Italy's convoluted electoral law

Rome - It has drawn condemnation from the country's Catholic bishops, and even the parliamentarian who penned Italy's electoral law has described it as a "porcata" - a term which can be politely translated as "a load of rubbish."

Although widely seen as a source of government instability because of the influence it grants smaller political parties, the electoral law has remained in place for the country's April 13-14 elections.

The law allocates seats on a proportional basis, taking into account national results in the Chamber of Deputies lower house of parliament and regional results in the upper house Senate.

However, it also bestows a "bonus" amount of seats to the individual party or coalition with the most votes.

But far from guaranteeing a clear-cut majority in what opinion polls suggest will be a close April 2008 election race, the law could leave Italy with a "hung parliament" and weeks and or even months of squabbling over the composition of the government, the country's 62nd since World War II.

Voters cast one ballot each for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate - although for the upper house only those aged 25 and above are eligible to vote.

The lists are "closed" in that voters cannot indicate a preference for candidates but can only select a list of names as compiled by the parties or coalitions.

Out of a total 630 Chamber of Deputy seats, 617 are distributed to: coalitions that obtain at least 10 per cent of the vote and which include at least one party that obtains two per cent of the vote or more; political parties that obtain at least four per cent of the vote running individually or as part of a coalition that obtains less than 10 per cent of the vote; and parties representing recognized linguistic minorities that obtain at least 20 per cent of the vote in their geographical area.

Italians residing abroad will elect 12 of the remaining deputies while the tiny Alpine Val d'Aosta region will return one deputy chosen on a first-past-the-post basis.

If no party or coalition wins 55 per cent of the vote or 340 seats, this number will be allocated automatically to the party or list which performed best nationwide.

Voters will elect 315 Senators - 309 from candidate lists compiled for Italy's 20 regions and six from constituencies representing Italians abroad.

For the Senate majority bonus prizes will also be awarded to parties or coalitions that win the most votes but only in the specific regions in which they are running and not at a national level.

Adding further uncertainty in the event of a narrowly divided Senate is the presence of seven non-elected life Senators whose vote could tip the balance of power. (dpa)

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