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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

First pasta the post

Once more into the breach... the Italian Government under Prodi are now calling for a return to first-past-the post-elections, introduced after the fall of the so-called first republic in 1992, and abolished by Silvio Berlusconi.

All this raises an interesting question about the connection between institutions and economic reform. Electoral systems are probably the most important institution in determining whether governments can push through painful reforms.

Compare the performance of Italy, with its hundreds of parties, chronically poor government, with that of Spain - with first past the post, and regular stable majority Governments. No surprise that Spain is due to overtake Italy in wealth per head by 2009 according to the Economist.

But, as has been pointed out in the past, as long as the majority for governing is lower than the majority for constitutional reform, Italy is unlikely to see further reform without a crisis. Is FPTP the right idea? FPTP works well in keeping a simple party system stable and avoiding what Sartori called 'centripetal competition'.

But if there is already high fragmentation, particularly along regional lines, FPTP might not reduce the number of parties. Much as FPTP is right for the UK, maybe proportional representation with a high threshold (say 7% to get any seats) would simplify things quicker in Italy...


The Purple Scorpion said...

Err ... the slight problem with FPTP is that it's undemocratic. Votes get different weights, and some voters are permanently disenfranchised.

Look at the last UK general election in England. The Tories got more votes, but Labour got >80 more seats than the Tories.

Open Europe blog team said...

What PR system would you go for?

Do you know what system UKIP, greens etc want?

Jack Gibbard said...

Spain does have PR. There are lots of small parties, mostly regional, and onlt two large blocks at national level. It's worked for many years, but more by luck. The present government is actually a coalition, the PSOE doesn't have an absolute majority, neither did the first PP government.

Open Europe blog team said...

The senate is FPTP - sure, they don't always have majority governments. More than most though, particularly given that they start with a whole series of nationalist parties.