, why there are too many parties?

  • Electoral system can be changed by majority: if a party knows it'll lost next elections, it can change the law to limit the opponent.

  • No real majority electoral system was adopted in Italy after WWII.

  • Highly polarized electorate.

  • No serious election threshold for parties was adopted to correct fragmentation by proportional system.

In the Italian edition of Comparative Constitutional Engineering (Ingegneria costituzionale comparata) Sartori describes these problems very well, and many times he cites Germany (proportional system with per-party election threesold) as an example to follow.

  • 1
    OK, yes, I am familiar with Italian politics, as I'm Italian... :-) What I want to know is why Italy is unique: it is merely its unique electoral system(s)? Or is it something deeper? – Sklivvz Dec 23 '12 at 3:19
  • Thank you for the edit! When talking about Germany, Sartori highlights how the number of parties is limited not only by the system but by parties themselves and by the ban of some unconstitutional parties. Italy has an article regarding how parties has to operate (art. 49) but it's too vague. Read this discussion within the Constituent Assembly and compare the Mortati/Ruggiero and Merlin point of views. Merlin fears to ban parties because of the fear of dictatorship. – chirale Dec 23 '12 at 9:51
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  1. While there are very obvious reasons why a single-member district, first-past-the-post system would prevent a third party from emerging in a locale with 2 dominant parties [1], it's not at all obvious that such a dynamic would force an existing multi-party system to collapse to dual-party one, especially if there are mitigating factors (discussed below)

  2. The Wiki link you provided indicates that currently, Italy has a mix of single-member districts AND (smaller) proportional representation system. The latter obviously gives additional anchoring to multiple parties.

  3. Also, while there are many distinct parties, many of them are purely regional.

  4. Italy seems to have an extremely wide variety of political viewpoints. The parties range from recently-disbanded "neo-fascist" Italian Social Movement to Communists and Socialists of various stripes to liberals of all kinds. This may promote multi-party system

  5. While there are many parties, usually they unite into 2 main coalitions (center-left and center-right).


[1] - The usual simple reason is that voting for a less popular but strongly preferred third party simply means that you just deprived one of the two mainstream candidates of your vote (and decreased the chances of winning for the party you prefer more among the two for no gain).

  • To be fair, none of the major parties are regional (and even Northern League is present in all north and centre Italy). – Sklivvz Dec 23 '12 at 3:17
  • @Sklivvz - True. That point was more in terms of culling the "many parties" down to 5 main ones. – user4012 Dec 23 '12 at 10:36

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