Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2, 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum. It has a parliamentary system of government with many political parties, none of which commands a majority of popular votes. Italian society remains strongly divided politically, and Italian governments have often been weak and ineffective. Although Italy’s tumultuous politics have produced more than 50 different governments since the advent of the democratic system, order is maintained through a well-established bureaucracy that supports the elected offices.
Italy is governed by a constitution that came into effect on January 1, 1948. By the terms of the constitution, the reestablishment of the Fascist Party is prohibited; direct male heirs of the house of Savoy are ineligible to vote or hold any public office; and recognition is no longer accorded to titles of nobility, although titles in existence prior to October 28, 1922, may be used as part of the bearer’s name.
The executive branch of Italy’s government is composed of the president, the council of ministers, and the civil service. The president of Italy is elected for a seven-year term by a joint session of parliament augmented by 58 regional representatives. The president must be at least 50 years old. Although head of the government, the president usually has little to do with the actual running of it. These duties are in the hands of the prime minister—who is chosen by the president and must have the confidence of parliament—and the Council of Ministers. The prime minister (sometimes called the premier, or, in Italy, president of the Council of Ministers) generally is the leader of the party that has the largest representation in the Chamber of Deputies.
The Italian parliament consists of the Senate (upper house) and the Chamber of Deputies (lower house). Although both houses are legally equal, the Chamber of Deputies is politically more influential, and most leading politicians in Italy are members of it. In both houses, members are elected by popular suffrage (vote) to serve five-year terms of office. The Chamber of Deputies has 630 seats. The Senate has 315 seats for elected members, plus 10 seats reserved for “life members,” who include past presidents and their honorary nominees. Citizens must be 25 years of age or older to vote for senators; in all other elections, all citizens over age 18 are eligible to vote. Members of the Senate must be at least 40 years old; members of the Chamber of Deputies, at least 25. For many years, Italian citizens voted for political parties, and individual representatives were named by party leaders in a proportional manner.
But as a result of corruption scandals in the early 1990s, a number of public referendums were passed in 1993 that mandated a more direct electoral system. Under that system, 75 percent of all seats were filled by direct candidate ballot, and the remaining 25 percent were distributed among qualifying parties according to a system of proportional representation.
However, in December 2005 the parliament voted to reform the electoral law to reinstate full proportional representation. The revised election system introduced three separate thresholds for parties and coalitions to qualify for seats in parliament: Smaller parties that belong to a coalition must obtain at least 2 percent of the national vote, stand-alone parties must obtain at least 4 percent, and coalitions as a whole must obtain at least 10 percent. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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