Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The deeper malaise that bedevils the Italian electoral system

Today's FT publishes a letter written by David Hine, Alan Renwick and me, on the issue of the Italian electoral system, recently the object of much debate:

Sir, Alexander Stille's analysis of Italy's current troubles focuses on the electoral reform rushed in by Silvio Berlusconi ahead of last spring's election ("Prodi and the problem of Italy's electoral system", February 23). He calls it proportional representation. It isn't. In the lower house it gives a working majority to the coalition with the largest national vote share. In the Senate, there are also bonuses, but they are allocated regionally and the outcome is a lottery.

The problem with the recent reform is the same as with its 1993 predecessor. In trying to create majoritarian coalitions, it creates an irresistible incentive to cram in the most improbable range of parties, giving everyone a post-election veto: a fatal combination of apparent bipolarity built on a sub-structure of extreme party fragmentation.

Recommending the abolition of PR will not fix anything until that deeper problem is addressed. After the 1993 reform, the small parties won their seats in the 75 per cent of contests that were allocated under first-past-the-post principles, not in those allocated by PR. It happened because the larger parties felt forced to widen the coalition through stand-down agreements. A similar incentive operated under the 2005 "return to PR", albeit by a different route.

Interestingly, the electoral system that small parties seem most afraid of is the French second ballot, perhaps modified to prevent second-ballot stand-downs. The run-off, as with the French presidency, would then be just between the two leading candidates from the first ballot. Nothing else has done the trick, and there are few options left.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Croatia's HRT to get new boss...sometime

Legal uncertainty about procedure for replacing PSB boss. So much for the quality of the draftsmanship of media legislation, the object of much comment from EU 'experts'. (Of course, the idea of eliminating interpretative uncertainty is chimeric).

Saturday, February 24, 2007

State funding of Italian newspapers

Following a tip [thanks Costanza], I found a wonderful transcript of an episode of Report on the state funding of Italian newspapers. The state spends 667 million euros a year to subsidize newspapers; the intention behind the subsidies was originally to help struggling 'newspapers of ideas'. Instead, with a 1987 law permitting two deputies to certify that such-and-such a newspaper is the in-house newspaper for a political movement, the subsidies blossomed. The transcript does a wonderful review of some of the less credible newspapers:

What, 'L’opinione'?

You've never heard of it?

No, if it's a newspaper it doesn't arrive here

INTERVIEW [to EDITOR of L'Opinione]
How many copies do you sell?

Our circulation is... limited, let's say. We're at about three, four thousand copies.

INTERVIEWER [off-screen]
Three, four thousand copies, and you receive two million euro

Monday, February 19, 2007

The election will not be televised [not by Duhamel, that is]

Interesting story last week about Alain Duhamel, respected French television journalist who was sacked for revealing who he would vote for in the upcoming presidential election. Here's the story, as recounted by someone more familiar with the case than I [thanks Ben!]:

Duhamel writes editorials for newspaper, he is a journalist and a political
interviewer on RTL (the French radio with the largest audience) and on
France 2.

The basic story is: last November this journalist is invited to talk at a
small conference by some students (young members of Bayrou’s party the UDF)
at Sciences Po in Paris (the equivalent of the LSE for France some would
say). In the course of his speech he negligently mentions that he intends to
vote for Bayrou in the next presidential election. He claims not to have
known that the conference was being videotaped. At the beginning of
February, the students put the video on their website and on
dailymotion.com, a few blogs mention it, but no one seems to pay attention
to it. Yesterday morning, the video had only been seen 265 times. That’s
when Guy Birenbaum puts the video on his blog (he is a very complex figure,
he has a PhD in political science with a thesis on the Front National and is
officially a political science professor at a French University although he
doesn’t teach anymore, he created his own publishing company where he
publishes mainly essays that would not be accepted by other companies
because of their polemical content, he writes editorials for different
medias and polemical books, and has a blog with a wide audience). Soon the
information that Duhamel votes for Bayrou appears on the website of all the
big medias (le Figaro, le Monde, LibĂ©ration…) and arguing that Duhamel now
lacks the independence needed to do his job he is suspended, first from
France 2 and then from RTL. He was actually scheduled to interview Bayrou on
France 2 yesterday evening. The whole thing started a big buzz about the
independence of journalists... and about the impact of
internet compared to traditional media.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

State funding of Italian parties

Recently, I've been looking at the system of state funding of Italian political parties. I'm interested in the subject because of the incentives it may create to form new parliamentary groups (since they qualify for funding), and the way funding systems interact with the new electoral system.

The history of state funding is pretty shabby. In 1993, an abrogative referendum repealed parts of the law on party funding, banning direct subventions, but allowing compensation for electoral expenses. These electoral expenses gradually grew; new laws were passed in 1999 and 2002, lowering the qualification threshold from 4% of vote-share to 1% of vote share (or electing at least one candidate), with funds divided according to the parties' vote-shares.