Since unification in 1861, with a brief hiatus between 1939 and 1943, the Italian Parliament has been composed of a Chamberof Deputies, elected initially by a very restricted form of suffrage and since 1946 by all adults over 18 years of age, and a Senate. The Chamber was housed between 1861 and 1865 in Palazzo Carignano in Turin and then, after the capital moved to Florence, in Palazzo Vecchio. When the capital was moved to Rome in 1871, the Chamber was housed in Palazzo Montecitorio and remains there today. Between 1939 and 1943, the Chamber was abolished and replaced by the Camera dei fasci e delle corporazioni (Chamber of Fascists and Corporations). Membership was limited to members of the national council of the Partito Nazionale Fascista/National Fascist Party (PNF), members of the Fascist Grand Council, and 500 representatives of the corporations. The Senate was nominated by the king until 1948. The Statuto Albertinoallowed the king to choose senators for life from 21 different categories of profession, including bishops, experienced parliamentary deputies, judges, ambassadors, and artists and thinkers who had shown exceptional merit. Senators had to be over 40 years of age. After unification, the power to nominate senators passed more and more into the hands of the government and the prime minister of the day, although formal power remained with the king. Camillo Benso di Cavourmanaged to get nearly 160 senators nominated, and the Senate was gradually filled with eminent figures from outside Piedmont (each influx of new nominees was called an infornata, or “bake”). When the capital moved to Rome, the Senate was housed in Palazzo Madama, by an odd coincidence the same name as the building that had housed it in Turin, and it is still there. The Senate was much more conservative than the Chamber during the period 1861–1922, and many inconclusive plans were hatched to reform it and make it more representative of the country’s new middle class, but during the Fascist period it paradoxically gained more independence, and some of the Fascist regime’s most public critics, notably Luigi Albertini and Benedetto Croce, were protected by their membership. The Italian Parliament today consists of a Chamber of Deputies of 630 members elected by universal suffrage and a Senate of 315 elected members plus life senators (ex-presidents of the republic and up to five presidential nominees named for “social, scientific, artistic, or literary” merit). Only citizens over 25 can vote in Senate elections; those who have reached their majority (age 18) may vote for the Chamber.
   The Italian Parliament sits for a maximum of five years, although the president can dissolve the legislature if the government of the day is no longer able to command a parliamentary majority. Both chambers of Parliament must give an initial vote of confidence to a government before it can take office. Meeting in joint session, the Parliament also chooses the president of the Republic for a seven-year term, as well as 5 of the 15 members of the Constitutional Court. To calm the fears inspired by a strong executive, and the better to ensure a level of representation that Fascism had denied, the writers of the Constitution of 1948 revived the prefascist parliamentary system with only a few changes. Parliament was given strong powers to curb the executive (including secret voting, which meant that the power of party whips to coerce their deputies into obedience with the party line was greatly reduced), and an extremely representative system of proportional representation was adopted. In a society as divided as Italy is by region, economic function, and class, this decision ensured that politics would be conducted by multiparty coalitions. All laws must be approved by both chambers of Parliament, and there is also a powerful committee system. The parties of Italy’s Parliament can be said to have been grouped into five main categories between 1946 and 1994: the Catholics, the “lay” parties, the Marxist left, the neofascists, and the regionalists. Before the corruption scandals in the 1990s, the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy Party (DC) regularly received around 40 percent of the vote. The Marxist left also usually polled almost 40 percent of the electorate. Since both the neofascists and the communists were regarded as “antisystem” parties, coalitions had to be built around the DC, with the cooperation of the “lay” parties and of the Partito Socialista Italiano/Italian Socialist party (PSI) whenever that party was willing to move into the mainstream. The current Parliament is as thronged with miniparties as ever. There are more than a dozen parties represented, the largest of which, Forza Italia, commands only about one-fifth of the available seats. Italy’s parties unsurprisingly seem unwilling to vote for an electoral law that might reduce their number.
   See also Corporatism.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.


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