Electoral Systems, Forms of Government and the Local Political Class in Italy

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The local level of government in Italy represents the principal area in which the profound transformations that have taken place in the political system have been accompanied by a series of radical institutional reforms. These reforms have subverted a form of government and an organizational structure that until then had remained unchanged since the end of the Second World War. These include the direct election of the mayor; the newly conferred power of the mayor to nominate and dismiss commissioners; the separation of roles between those of government (mayor and administration) and those of normative direction and control (council). These are only the most visible and important innovations of the vast institutional transformation that accompanied the transmutation of the political system on both a local and national level in Italy. This inclination towards personalization, towards both a prominence and a managerialism of the executive level would seem to converge with similar processes (as observed by some scholars) in the local governmental systems of the principal European countries. This paper proposes, for this reason, to describe and analyze the reform of the electoral systems and forms of local government, and attempts to verify the measure in which these institutional innovations have modified the identity, role and the functions of the local political class in Italy. The empirical verification is based on analysis and comparison of the results of a qualitative research study conducted in 1993 (just before the parliamentary approval of the reform calling for the direct election of mayor) and repeated in 1999. This study was based on a questionnaire given to 160 local politicians – mayors, councilmen and commissioners – of 16 municipalities (ten questionnaires per municipality) of medium size and located in geographical areas representative of diverse social, economic and cultural contexts: Piedmont, Veneto, Tuscany and Sicily. In particular, following an analysis of the principal contents of the approved reforms in the course of the 1990s, the study moves on to a description of the principal characteristics of the municipal political class up until the end of the 1980s. In fact, the empirical research studies regarding this sector have all highlighted how, independently of the differences in social, economic and cultural contexts of the municipalities in question, the municipal councilman belonged to a well-defined category within the Italian political system. Given this reality, it was possible to draw a fairly clear profile of this political figure. The municipal administrator was prevalently male, 40 something, with a background in civil service, and a long history of membership in a political party. In other words, a sort of “self-referential class” associated with a single model of political engagement. Successively, these characteristics are examined in light of the empirical evidence that emerged from the 1993 and 1999 studies, thus tracing the evolution of the local political class in socio-graphic terms, and in those of a political career in parties and in public institutions. In this sense, particular attention is paid to the emergence of a process within which there is a distinct divergence between the characteristics defining the members of representative assemblies and those defining the members of the executive branch (commissioners, mayors). If one of the objectives of the reforms was to separate and distinguish the executive branch from the municipal council, and in so doing to sacrifice (according to a widely-
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRevolution or Renovation? Reforming Local Politics in Europe
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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