Meloni’s constitutional reform clears first hurdle


Lerato Khumalo

Amid loud protests from the opposition, the Italian Senate approves the controversial constitutional reform of the Meloni government. But there are still further hurdles.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s plans for a controversial constitutional reform have cleared a first hurdle. The Italian Senate approved a corresponding bill from the right-wing government.

The constitutional reform stipulates that in future the Prime Minister will no longer be commissioned by the President to form a government, but will be elected directly by the people for a five-year term. The fact that the government is to be led by the person clearly chosen by the electorate is also intended to prevent so-called technocratic governments, in which non-partisan experts are brought in from outside to form a functioning coalition out of complicated majority situations.

In addition, a so-called majority bonus is to be introduced, which automatically guarantees the election winner and the lists associated with him a clear majority of 55 percent of the seats in both parliamentary chambers, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. However, there are still some unanswered questions about this part of the reform. For example, it is not yet entirely clear whether a candidate who only received a simple majority in the election will automatically receive the majority bonus. Constitutional lawyers therefore doubt the practical suitability of this part of the reform.

The bill to amend the constitution, approved by the Senate, will now be sent to the Chamber of Deputies for a vote. On Tuesday, it failed to receive the two-thirds majority required to avoid a referendum, with 109 votes. Nor is it expected to receive one in the Chamber of Deputies, so this was only a first step towards final approval.

In Italy, any constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers of parliament. If this is not achieved, the matter must be voted on in a referendum. Most recently, the then Prime Minister Matteo Renzi failed in a constitutional referendum in 2016. He was subsequently forced to resign.

The three largest opposition parties demonstrated against the reform with thousands of supporters on Tuesday evening. Elly Schlein of the social democratic PD called on the chronically divided left to unite against the Meloni government’s plans: “This is a decisive step in Italian and European history. Let us be ready, united and close.” The head of the left-wing populist Five Star Movement, Giuseppe Conte, also took part in the demonstration.

The government parties, however, were jubilant. Prime Minister Meloni described the vote as a first step to strengthen democracy. The reform would also give stability to Italian institutions, which would put an end to the palace games and give citizens back the right to choose who governs them, Meloni wrote in the evening on the online platform X (formerly Twitter).

The right-wing government in Rome wants to use the reform to combat the chronic instability of Italian governments. Since the end of the Second World War, Italy has had a total of almost 70 governments. Many agree that the political system must therefore be reformed. However, the reform has been sharply criticized by the opposition and constitutional lawyers.

They fear that Meloni’s reform could deprive parliament and the president of important powers. The role of the president, with his key balancing function, would be reduced. They also complain that power would be concentrated in a single person, thus turning the power structure on its head.

In the autumn, Meloni will have been in government for two years. Since October 2022, her ultra-right Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) have been governing together with the conservative Forza Italia party and the right-wing populist Lega. The average duration of Italian governments is 18 months – Meloni’s right-wing alliance has now been in power longer than usual for Italian conditions. Constitutional reform as a solution to political instability was one of the governing coalition’s most important election promises.