By Joseph Solomita, NYU class of 2014
Like most politics majors I can’t help but get excited when election time rolls around. Obsessively checking the preliminary polls, watching every hilarious campaign ad, and contributing in every possible way to the candidate of choice. Unlike most politics majors however, I have had the rare fortune of living through two general elections in the span of four months. Doesn’t seem possible? Think again.
Soon after the 2012 United States general election in which President Barack Obama decisively defeated former Governor Mitt Romney, I departed for Florence to begin my semester abroad. I arrived in Florence on January 29th 2013, just one month before the 2013 Italian general election.
I have to admit I knew nothing about Italian politics. I mean I knew who the former Prime Minister was but that was more due to my closet addiction to TMZ then my knowledge on international relations. Like any other student with a thirst for knowledge and a love for politics would do, I started doing as much research as possible on the Italian political system. What I found out is that any American that complains about the bureaucracy, gridlock and bi-polarism in American Politics should take a glance at Italy’s system and I guarantee they’d sleep a little easier. Italy has one of the most complex parliamentary systems in the world and the results of the 2013 general elections did not bring any more clarity to the matter.
Unable to form a governing majority, Italy remained under the rule of technocratic leader Mario Monti, until April 23, 2013, when President Giorgio Napolitano appointed Enrico Letta, member from the lead vote getting coalition, Prime Minister of Italy. For the first time in Italy’s Republic, a grand coalition has been formed. Whether this unprecedented experiment will be a success is something that is yet to be determined just as history has yet to write the legacy of Obama’s second term.
The system of electing these leaders is something that is already being dissected. In America, a rigid two party system has been the norm since the country’s existence. Although social media has undoubtedly changed the game a bit, the core of American elections are fundamentally the same. Both major parties go through a primary system in which they nominate the representative they hope to be elected leader of the nation. In Italy it is much different, with just one party holding a round of primary elections, citizens are forced to vote for parties and coalitions rather than a representative.
To me, the biggest difference between the systems of Italy and America is that President Barack Obama has a mandate from the people to run the country. We know that 51.1% of voting Americans directly selected Barack Obama to lead them and therefore any decision he makes is supported by the voting majority. Granted, a president can be elected with less than 50% of the vote, it has happened 12 times in America’s history and the list is highlighted by some very popular presidents including Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton. Either way, in America we know that the man leading our nation is the guy the most Americans have directly voted for, with just four other exceptions in our country’s history in which the losing candidate received a plurality of the popular vote but lost in the electoral college.
In Italy, the Prime Minister is never directly elected. The Prime Minister is dependent on parliament’s approval to give him a vote of confidence, and just as we saw in this current election, once Pier Luigi Bersani, the man whose party the people voted for, couldn’t get a vote of confidence , the president was able to simply selected any member of the top vote getting coalition to lead the country. We saw a similar case in 2011 when former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigned, President Napolitano selected a technocrat with no political experience to lead the country and the citizens did not get a say, only parliament.
No electoral system is perfect, we see flaws with every system, the goal of any government, however, should be to best protect and represent the view of the people. And I truly believe America does that better than any country in the world.