Italian general elections: the forgotten 10% of voters who could overturn the results

In times where Italian politics is exceptionally unstable, with the looming victory of the far-right wing in the forthcoming National Elections, an extremely pressing and paradoxical, yet often overlooked issue stands out among the causes of radicalised results

Thursday, 14th July. The Italian Five Star Movement fails to vote confidence on the ‘Dl Aiuti’ backed by the Draghi cabinet, thus triggering a sudden, unforeseen government crisis. Whilst the crisis is adamantly condemned by the left wing, it is long coveted by the right wing, which, aware of favourable election polling data, has obstinately been calling for anticipated national elections since the fall of the previous government. In spite of repeated attempts to resolve the crisis, spearheaded by President Mattarella’s initial rejection of PM Mario Draghi’s resignation, the fall of the government ultimately appears inexorable.

Today, after over two months of intense campaigning crammed with controversial slogans, Super Mario, who in just one month had managed to reach 63% approval rating in opinion polls and who was recently bestowed with the World Statesman Award 2022, is preparing to leave Chigi Palace. As the first Italian National Election to ever be held in autumn approaches, while polling data has remained completely unchanged all along, far-right Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni, alongside her three-party coalition, has virtually secured her win as Italy’s next Prime Minister and head of nothing less than the most right-wing government in the country’s post-war history.

The reasons

The sheer unambiguousness of the forthcoming results has left a large portion of the dissenting population wondering what the cause of such unprecedented radicalisation could be. Many have interpreted it as one of the most impactful symptoms of the broader economic crisis generated by the restrictions imposed as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic on the one hand, and the protracted war in Ukraine on the other. Others have blamed the right wing’s practically certain triumph on the left wing’s lack of cohesion and poor campaign strategy, primarily focused on compulsively demonising their adversaries.

Yet, an extremely critical factor that has frequently been ignored or downplayed is the lack of legislation enabling citizens who live outside the municipality where they are registered as residents to cast their votes from their domicile, without necessarily having to vote in their municipality of residence.

The issue

According to the Italian National Institute of Statistics, there are about 4.9 million citizens (nearly 10% of the national population), including nearly 600.000 students, who are precluded from exercising their right to vote because they are not registered as residents in the municipality in which they live. Such a large number of abstainers would, without any exaggeration, have the potential of overturning the results of the election, considering a significantly large portion of them has a left or centre-left political leaning.

Although Italian train companies offer this segment of the population up to 70% discounts on journeys back to their municipality of residence around the election day, these citizens still face a considerable financial as well as time burden when exercising their fundamental right to vote. This is particularly true for citizens who have to travel long distances to go back to their municipality of residence, as well as those who are forced to travel from or to Sicily, Sardinia or other islands, thus necessarily having to resort to ferries in order to redeem the discount, which is unavailable for air travel.

The paradox

Paradoxically, citizens who live abroad but are not registered to the AIRE, namely the Register of Italians living abroad, will still be able to cast their vote by post as long as they submitted a request to their municipality of residence in Italy before 24th August. In order words, it is, for instance, easier for students who study abroad to vote than it is for students who study in a different Italian city, much closer to their municipality of residence but still not close enough as to be able to vote without facing any significant disadvantage.

There are only two other countries in the European Union that face a similar lack of legislation: Malta and Cyprus. However, given their considerably small size, this lack is virtually imperceptible to their population. Again, Italy finds itself at the very bottom of European rankings, as all other EU Member States allow some type of ‘distance voting’, whether it is by post (like Germany, Spain and Ireland), in advance or in some special polling room (like Greece), or by proxy (like France). Other Member States even permit multiple of these options, like Sweden, Hungary and Poland, which allows all three.

The action taken so far

Despite the fact that several parties have stated their intention to create adequate legislation in this regard if elected, the failure of Italian politics to bring about timely reform can partly be ascribed to the powerful right wing’s staunch opposition to any such legislation, in light of the fact that it would not play in their favour at the polls. There are currently several ongoing petitions fighting for reform, the most popular one being that advanced by The Good Lobby and the Io Voto Fuori Sede Committee, which, however, is not likely to bring any success in the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, the Committee has recently filed a civil action against the Ministry of the Interior with the aim of requesting a referral to the Constitutional Court, which it hopes will declare the unconstitutionality of the current electoral law.

In these times of political instability, with the looming victory of the far-right wing, it is absolutely crucial to raise awareness of this extremely pressing issue, further exacerbated by the unacceptable paradox that it presents. It is not too late to do justice and make the next National Elections truly National.

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