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A snap general election was held in Italymarker on 13 April and 14 April 2008. The election came after President Giorgio Napolitano dissolved parliament on 6 February 2008 following the defeat of the government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi in a January 2008 Senate vote, and the unsuccessful tentative appointment of Franco Marini with the aim to change the current electoral law. Under Italian law, elections must be held within 70 days of the dissolution. The voting determined the leader of Italy's 62nd government since the end of World War II. The coalition led by ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from the People of Freedom party defeated that of former Romemarker Mayor Walter Veltroni of the Democratic Party.

Overview of results

The new People of Freedom party (merging Forza Italia and the National Alliance) achieved the largest share of the vote for a single party at about 37.5%. The new Democratic Party (formerly The Olive Tree coalition) achieved the second-largest share for a single party, at about 33%. The main center-right coalition of the PoF and the Northern League achieved about 47% of the vote, and the main center-left coalition of the Democratic Party and Italy of Values achieved about 38%.

The Italian party-list representation system of 2005 automatically boosts the largest coalition's representation in the lower house of parliament to 340 seats (about 54%), and a similar super-assignment system at the regional level succeeded in providing the center-right with 174 seats (about 55%) in the Senate. The center-left obtained 239 seats in the lower house and 130 seats in the Senate. The scale of the center-right's majority in the Senate came as a great surprise in contrast to predictions of a tight or hung chamber. Opponents of the 2005 proportional representation law had claimed it would inherently produce unworkably small majorities in the Senate, and the previously strident calls for a new electoral law will now likely be deferred. In the absence of a defection by the Northern League (such as brought down the first Berlusconi government in 1994), the current parliament is likely to be stable and last its entire five year mandate.

With the elimination of the The Left - The Rainbow from the legislature, and the absorption of the other successor parties to the Italian Communist Party into the Democratic Party, this will be the first Italian legislature since World War II to contain no self-identified Communists. This is a remarkable transformation in a country which as recently as the 1980s had the largest non-ruling Communist Party in Europe. Since the Italian Greens chose to align themselves with the far left, they have also been eliminated from the legislature, making Italy one of the few European countries where the Greens have no representation.

Analysis of party performances

For Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the People of Freedom party, the 2008 elections were a personal triumph after the narrow win by the center-left and left in the 2006 elections. He succeeded in merging his Forza Italia party and the National Alliance into a unified party. But he gained only about 2% over the showing of the two parties in the 2006 elections, and is dependent on the Northern League for his majorities in both houses of parliament.

For the Democratic Party, the strategy of this election was to merge the left-of-center into a single party. Walter Veltroni refused to form a coalition with the far left parties in the interest of longer term party development. His strategy was partly successful — he eliminated competition from the far left — but despite this the new party's share of the vote improved only slightly from its predecessor's performance in the 2006 election, gaining about 2%.

The Northern League (with its small Southern Italian ally the Movement for Autonomy) achieved the greatest gains in the election, doubling its share of the vote from about 4.5% to 9%. People of Freedom is dependent on the Northern League for its majority. This will give the League leverage within the centre-right coalition to advance its agenda of greater regional autonomy in Italy, and its opposition to mass immigration and any electoral changes designed to further weaken small parties.

The new Union of the Centre party (formed primarily from the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats) failed to achieve any breakthrough as a centrist third force, achieving about 5.5% of the vote, similar to its predecessors' 2006 performance.

The significant losers in the election were the far left parties, which fell from about 10% in total in the last election to about 5% in total, and lacking a unified coalition failed to obtain any seats in either house. The largest far left grouping, The Left - The Rainbow, obtained only about 3% of the vote, below the 4% threshold required for seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Its leader Fausto Bertinotti stepped down immediately after the election.

A new attempt at unification on the far right, The Right - Tricolor Flame party, achieved some success at over 2% of the vote, but also failed to reach the 4% threshold. The far right faction of Alessandra Mussolini had joined the People of Freedom rather than The Right.

Despite the return to party-list representation in the much-criticized 2005 election law, Italy took a further step in the 2008 elections toward a reduction of parties in parliament. But the strength of the Northern League, the continuing relevance of the Union of the Centre for some former Christian Democrats, the failure of the Democratic Party to absorb Italy of Values, and the possibility of a return to parliament by the far left in a future general leftward electoral shift, leave the question open of whether Italy will end up with the American-style two-party system that the main parties on the center-left and center-right appear to hope for. After the results were in, Pier Ferdinando Casini, leader of the Center Union described the developing system as not the American model, but the German modelmarker, where despite two large blocks, several smaller parties remain significant and sometimes essential to coalitions.

Electoral system

Italians voted in this election with the same electoral system used in 2006, based on party-list representation. This electoral systems allow parties to formally define coalitions. The coalition with a plurality of votes nationwide then obtains an absolute majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies. This is not in Senate's case, as absolute majorities of seats are awarded regionally.


Major competitors in the election were expected to be Silvio Berlusconi, as leader of the centre-right opposition coalition, and Walter Veltroni, leader of the Democratic Party. Berlusconi's right coalition was leading by a significant margin in opinion polls. The 71-year-old Berlusconi, who was twice prime minister—from May 1994 to January 1995 and again from May 2001 to May 2006—is not considered too old for the job although he had bypass surgery since leaving office.

Veltroni's campaign has been compared to Barack Obama's presidential run in the United Statesmarker. The most apparent of the similarities is his slogan, "Si può fare" (literally: "it can be done").

Following the calling of the election, Veltroni stated his party will not make any alliance in either Chamber, choosing instead to run alone with its own platform, and challenged Berlusconi to do likewise with his Forza Italia party. The main four left-wing parties not part of the PD decided to contest the election together under the banner of The Left – The Rainbow. On February 8, Berlusconi announced Forza Italia and Gianfranco Fini's National Alliance will run together under the common symbol of the People of Freedom party, being regionally allied with Lega Nord.

On February 13, Veltroni announced to have reached an agreement with the Italy of Values, led by Antonio Di Pietro, which agreed for an electoral alliance with the Democratic Party, accepting also to join the Democratic Party parliamentary groups after the election. On February 21 the Italian Radicals announced an agreement with the Democratic Party, accepting to present themselves in list with the latter, under the agreement they will have nine MPs elected in the Parliament, and appointment of Emma Bonino as Minister in case of victory.

Though Berlusconi and Veltroni were in opposite parties, they allegedly represent such similar policies that they were dubbed "Veltrusconi". Both candidates supported big tax cuts and generous spending programs.

Union of Christian and Centre Democrats was invited to support Berlusconi, but refused and decided to run on its own instead. White Rose originally planned to run alone with Bruno Tabacci as their PM candidate, but shortly before the filing deadline, they decided to form joint lists with the UDC.

The following lists ran in the election:


Chamber of Deputies

Senate of the Republic

Composition of the elected Senate.


Parliamentary groups in the Italian Parliament at the inauguration of the 16th Republican Legislature.

Parliamentary groups after 2008 Italian general election


  1. Berlusconi plans Naples clean-up BBC News, 15 April 2008
  2. Berlusconi declares election win BBC News, 14 April 2008

The People of Freedom
275 seats
146 seats
Democratic Party
217 seats
119 seats
Northern League
60 seats
26 seats
Italy of Values
29 seats
14 seats
Union of the Centre
35 seats
11 seats
with SVP

Mixed group
* Movement for Autonomies
* South Tyrolean People's Party
* Valdotanian Union
* Independents and Senators for life

14 seats
6 seats
630 seats 322 seats

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