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Italian court ruling paves way for possible 2017 election

Italy’s highest court has opened the way for early elections in 2017 after favouring a form of proportional representation

26 January 2017, 8:33am
The constitutional court said a party winning at least 40% of the vote could be given an automatic parliamentary majority
The constitutional court said a party winning at least 40% of the vote could be given an automatic parliamentary majority
Italy's constitutional court on Wednesday threw out aspects of an electoral law approved by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi but presented a reworked version that can be used immediately, raising the chance of early elections this year.

In a verdict on the legality of an electoral law brought in by Renzi’s government, the constitutional court said a party winning at least 40% of the vote could be given an automatic parliamentary majority.

But it rejected the part of the so-called Italicum law, approved in 2015, that called for a runoff ballot in future national elections, saying the vote should be held in just one round. Critics feared a runoff round would leave too much power in the hands of one party.

The court was forced to scrutinise its legality since the law had only applied to the Italian parliament’s lower house – the Senate had been marked for abolition in a separate set of reforms, but these were rejected in a referendum in December 2016 that led to Renzi’s resignation and replacement by Paolo Gentiloni.

The court said the amended law could be used immediately if elections were called, even though following its ruling there are now different voting systems in the lower house and the upper house Senate.

However, President Sergio Mattarella is the only one with the power to dissolve parliament, and he has said a vote should not be held until the systems are harmonised, in order to try to ensure political stability.

The idea of proportional representation could stifle the populist Five Star Movement’s chances of winning an election, as the party refuses to form coalitions, but founder Beppe Grillo immediately renewed his call for an early election following the verdict, saying his party would aim to win 40% of the vote.

Renzi, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, is also keen for an early election in which he may perform better than the ballot scheduled for Spring 2018.