Gennaro Ferraiuolo, Diego Praino
The role of political parties in the Italian electoral reforms
Revista Catalana de Dret Públic, Issue 57, 2018 158
it is enough to mention that Duverger (1986: 71) himself was well aware that the party system also depends
greatly on other complex factors, such as social forces and national traditions.
is possible to argue that parties affect the regime type on different levels (Praino, 2014: 7ff.).
parties should adopt in order to make a democratic system work (Müller, 2000: 309), certain mechanisms
seem to be clear, especially the fact that several variables related to the party context may easily jeopardise
the relationship between voters and institutions, and thus the “quality” (Elia, 1970: 651) of democracy. This
is one of the reasons why “the idea that political parties are essential for practicing democracy in the modern
State has become dominant” (Müller, 2000: 309).
Secondly, the party context may directly affect how the system works and its essential structure (Praino,
2017), altering the role played by constitutional bodies and institutional actors, as well as their prerogatives
and powers. For example, when discussing the shift of the decision-making power from Parliament to the
Prime Minister in the evolution of the British system, Bobbio (1996a: 47ff.)3 explained that this monocratic
shift was only made possible because of the democratic structure of the political parties that exist in that
system. In the UK, the connection between Government, Prime Minister and majority party is extremely
important (Elia, 1970: 650), and this connection, together with the role played by the latter, has created the
“optical illusion” of a strong executive (Bobbio, 1996a: 69), within which the Prime Minister has acquired
more and more power over time. A similar “illusion” can be found in the French experience, where the
president exerts political powers that go beyond the role designed by the Constitution (Duverger, 1980:
170f.). For instance, the discretionary dismissal of the Prime Minister has become a de facto power since
De Gaulle replaced Michel Debre
strengthened the president’s position in the system. This mechanism works, however, only as long as the
party context allows. If it did not, the Prime Minister’s prerogatives would re-emerge, as has happened in
cases of cohabitation. It seems clear that in both experiences the power does not go directly towards the
executive, but rather from the electorate to the parties, and then up towards the leader of the ruling political
force (who is also leader of the executive). In brief, both in the British and the French systems, the political
power of the executive is linked to the electorate by means of the party context (Bobbio, 1996a: 59).
Party dynamics may also limit the concentration of power, as occurs, for example, in Austria. The same
prerogative mentioned for the French experience – the dismissal of the Prime Minister – is explicitly given to
the president by the Austrian Constitution (Müller, 2003: 243f.). In that system, however, the Head of State’s
role in the appointment of the executive is mostly formal, since those dynamics are, in practice, driven by the
majorities in parliament – i.e. by parties. In other words, the party context functions in a manner that limits
the president’s position in the system.
In conclusion, the study of the relationship between electoral systems and forms of government is extremely
complex and requires research methodology that takes into account several factors, both legal and of other
varying natures – political, sociological, historical, etc. (Scoppola, 1997: 33ff.). If it is true that “European
democracies are not only parliamentary democracies but also party democracies” (Müller, 2000: 309), then
the party context is always an essential factor, since it expresses the social and political dynamics of the
system, mediating between formal rules and the real functioning of the democratic institutions.
3 The Italian electoral saga
Between the 1948 Constitution’s entering into force and the Nineties, Italian parliamentarism was based
on electoral legislation that was strongly inspired by proportional representation,4 and worked according to
3 This contribution is from the text of a conference held in 1946.
4 In that period, there was an attempt to modify the proportional nature of the system: Law no. 148 of 1953 (commonly called
“Legge truffa”, approved during the De Gasperi VII Government) designed, for the Chamber of Deputies, a bonus mechanism that
assigned around 65% of the seats to the connected lists that had obtained the absolute majority of votes. That law was the cause