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Constitutional Court postpones judgment on new electoral law after referendum a done deal

by Vittorio Nuti

With a decision that was, in part, expected, the Constitutional Court has chosen to postpone its judgment on the constitutionality of Italy’s new electoral law, removing a potential headache for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government.

The ruling was due for October 4. Now the court will have to set a new date. It is unlikely that the date will be before January 2017, that is, when the controversial constitutional referendum is already a thing of the past.

The so-called Italicum electoral reform, effective since last July, applies only to the Chamber of Deputies. This assembly, in fact, would be the only one to survive if the constitutional reform wins in the upcoming referendum.

The decision by Court’s President Paolo Grossi comes before the announcement of the referendum’s date for the constitutional reform (roughly between November 20 and December 4) that the Cabinet is due to set at a meeting scheduled on Monday, September 26.

For various reasons, the postponement seems to make everyone happy.

For Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, there is relief for what he immediately reported as a “change of climate” that will allow for a debate on “the merits” of the reform. The Democratic Party minority (which is against the reforms) is convinced that the delay is a “wise decision.”

Even the leader of the “No” Committee to vote against the reforms, Felice Besostri (”What is important is that Italicum is judged first by the court before its application”) and the Center-Right party are satisfied.

This postponement of the scrutiny of the Italicum's constitutionality reduces the risk that the Constitutional Court’s ruling could be exploited in the contentious debate surrounding the upcoming referendum.

In the current scenario, in fact, every decision by the Court could be mistaken for a “political” and “partisan” ruling, to be interpreted as an approval or a rejection of the government and, indirectly, of the reform of the Constitution desired by Renzi.

The new electoral law under consideration by the Court includes a majority premium so as to reach 340 seats (out of 618) for the party list that, it it wins more than 40%, obtains more votes in a “bonus.” If no party list obtains more than 40% of the votes, there is a run-off election to obtain the majority premium bonus.

If the Court had ruled in October for a radical censorship of the Italicum, for example, based on the expectation of the run-off election, the “No Committee” for the referendum would have been able to speak about an indirect rejection of the constitutional reform. If instead the comments were light, the Yes side would have been able to rejoice and claim victory.