One of the many benefits of studying political science abroad is getting to experience a different political system first-hand. Poli-sci students at JCU can see how the Italian government operates, how local media covers politics, and how people living in Italy react to new policies and debate pressing issues.
Italy’s political system has its own unique history and approach. Italy has been a parliamentary republic since 1946. In order to govern the country, the executive has to enjoy the support of a majority of the members of each of the two chambers of Parliament.
Whether you’re a casual observer or a dedicated policy-follower, read on for a quick guide to how politics works in Italy.
Italian Election Process & Power Structure
Unlike the election process in the US and Britain, citizens vote for a particular party-list or coalition, though the voters can also indicate a preference among the people included in the list. A characteristic of Italian election is the power granted to political parties to select candidates and rank them in electoral lists: the higher the ranking the greater the chances of being elected.
Italy also has both a President who acts as the head of state and a Prime Minister who is the Head of Government, and the leader of the Council of Ministers, which holds executive power. Germany has a similar system in which the President functions as head of state and the Federal Chancellor acts as the head of government, while in the United States both these roles are occupied by the President.
For nearly 50 years, Italy’s political system was dominated by one party called the Christian Democracy. But during the 1990s, corruption scandals rocked Italian politics and lead to the emergence of many new parties and coalitions.
Partito Democratico: the Leading Party
The current President of Italy is Sergio Mattarella, and the Prime Minister is Matteo Renzi – both from the leading Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is a center-left party that was founded in 2007, and incorporated other center and leftist groups including members of the “The Olive Tree” coalition from the late 1990s.
As you study in Italy, you’ll learn that Matteo Renzi is the youngest Prime Minister in the country’s history, and that his priorities involve revitalizing the economy, instituting constitutional reforms, as well as dealing with the current migrant crisis.
Forza Italia: the Conservative Opposition
Forza Italia, which can be translated as “Go Italy,” is currently one of the two leading opposition parties. It is a center-right party that was founded in 2013 from the previously defunct Forza Italia party, which existed from 1994 to 2009.
Forza Italia’s leader is the highly controversial former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has been convicted for tax fraud, and embroiled in scandal over a number of other allegations. Forza Italia has expressed support for privatization programs and, in general, for reducing the role of the state in the economic sphere.
Five Star Movement: Digital Democracy
The other large opposition party is the 5-Star Movement, founded In 2009 by Italy’s famous comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo, riding the wave of voter frustration with traditional political parties. “M5S” is known as an anti-establishment populist movement that advocates direct democracy and promotes other issues such as right to internet access, sustainable development, and environmentalism.
A Word on Coalitions
A key feature of the Italian political system is the proliferation of political parties, which can number well over a dozen. Some international students in Italy may be used to political systems in which a coalition government is formed only during a time of crisis, like a war or economic collapse. In Italy, on the other hand, because there are so many parties, coalition governments are the rule rather than the exception. With no single party commanding a solid majority of the votes, parties often band together to form a coalition, thereby strengthening their chance to win a majority.
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