Italy: Risk of imminent snap elections reduced

The PD party will hold a congress after Renzi’s resignation as party leader. Should the PD split, government activity could be possibly negatively affected. The publication of the motivation of the Constitutional Court ruling on the Italicum, the electoral system for the Lower House, was seen as a crucial passage towards the end of the current legislature. As a reminder, the ruling yielded a trimmed-down version of the Italicum, proportional in nature, which the Court itself reckoned already usable. The ruling of the court added that different electoral systems in the two branches of the parliament are acceptable, provided that they do not prevent the formation of “homogeneous parliamentary majorities”. As the electoral law of the Senate is also proportional in nature (with a different entry threshold and no majority bonus), most observers read the qualification of the Court’s motivation as an implicit recognition that a viable, if imperfect, electoral system is in place and ready to be used in case of snap elections. As many key actors on the political scene had been vocally pushing for snap elections, the risk of a vote in June was then seen as increasing. However, developments within the Democratic Party (PD) over the last couple of weeks have mixed up the cards. First came some statements from a couple of ministers, originally in favour of a rush to the polls, who had apparently changed their mind, and started suggesting that a better electoral law should be sought in the Parliament and that the current Gentiloni government should be given some time to complete unfinished work. The second, more powerful, turning factor was the meeting of the steering committee of the PD party, the senior party in the current government alliance, which was held last Monday. The debate, opened by Renzi as the party’s leader, highlighted once more that strong divisions between Renzi and the leftist minority persisted. During the discussion Renzi proposed that a party congress should be called soon and that this should be concluded with a primary election to nominate the new party leadership. The leftist minority refusal to accept Renzi’s candidacy as leader of the party, not to mention the imposition of any short deadline for the congress, opened the door to the possibility of a party split. The issue was tackled again during the assembly of the PD party held yesterday in Rome. Divisions were confirmed as was the scarce willingness to bridge the gap on both sides. Yesterday Renzi formally resigned from his leadership, technically paving the way to the party’s congress, whose timetable will be set tomorrow in the meeting of the steering committee. The risk of a party split now looks very high. In principle, the perspective of a PD congress held over the spring should substantially reduce the risk of a June snap national election. Should a split of the PD party actually materialise, the risk of political instability would likely increase, and PM Gentiloni’s government action could be weakened as a consequence. Not only would it be harder to assign priorities to left-over reforms (the new Gentiloni government is de facto a continuation of Renzi’s government), but chances of reaching an agreement on a parliamentary modification of the electoral law would also be reduced