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Italian General Election, 2006



In the Italian general election, 2006 for the renewal of the two Chambers of the Parliament of Italy held on April 9 and April 10, 2006 the incumbent prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the center-right House of Freedoms, was narrowly defeated by Romano Prodi, leader of the center-left The Union.

Initial exit polls suggested a victory for Prodi, but the results narrowed as the count progressed. On April 11, Prodi declared victory; Berlusconi never conceded defeat explicitly but this is not required by the Italian law.

Preliminary results showed The Union leading the House of Freedoms in the Chamber of Deputies, with 340 seats to 277, thanks to obtaining a majority bonus (actual votes were distributed 49.81% to 49.74%). One more seat is allied with the Union (Valle d'Aosta) and 7 more seats in the foreign constituency. The House of Freedoms had secured a slight majority of Senate seats elected within Italy (155 seats to 154), but The Union won 4 of the 6 seats allocated to voters outside Italy, giving them control of both chambers.
[http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/europe/04/11/italy.elections/index.html] On April 19, Italy's court of last resort (''Corte di Cassazione'') ruled that Prodi had indeed won the election, winning control of the Chamber of Deputies by only 24,755 votes out of more than 38 million votes cast, and winning 158 seats in the Senate to 156 for Berlusconi's coalition. Even so, Berlusconi refused to concede defeat, claiming unproven fraud.

Recent developments, including publishing of a controversial documentary film about alleged frauds in the ballot counting during the election, brought on December 2006 the Electoral Committee of the Italian Chamber of Deputies to request for a recount of all ballot papers, starting from a 10% sample.

The political battle



The House of Freedoms



The House of Freedoms (''Casa delle Libertà''), was the previous government coalition led by the former Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi and was mainly made up of the same parties as in the previous general election. This is the coalition of parties for the election:


The New Italian Socialist Party, a small party composed of former members of the late Italian Socialist Party and led by former 1980s and 1990s minister Gianni De Michelis, which is part of the Berlusconi III government with a minister without portfolio, suffered a split on its last national congress (October 21–October 23, 2005), with a left-wing, led by Bobo Craxi, son of the late Bettino Craxi, who decided to immediately leave the House of Freedoms and unilaterally elected Craxi himself as new party leader. The NPSI will take part in the election in a joint list with the centrist Christian Democracy for the Autonomies.

As for the candidate who led the coalition into the general election, Berlusconi experienced an actual loss of support from Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC), who asked for a return of the electoral law to a proportional system (which would most likely favour them) and some sort of primary election to formally decide the next candidate to prime-ministership. When the party-list representation system was restored (albeit a form very different from the UDC proposal) and Marco Follini, critic of several reforms imposed by Berlusconi on the whole coalition, resigned from the UDC secretarship, the possibility of a change of leadership inside the House of Freedoms was significantly reduced. On October 27, Lorenzo Cesa was appointed as new UDC secretary, becoming the successor of Follini himself. The coalition announced a "three-forwards" system, meaning that the prime minister candidate will be the political leader, among Casini, Fini and Berlusconi, whose party will win most votes. Since Berlusconi's party was known to be by far the largest one, it was understood that Berlusconi was the actual candidate.

One event which caused heavy criticism from the opposition was the support, sought and obtained by Berlusconi, of a number of fascist movements and parties, notably the Social Alternative of Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the former dictator of Italy, and Luca Romagnoli, an holocaust denier. Supporters of Berlusconi have responded to this pointing to the presence in the Union of two communist parties, which had among their candidates anarchist activist Francesco Caruso and a transgender, Vladimir Luxuria.

The Union


The former Olive Tree coalition, expression of the Italian centre-left, now renamed as The Union (), was led for the election by former Prime Minister and former President of the European Commission Romano Prodi, who had already beaten Berlusconi in the 1996 elections. Prodi's candidacy was confirmed by a national primary election, held on October 16, 2005 (for more information about the primary election, see the related paragraph below).

Moreover, the former coalition was enlarged in order to cover the whole ensemble of Italian centre-left to left-wing factions. The parties in the alliance are:


The Rose in the Fist was officially founded in September 25, 2005, when the Italian Radicals, a historical libertarian, laicist and socially progressive party of Italy, officially declared an alliance with the Italian Democratic Socialists in the form of a confederation, with explicit references to the politics of Tony Blair, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Loris Fortuna, an Italian politician in the 1970s who became famous for his laicist proposals, and is considered the father of the law on divorce. This confederation immediately caused a stir for not having signed the political platform of The Union, being the only center-left party not to do that; the Rose in the Fist, represented by Emma Bonino in the final platform meeting, in fact protested about insufficient mentions of social issues such as legalization of civil unions. The Socialists, led by Bobo Craxi who were the breakaway left wing of the New Italian Socialist Party which emerged the House of Freedoms, was supposed to join the Rose in the Fist confederation, but instead reorganised itself in a single party, which however failed to get over the 2% of national votes. However, Bobo Craxi was able to enter in the Lower House, as he was one of the leading candidates for The Olive Tree in Lombardy.

The Union is also supported by a number of minor parties and movements, although of those only the Pensioners' Party has any elected representation (1 Member of European Parliament).

Debates



For some time, Silvio Berlusconi had challenged Romano Prodi to a debate on national television. Prodi, however, said he would accept only if certain rules had been set. Possibly because he thought he was behind in the polls, Berlusconi saw the debate as a chance to turn the tables, and accused Prodi of fleeing from him. It is notable that, in the 2001 elections, it was Berlusconi who refused to meet the centre-left candidate, Francesco Rutelli.

Two televised debates were set by the ''Parliamentary Committee of Inspection on RAI'', which had the goal of ensuring equal treatment for the two political sides. However, Prodi contested the deliberation of this Committee, which allowed Berlusconi to also hold a final televised speech after the debates as Prime Minister. Prodi refused to participate in any debate until this final speech had been cancelled. The issue was resolved on March 3, when Berlusconi finally agreed to cancel the final speech.

The debates lasted about 90 minutes each, did not include commercials, and had a preset time for each answer and each reply, and the obligation to film only the speaking person at any given time. The candidates were also forbidden to bring any kind of notes with them, even though they could write some down during the debate, and no audience was allowed to participate. This set of rules was very unusual in Italian political talk shows, where politicians usually interrupt each other, talk simultaneously and for as long as they can hold the word. Questions to candidates are posted by two journalists from the Italian press: the moderator himself was not allowed to ask any questions, but only to present the debate and guarantee respect of the rules. At the end of the debates, the candidates are allowed to make a final statement of 3 minutes.

The first televised debate, held on March 14, was broadcast live on Rai Uno, and moderated by Clemente Mimun, Director of ''TG1''. It featured questions from journalists Roberto Napoletano of ''Il Messaggero'' and Marcello Sorgi of ''La Stampa''. It was watched by over 16 million people, a record for a political TV show. During his final speech, Berlusconi, who often overran his intervention times, attacked the rules of the debate, in his opinion too strict, whereas Prodi praised them, pointing out the fact that they are used in US debates this way, as well. Some observers commented that Berlusconi had been disappointing in this debate, scribbling nervously while he was talking and at a point confusing Iran and Iraq; while all politicians claimed their candidate had won the debate, it was generally agreed that Berlusconi had not dealt a strong blow to Prodi.

The second debate [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4874400.stm], moderated by Bruno Vespa, an Italian journalist and anchorman, was held on April 3 and broadcast live on Rai Uno, featuring questions from Napoletano and Sorgi (same journalists of the first debate). It was dominated by the economic proposals and was more intense, with much stronger tones between Prodi and Berlusconi. In this debate, Berlusconi had the possibility of making the final 3-minute statement: in this time, he delivered his "surprise blow" proposing the abolition of ICI, a local tax on real estate whose money belongs to local city councils.

Later on, it turned out that Berlusconi's proposal was not completely agreed upon in the rest of the House of Freedoms, and Prodi, immediately after the debate, noted "about ICI, I want to know what the centre-right mayors think about".

Platforms



The Union


After a long discussion, the centre-left coalition released its official platform on February 10, 2006, and presented it to the public the next day. However, the Rose in the Fist refused to sign it in, because it did not explicitly include some issues, such as civil unions and gay rights. The platform has been criticized by the House of Freedoms because of its 281 page length.

A reduced, more readable, version of the official political platform has been released since then by the coalition, in order to answer the critics from the centre-right coalition.

The main points of the centre-left platform were:
*More safety, by moving police resources from immigration and escort issues to the control of the territory;
*Controlled immigration and promotion of legal ways to immigrate in Italy;
*A quicker and more reliable judicial system;
*Full condemnation and fight of dodging and regularization of concealed labour;
*More integration with the European Union;
*Recognition of rights for civil, unmarried couples;
*Immediate withdrawal of the Italian troops in Iraq;
*Numerical restraint and regulation of the typologies of flexible labour;
*Reduction of taxes on work by 5% (often referred to as the ''fiscal wedge''), to be financed by increased policing activity against tax dodgers;
*Increase in taxes on temporary work positions to encourage permanent employment.

House of Freedoms


The platform of the House of Freedoms was released on February 25. It is 22 pages long , and it is defined as the continuance of the first five years of centre-right government. It is different by the ''contract with Italians'' (just five basic points) which characterized the 2001 election. It was criticized as "vague" and "propaganda".

The main points of the centre-right platform were:
*Increase of fiscal autonomy for Regions (, fiscal federalism);
*Realization of the so-called (big works), notably the Strait of Messina Bridge;
*Support for smaller and family companies, and the ''Made in Italy'' export goods business;
*Tax reduction;
*Consolidation of relationships with the USA and reaffirmation of the commitment to the European Union;
*Defence of the values of family as based on marriage;
*Rise of legal penalties for criminal offences;
*Keeping up with the current politics for creating jobs, especially for the young Italians and the women;
*Restrictions on immigration

Opinion polling



According to the opinion pollings released, mainly commissioned for national newspapers, magazines and TV stations, The Union wass clearly leading the race to the general election. It must be noted that the three surveys which show a majority of votes for the House of Freedoms have been all commissioned by Berlusconi's party Forza Italia. Notably, the surveys of Penn, Schoen & Berland, a U.S. research firm, were commissioned by Berlusconi because he claimed the national surveys to be politically biased.

According to the Italian law, it is forbidden to publish any opinion polling in the 15 days which precede the election (March 25, in this case).

The final result (49.8% Union vs 49.7% House of Freedoms) was about 3% different from almost all polls (including all the exit polls) reducing the expected 5% gap between the coalition to a difference of about 0.1%. On Italian TV some tried to explain this discrepancy claiming that some House of Freedoms voters were ashamed to admit that they planned to vote for them. Others claimed that the last week of electoral campaign, dominated by Berlusconi's proposal of cutting ICI and by the media's insistence on the alleged new taxes advocated by The Union, persuaded a large number of Italians, usually uninterested to politics, to cast a vote for the House of Freedoms.



Political issues



The election date


In July 2005, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi asked current PM Silvio Berlusconi about the opportunity for an early election for the first half of April 2006, in order to prevent a big political deadlock (the mandate of President Ciampi himself would be over in May 2006 and a newly-elected government was not likely be in office within three weeks). Berlusconi however refused the deal, claiming he would stay in office until the due date of his term.

But, on October 18, Berlusconi announced that the election would be held on April 9, 2006, eventually following the suggestions from President Ciampi. Berlusconi also announced that the next administrative elections (which include the mayoral elections of Rome, Milan and Naples) will be held in May, the day after Romano Prodi had asked to vote for all elections the same day, in April. Berlusconi stated this was due to his fear that good government by center-left mayors could favour the center-left in the general election. Critics say holding all elections in the same day could save millions of euros in public expenditure.

The law


One of the main topics that might be relevant for this general election is the law. Its name, in Latin, means ''equal treatment''; it is a special law which guarantees all the main majority and opposition political forces to have equal media treatment, in terms of times and spaces, and, furthermore, denies political commercials for TV and radio outside some dedicated transmissions.

Berlusconi has declared several times that he wants the law to be either repealed or at least changed in a much lighter way.[http://www.adnkronos.com/3Level.php?cat=Politica&loid=1.0.184884545 Adnkronos - Ign - Il portale d'informazione del Gruppo Adnkronos] Critics and opponents say that Berlusconi's willingness to have the law abolished are dictated by his almost complete control of 6 channels (he is owner of Mediaset, which broadcasts three national private channels, and controls indirectly, as Head of Government, the three RAI public broadcasting channels).

In his latter government years, Berlusconi attempted to accelerate his desires; however UDC, who is part of the Berlusconi government, declared several times its opposition to either abolish or change the law, with secretary Lorenzo Cesa, after his election as party leader, who pointed out his refusal of any change of the law.

The law however did not prevent Berlusconi from using his TV channels of Mediaset, and even SMS via cellphones, to manage to get more votes. During the election day Berlusconi's channels aired a lot of messages to remind people who were watching his TV channels to use their vote together with spots saying "Mediaset gives you everything without asking for anything in return". While these spots didn't break the par condicio law, it was broken by some of the journalists (especially Emilio Fede, well-known for his political ideas) of the Berlusconi's channels and in March and April 2006, the ''Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni'' fined twice his privately owned channels for violation of the ''par condicio'' law, the biggest fine to date (300,000 €).

Tax breaks


Before winning the 2001 election and becoming Prime Minister of Italy, Berlusconi signed in a TV show a ''Contract with Italians'', where he promised, if elected, to fulfil at least four of the five points included in it. One of the main points regarded a tax break for income levels, whereas The Olive Tree policy was essentially to maintain a progressive taxation system.

The generalised tax break was somewhat enacted in 2005, and included in the last Financial Measure. The opposition blamed Berlusconi for doing the tax break in one of the worst economic periods for the country, with no coverage for the resulting debt, and accused Berlusconi's allies of accepting the tax break in return for better power positions; during the negotiations for the Financial Measure, the Alleanza Nazionale leader, and, at that date, vice-premier, Gianfranco Fini, was moved to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and UDC leader Marco Follini, who had no ministerial role before that date, was chosen to replace Fini.

In the electoral campaign, Berlusconi and the whole centre-right coalition almost daily criticized the left, alleging that Prodi would increase taxes if elected, pointing out the centre-left proposal to have a 5% cut of the tax wedge.

Taxes have become the main topic for the end of the electoral campaign, with Berlusconi citing Prodi would reintroduce the inheritance tax, abrogated in 2001, and increase the current tax system on treasury bills (BOT, CCT) and would tax also the stockmarket tradings. Prodi pointed out the fact that he would reintroduce the inheritance tax only for the very rich people, and would not increase the taxes on treasury bills.

Foreign reputation


A good friend of George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, Berlusconi supported the American invasion of Iraq, and, during the Italian EU presidency, suggested to Chairman of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament Martin Schulz, during a talk, a role of kapo (concentration-camp inmate appointed as supervisor) for a hypothetical movie, claiming he would be "perfect" for the role. When Berlusconi entered the Strasburg Parliament he was welcomed with posters in various languages addressing him as "Godfather of Europe", explicitly referring to Francis Ford Coppola's cinematic series about the mafia, without respecting his high institutional role as EU Council president. Afterwards Mr Berlusconi exploded at the insisting questions of MP Schulz. This diplomatic incident cooled down the Italy-Germany foreign relations for a period. Eventually a phone call between the Prime Minister and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder put an end to the dispute.

In 2001 Berlusconi declared Western civilization to be "superior to Islam", which he was very much criticized for.

But in particular the international English-speaking press, such as ''Financial Times'' and ''Newsweek'', criticized Berlusconi's work. Several times, before and after his election as prime minister, the weekly worldwide magazine ''The Economist'' accused Berlusconi of being essentially "unfit to lead Italy".

New voting rights for Italians living abroad


For the first time in Italian history, Italian citizens living abroad were able to vote by postal ballot (without having to ''physically'' return to Italy to cast their vote) for 12 deputies and 6 senators who will represent them in the Italian Parliament, an unusual system that was supported by Silvio Berlusconi and promoted by Mirko Tremaglia. These parliamentary seats are organized into four constituencies (Europe, North & Central America, Latin America, and Africa/Asia/Oceania). Candidates must live in their respective constituencies.

Forty-two percent of eligible voters abroad participated in the elections. Prodi's L’Unione managed to secure 4 of the 6 Senate seats, while Berlusconi's Forza Italia and an Independent candidate each gained 1 of the remaining 2 seats, aiding Prodi in gaining a majority in the Italian Senate. In the House of Deputies, 7 seats went to l'Unione, 4 to Berlusconi's coalition, and one to an Independent candidate. In North America, candidates from Toronto and Chicago were elected to the House of Deputies while the candidate from New York City was elected to the Senate.

Berlusconi has claimed, in challenging the election results, that there were irregularities in the vote abroad. The result of the vote may have been influenced by the fact that numerous right-wing parties put forward candidates in the constituencies abroad, while there were few left-wing candidates, thereby splitting the right-wing vote. This tactical error may be explained through the novelty of the vote abroad.

Voting rights for Italians living abroad prior to 2006


Italian citizens living outside of Italy have always had the ''De Jure'' ''right'' to vote in all referendums and elections being held in Italy (provided they had registered their residence abroad with their relevant consulate). However until late 2001, any citizen wishing to vote, was required to ''physically'' return to the city or town in Italy where he or she was registered on the electoral roll. The ''only'' exception to this rule was for the Italian elections to the european parliament in which voters could cast their ballot at their nearest consulate but only if they had their residence in one of the other 14 EU countries.

Until 2001 the Italian state offered citizens living abroad a free return train journey to their home town in Italy in order to vote, however the portion of the train journey that was free of charge was ''only on Italian soil''. Any costs incurred in getting from their place of residence abroad to the Italian border had to be covered by the citizen wanting to vote, therefore a free return train journey was hardly an incentive for the large Italian communities living as far away as in the United States, Argentina or Australia. For this reason very few Italians abroad made use of this right to vote, unless they lived in cities and towns that bordered to Italy such as in Germany, Switzerland, France and Austria. Various Italian minorities living abroad (notably in the United States) protested frequently at this lack of political representation especially if they paid taxes on property owned in Italy.

After numerous years of petitioning and fierce debate, the Italian government, in late 2001, finally passed a law allowing Italian citizens living abroad to vote in elections in Italy by postal ballot. The change is the result of a thirty-year struggle to recognize the rights and special interests of Italians who have migrated abroad but retain their Italian identity.

Italians wishing to excise this right must first register their residence abroad with their relevant consulate.

Constitutional reform


During the last few months of 2004, the House of Freedoms coalition proposed a large and consistent reform of the current Italian Constitution, which was formulated in 1948. It proposes several changes to the current political system: it reduces the number of MPs from about 950 to 750, it gives more power to the prime minister (no longer called president of the council), there will be no possibility to express a vote of no confidence against the prime minister without indicating his successor (similar to Germany's constructive vote of no confidence); it puts an end to the necessity of a law being approved by both Chambers, attributing a clear competence to each of them; it gives more power to the regions, with several references to devolution, the main programme point of the autonomist government party Northern League, still guaranteeing, according to the new version of article 127, the national interest, which had been cancelled by the previous reform of the left.

The Italian Constitution prescribes that both chambers must accept every modification to the constitution twice within three months, and, if it passes with less than two thirds of the votes at the second scrutiny, a national referendum on the modification can be held (the reform will make it always possible to call such a referendum). Since the centre-left opposition opposed to the new constitutional reform, describing it as "dangerous", "separatist", and "antidemocratic", the first procedural step, that is, the approval by the Chamber of Deputies, was done successfully in October 2004, but with less than 2/3 of the lower-house votes, making possible the confirmative referendum. The second favourable polling, in Senate, was done on March 2005, whereas the third one occurred on October 20. During the third polling, former UDC leader Marco Follini announced he would abstain from the final vote, not support anymore the constitutional reform, followed by his party fellow Bruno Tabacci.

On November 17, the Senate approved the constitutional reform in its final instance; Northern League leader Umberto Bossi attended the discussion and the voting, returning back to the Parliament, even if just as spectator, after his illness. During the vote, Domenico Fisichella announced his opposition to the reform, and his immediate resignation from the party, going against the party line about the issue. Italian MPs quite easily change party and even coalition: in the legislature between 1996 and 2001 15% of MPs did so.

The House of Freedoms' proposal of constitutional reform has been done in a unilateral way - no agreement with the opposition, whereas the current Italian Constitution was written after World War II by all the national political forces (except the fascists), ranging from Liberals, to Christian Democrats, to Socialists, to Communists and others. According to the House of Freedom, this policy was adopted in order to correct the constitutional reform approved by the former center-left majority in 2001 (Constitutional law 3/2001) with the same modus - no agreement with the opposition. However, the new reform deeply modifies constitutional system of Italy, while the 2001 reform just partially modified a section of the Constitution.

The national referendum, requested by the center-left opposition and a number of associations and regions - even by the center-right ruled Lombardy, has been kept in June 25-26th, 2006 and it has been concluded with the refusal of the constitutional reform by 61,32% of voting.

The 2005 regional elections




On April 3 and 4, 2005, regional elections were held in 13 Italian regions (the election in Basilicata was put off for two weeks because of irregularities). The final result actually reversed the political scenario of Italy, with left-wing opposition coalition The Union winning in 11 regions, while right-wing government coalition House of Freedoms maintaining only two of the eight regions they were ruling before the election. These results have brought some right-wing members, including vice-premier Marco Follini, to ask for early national election.

The left-wing primary election




On October 16, 2005, a primary election was held to officially declare the one and only candidate for the centre-left coalition ''The Union''. Over four million voters have participated to the election.

Major candidate Romano Prodi, who has been one of the main supporters of the primary election, gained a clear win, obtaining about 75% of the votes and defeating Communist Refoundation Party leader Fausto Bertinotti, Green Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, popular former magistrate Antonio Di Pietro, Catholic centrist politician Clemente Mastella, independent candidate Ivan Scalfarotto and far left candidate Simona Panzino. The election was also opened to non-Italian official residents, even if they will not be eligible to vote for the general election.

Economic issues


Italy is the only European country in which there is an almost-zero rate of growth in economy, and one of the highest debts in the whole EU, which brought Berlusconi to ask successfully to have the Treaty of Maastricht parameters relaxed. This led to several critics of the Berlusconi's policy on economy, strictly linked to the work of the Italian Ministry of Economy Giulio Tremonti, which was forced to resign in 2004 after heavy protests from parties of his own coalition, especially the National Alliance, and returned to his previous cabinet position one year later, following the resignation of Domenico Siniscalco; Tremonti's work for trying to fill the cash deficit was often based on amnesties for infringement of tax and building regulations. Prodi and the centre-left often criticized that facet of the centre-right politics.

Job security


The regulation of temporary employment was first introduced as "pacchetto Treu" during the 1996–2001 centre-left government. It was then changed by Minister of Labour Roberto Maroni in 2003, introducing a high number of temporary labour forms and made temporary labour cheaper than permanent.

The centre-left heavily criticized the current law, claiming it has damaged the future of the younger people. More recently, Prodi defined the current labour law as "much worse than French CPE".

The centre-left has proposed to put temporary and permanent job costs on the same level, contain the number of temporary labour forms, and regulate internships.

The electoral system



Since 1994 general election and through the 2001 general election, Italy had a mixed electoral system, with 75% of the seats assigned through a plurality voting system, and 25% through a proportional one.

The Italian Chamber of Deputies has 630 seats, the Senate 315 (exactly half).

Approval of a new voting system



A white paper for a proportional-only electoral system was presented to the Chamber of Deputies on September 13, 2005, only seven months before the 2006 general election. This reform, strongly backed by the centre-right Union of Christian and Centre Democrats, proposed a 4% threshold before a party gained any seats, and a majority bonus of (at least) 340 seats for the winning coalition, the total votes for each coalition being the sum of the votes of those coalition parties which had won at least 4% of the national votes. The new proposal was approved by parliament.

An electoral survey published on September 15, 2005 by the national left newspaper ''La Repubblica'' claimed that, with the initial proposal of electoral reform become law, the House of Freedoms would win the next elections 340-290, even if they won only 45% of votes and the opposition coalition The Union won 50%, because the Union also includes several small parties with less than 4% of national votes. This could have been avoided if the small opposition parties ran on a common ticket. Aim of this bill of reform was to reduce the number of parties, and particularly the moderate Left would have taken advantage in respect to the smaller radical left parties.

The Union of Christian and Centre Democrats, commenting on the proposal, asked for the abolition of the 4% cut-off clause, whereas the National Alliance did not show any favour to this attempt of reform, with its leader Gianfranco Fini claiming to want first to vote for the constitutional reform, and then for the new voting system, on condition that the 4% cut-off were not repealed.

This proposal of law was strongly questioned by the opposition coalition, who defined it an "attempted coup". Opposition leader Romano Prodi said it was "totally unacceptable". Several newspapers politically oriented to the left nicknamed the electoral system proposal by the House of Freedoms as "", after "" (Italian for "fraud") and the "", (from Sergio Mattarella), the most common name for the previous Italian electoral law (there is a recent custom to nickname new electoral systems by a somewhat Latinised version of the name of the lawmaker; another one is the system used in regional elections, the so-called "" from Pinuccio Tatarella).

Notably, some smaller opposition parties, such as Communist Refoundation Party and UDEUR Populars, support a proportional electoral law; nevertheless, they declared they were against an electoral reform by this parliament, because the current law would be changed too close to the 2006 general election.

The Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi had previously been a strong supporter of the plurality-based electoral law; in 1995, talking about his coalition, he even defined the plurality principle as "our religion".

A modified version of the first proposal, this time with a 2% threshold for entering Parliament and without vote of preference for candidates, but still without the support of the opposition, was presented to the Chamber of Deputies. The voting count started on October 11; the lower house of Italian parliament then approved the electoral reform on October 14.
The new electoral was then eventually approved on December 16, 2005, and countersigned by President Ciampi on December 23, 2005.

Roberto Calderoli, the main author of this electoral reform, defined this law "a rascality" (using the mildly vulgar term "").

Ironically, the new electoral law allowed Mr Prodi to count on a large majority in the Chamber and to obtain majority also in the Senate, where The House of Freedoms actually had more votes (49.88% vs. 49.18% of the Union).

Results



Chamber of Deputies ("Camera dei Deputati") (Lower house)




Senate (of the Republic) ("Senato della Repubblica") (Upper house)




Note: 7 Senators ''a vita'' (for life): Francesco Cossiga (Former Italian President), Oscar Luigi Scalfaro (Former Italian President), Giulio Andreotti (Former Italian Prime Minister), Rita Levi Montalcini (Nobel Prize winner for Medicine 1986), Emilio Colombo (Former Italian Prime Minister), Giorgio Napolitano (Former President of Italian Chamber of Deputies and Minister of the Interior), Sergio Pininfarina.

Vote count controversy


Although The Union led initial exit polls and was quickly expected to win the election, the gap with House of Freedoms narrowed as the votes were tabulated. The initial Interior Ministry results showed that Prodi had won the Chamber of Deputies by 25,204 votes, and Prodi declared victory on April 11. Berlusconi, however, refused to concede, claiming discrepancies in the vote counting process, with 43,028 Chamber ballots and 39,822 Senate ballots to be re-checked by the Interior Ministry. Berlusconi also claimed problems with the vote from abroad, which was critical in giving L'Unione a majority in the Senate. Five ballot boxes were also found on the streets in Rome after the election. On April 14, however, the Interior Ministry announced that there had been a mistake in the report of the number of ballots to be rechecked. Only 2,131 Chamber ballots and 3,135 Senate ballots merited re-examination (reducing the total number of disputed ballots from the over 80,000 initially reported to just over 5,000). The result of this check added equally a few hundred votes to each coalition.

Analysts also believed that the vote from abroad was so overwhelmingly in favour of The Union that the election would be highly unlikely to be overturned in Berlusconi's favour.

The last ruling of the supreme court ("Corte di Cassazione") on April 19 stated that Romano Prodi won the election by 24,755 votes.

On November 23, 2006, the Rome Attorney's office announced to have started an inquiry following the release of "Uccidete la democrazia" (Kill the democracy), a documentary movie about a supposed attempt by the centre-right government to manipulate the electoral results by switching a large number of blank ballot papers, which notably fell down from 4.2% to 1.1% of all valid papers (over one million less), to votes for the Forza Italia party.


Source: Wikipedia