ABSTRACT

Party and party system changes are arguably the most visible manifestations of the transition between the so-called First and Second Italian Republics. In the first half of the 1990s, Italy experienced a massive party realignment; at the same time major changes occurred, at least apparently, in important structural aspects of the party system. Such transformations were the consequence of a number of different factors. The exposure of Italy’s widespread system of political corruption, the collapse of international communism, and electoral change were all considered to be relevant by most commentators and analysts. The first two were produced by coincidental and to a certain extent incidental events, whose effects were de facto exhausted by the mid-1990s. The third factor, electoral change, also had some immediate direct effects, such as causing the near-disappearance of the Partito Popolare Italiano (PPI) – the direct heir of the once mighty DC – that permitted observers to appreciate the actual extent of party and party system change. Electoral change, however, has also had a more lasting quality, one which

has allowed it to continue to have an impact on a still evolving situation.

I have discussed elsewhere the more or less enduring relevance of party system change factors in Italy (Bardi 2006), concluding that only electoral change appears to have had an ongoing impact over the last 10-12 years. For this reason alone, we can say that electoral change represents an ideal focus for an analysis of party and party system change in Italy and of the overall transition the country’s political system is still undergoing. Therefore this article will attempt to assess the impact of electoral change on the Italian party system. As we shall see, this is a rather complex endeavour, entailing a consideration of the different types of party actors, individual parties and coalitions that operate in the Italian political system, and of the different arenas in which such actors compete.