Italy Votes to Eliminate One-Third of Country's Lawmakers in Rebuke of Political Elites

Italians overwhelmingly voted to approve a constitutional amendment this week which reduces the number of lawmakers in both chambers of its national parliament by one-third.

An awkward coalition between Italy's center-left Democratic Party and the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement party are claiming victory after a referendum held Sunday and Monday saw 70 percent of voters approve the massive reduction in government positions. The move is set to reduce the size of Italy's lower Chamber of Deputies from 630 elected members down to 400. The upper Senate chamber will cut 115 total lawmaker positions to go from 315 to 200 available seats.

Supporters of the large-scale elimination of national government positions said Italy's parliament contained far too many lawmakers who were sitting on high salaries, expense accounts, taxpayer-paid limousines and very little actual legislation. About 52 million people were eligible to vote in this week's referendum, which has still only posted preliminary voting totals.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Italy's Parliament rejected a proposal that would have cut lawmakers' salaries in half. Italian lawmakers are paid around $11,773 each month (€10,000), which is 50 percent higher than their counterparts in the British government.

Overall, the Rome-based government is set to cut back its total number of seats from 945 to 600. The changes will take effect prior to Italy's next parliamentary election cycle in 2023.

"Populism is far from dead. The antiestablishment sentiment is still pronounced in European societies," said Catherine De Vries, a political science professor at Milan's Bocconi University, in an interview Monday with the Wall Street Journal's Giovanni Legorano.

Five Star Movement proponents said the move is set to save $580 million (500 million euros) during a five-year legislative period. The staggering cost of perks and privileges for the national politicians came under increased scrutiny during the coronavirus pandemic. Critics of the country's constitutional reforms told local newspapers that the move undermines Italy's democratic system while only creating a small financial benefit to taxpayers.

The referendum was a result of an odd alliance between Italy's Democratic Party and the 5 Star Movement's populist party, which is led by Matteo Salvini, a figure who has gained international notoriety for his anti-immigration stances. As of Monday, the country's longtime political establishment Democratic Party is clinging to majority seats by maintaining votes in the Tuscany region surrounding Florence, Bloomberg reported.

Some projections saw Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's power being challenged as a result of the vote, but his party appears likely to maintain control. Despite the referendum, Conte has enjoyed largely positive approval ratings throughout the COVID-19 pandemic which claimed more than 35,600 lives across the country.

italy parliament referendum vote size
Italians overwhelmingly voted to approve a constitutional amendment this week which reduces the number of lawmakers in both chambers of its national parliament by one-third. ANTONIO MASIELLO / Contributor/Getty Images
Italy Votes to Eliminate One-Third of Country's Lawmakers in Rebuke of Political Elites | World