Institutions and the Political System in Italy

A story of failure

Authored by: Martin J. Bull

The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Italy

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415604178
eBook ISBN: 9781315709970
Adobe ISBN: 9781317487555

10.4324/9781315709970.ch8

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Abstract

Italy is exceptional amongst advanced western democracies for the extraordinary focus it has placed in the past thirty years on reforming its political system through institutional reform – and largely failing to do so. In the first thirty years of the Republic, Italian democracy was perceived to have been unstable and functioning poorly, but little focus was placed on institutions as being at the heart of the problem. From the early 1980s, however, the political class saw a solution in changing the institutional framework of the Republic, a position which was reinforced by the implosion of the party system in the early 1990s, and the beginning of what most observers viewed as a transition to a more stable and effective democracy. A change in the electoral system in 1993 away from proportionality towards plurality – forced on an unwilling political class by popular referendum – and the subsequent bipolarizing effect on the party system led to an assumption that reforming institutions would be a natural and fundamental outcome of this process. Yet, despite significant efforts, the political class visibly failed to achieve this goal. Important reforms that were achieved (e.g. regional reform and further change to the electoral system) were regarded as largely partisan in origin and technically deficient.

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