Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Prodi claims victory, Berlusconi refuses to concede

Here's the latest on the Italian election from the BBC:

Italy's centre-left opposition leader Romano Prodi has been declared official winner of the parliamentary election after an extremely close race.

But his rival, centre-right PM Silvio Berlusconi, refused to admit defeat, saying there had been irregularities.

Official results showed Mr Prodi had won just enough seats to control the Senate (upper house) after having already won a lower house majority.

He rejected Mr Berlusconi's suggestion of forming a grand coalition.

Now, to understand these results you need to know a few things about Italy's weird electoral system (I know a thing or two about electoral systems and this one's truly weird). You can find a good overview of that system, as well as of Italy's electoral history, here.

This was the first election held under a new PR (proportional representation) electoral system. For the Chamber of Deputies, 617 of 630 seats are elected according to (or in proportion to) the popular vote. One seat is elected in Valle d'Aosta, a quasi-autonomous region of the country in the north-west. The remaining 12 seats are elected by Italian citizens abroad. A similar system is used for the Senate.

The results of the Senate elections put Prodi's The Union coalition at 158 seats and Berlusconi's House of Freedoms coalition at 156 seats. The vote of Italian citizens abroad put Prodi over the top.

And for the Chamber of Deputies? According to The New York Times: "The final results, released late Tuesday, showed Mr. Prodi winning the lower house with 49.8 percent of the votes, compared to Mr. Berlusconi's 49.7." In terms of seats, however, the results put Prodi ahead of Berlusconi 348 to 281. This is because the new electoral system automatically gives the coalition that wins the popular vote a minimum of 55 percent of the seats. If the results hold, Prodi will form a government with a sizeable majority (by Italian standards at least) even though he only beat Berlusconi by 0.1 percent of the popular vote of 38 million. That amounts to a difference of just 25,000 votes.

And that's where the problem lies. Again from the Times: "In each chamber, there were still some 40,000 contested ballots, plus half a million blank ballots and another half a million that were nullified or contested during the initial counting." The Guardian Online is reporting that the difference in the popular vote for the Chamber of Deputies is 28,000 votes and that there are 43,028 spoiled ballots.

Remember Florida? This is like that, only much, much bigger. And Italian. No wonder Berlusconi won't concede. Given that this is likely Berlusconi's last chance, and given that he runs the Italian media and has tons of money at his disposal, look for him to contest these results and to concede nothing to his bitter rival.

I'll have more on this in the days and weeks to come (yes, this may drag on). In the meantime, go see Matthew Shugart at Fruits and Votes, an excellent blog devoted largely to all things electoral. He demystifies Italy's electoral system here. In fact, you can find all of his posts on Italy here. (Matthew, who has often commented here at The Reaction, is a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego. He knows whereof he blogs.)

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