Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2, 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum. The constitution was promulgated on January 1, 1948.
The Italian State is highly centralized. The prefect of each of the provinces is appointed by and answerable to the central government. In addition to the provinces, the constitution provides for 20 regions with limited governing powers. Five regions--Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige, Valle d'Aosta, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia--function with special autonomy statutes. The other 15 regions were established in 1970 and vote for regional "councils." The establishment of regional governments throughout Italy has brought some decentralization to the national governmental machinery.
The 1948 constitution established a bicameral parliament (Chamber of Deputies and Senate), a separate judiciary, and an executive branch composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet), headed by the president of the council (prime minister). The president of the republic is elected for 7 years by the parliament sitting jointly with a small number of regional delegates. The president nominates the prime minister, who chooses the other ministers. The Council of Ministers--in practice composed mostly of members of parliament--must retain the confidence of both houses.
The houses of parliament are popularly and directly elected by a mixed majoritarian and proportional representation system. Under 1993 legislation, Italy has single-member districts for 75% of the seats in parliament; the remaining 25% of seats are allotted on a proportional basis. The Chamber of Deputies has 630 members. In addition to 315 elected members, the Senate includes former presidents and several other persons appointed for life according to special constitutional provisions. Both houses are elected for a maximum of 5 years, but either may be dissolved before the expiration of its normal term. Legislative bills may originate in either house and must be passed by a majority in both.
The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and subsequent statutes. There is only partial judicial review of legislation in the American sense. A constitutional court, which passes on the constitutionality of laws, is a post-World War II innovation. Its powers, volume, and frequency of decisions are not as extensive as those of the U.S. Supreme Court.
There have been frequent government turnovers since 1945. The dominance of the Christian Democratic (DC) party during much of the postwar period lent continuity and comparative stability to Italy's political situation.
From 1992 to 1997, Italy faced significant challenges as voters--disenchanted with past political paralysis, massive government debt, extensive corruption, and organized crime's considerable influence--demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms. In 1993 referendums, voters approved substantial changes, including moving from a proportional to a largely majoritarian electoral system and the abolishment of some ministries.
Major political parties, beset by scandal and loss of voter confidence, underwent far-reaching changes. New political forces and new alignments of power emerged in March 1994 national elections. The election saw a major turnover in the new parliament, with 452 out of 630 deputies and 213 out of 315 senators elected for the first time. The 1994 elections also swept media magnate Silvio Berlusconi--and his "Freedom Pole" coalition--into office as Prime Minister. Berlusconi, however, was forced to step down in January 1995 when one member of his coalition withdrew support. The Berlusconi government was succeeded by a technical government headed by Prime Minister Lamberto Dini, which fell in early 1996.
A series of center-left coalitions dominated Italy's political landscape between 1996 and 2001. In April 1996, national elections led to the victory of a center-left coalition (the Olive Tree) under the leadership of Romano Prodi. Prodi's government became the third-longest to stay in power before he narrowly lost a vote of confidence (by three votes) in October 1998. A new government was formed by Democratic Party of the Left leader and former-communist Massimo D'Alema. In April 2000, following a poor showing by his coalition in regional elections, D'Alema resigned. The succeeding center-left government, including most of the same parties, was headed by Giuliano Amato, who previously served as Prime Minister in 1992-93.
National elections held on May 13, 2001 returned Berlusconi to power at the head of the five-party center-right "Freedom House" coalition, comprising the prime minister's own party, Forza Italia, the National Alliance, the Northern League, the Christian Democratic Center, and the United Christian Democrats.
In May 1999, the Parliament selected Carlo Azeglio Ciampi as the Republic's President. Ciampi, a former Prime Minister and Minister of the Treasury, was elected on the first ballot with an easy margin over the required two-thirds votes.
Political Parties Italy's dramatic self-renewal transformed the political landscape between 1992 and 1997. Scandal investigations touched thousands of politicians, administrators, and businessmen; the shift from a proportional to majoritarian voting system--with the requirement to obtain a minimum of 4% of the national vote to obtain representation--also altered the political landscape.
Party changes were sweeping. The Christian Democratic party dissolved; the Italian People's Party and the Christian Democratic Center emerged. Other major parties, such as the Socialists, saw support plummet. A new liberal movement, Forza Italia gained wide support among moderate voters. The National Alliance broke from the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement. A trend toward two large coalitions--one on the center-left and the other on the center-right--emerged from the April 1995 regional elections. For the 1996 national elections, the center-left parties created the Olive Tree coalition while the center-right united again under the Freedom Pole. The May 2001 elections ushered into power a refashioned center-right coalition dominated by Berlusconi's party, Forza Italia. The Olive Tree coalition now sits in the opposition. This emerging bipolarity represents a major break from the fragmented, multi-party political landscape of the postwar era, although it appears to have reached a plateau, since efforts via referendums to further curtail the influence of small parties were defeated in 1999 and 2000.
The largest parties in the Chamber are Forza Italia (28.8%); Democrats of the Left (22.1%); the National Alliance (16%); the Daisy center-left coalition, which includes elements from Italian Renewal; Democrats and Union of Democrats for Europe (13%); and the Whiteflower coalition of two centrist parties (6.4%). Similar rankings generally apply in the Senate, in which Forza Italia and the Democrats of the Left remain the dominant parties.
conventional long form: Italian Republic
conventional short form: Italy
local long form: Repubblica Italiana
local short form: Italia
former: Kingdom of Italy
Data code: IT
Government type: republic
Administrative divisions: 20 regions (regioni, singular - regione); Abruzzi, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardia, Marche, Molise, Piemonte, Puglia, Sardegna, Sicilia, Toscana, Trentino-Alto Adige, Umbria, Valle d'Aosta, Veneto
Independence: 17 March 1861 (Kingdom of Italy proclaimed; Italy was not finally unified until 1870)
National holiday: Anniversary of the Republic, 2 June (1946)
Constitution: 1 January 1948
Legal system: based on civil law system; appeals treated as new trials; judicial review under certain conditions in Constitutional Court; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal (except in senatorial elections, where minimum age is 25)
chief of state: President Carlo Azeglio CIAMPI (since 13 May 1999)
head of government: Prime Minister (referred to in Italy as the president of the Council of Ministers) Silvio Berlusconi (since 28 June 2001)
cabinet: Council of Ministers nominated by the prime minister and approved by the president
elections: president elected by an electoral college consisting of both houses of Parliament and 58 regional representatives for a seven-year term; election last held 13 May 1999 (next to be held NA May 2006); prime minister appointed by the president and confirmed by parliament
election results: Carlo Azeglio CIAMPI elected president; percent of electoral college vote - 70%
bicameral Parliament or Parlamento consists of the Senate or Senato della Repubblica (315 seats elected by popular vote of which 232 are directly elected and 83 are elected by regional proportional representation plus, in addition, there are a small number of senators-for-life including former presidents of the republic; members serve five-year terms) and the Chamber of Deputies or Camera dei Deputati (630 seats; 475 are directly elected, 155 by regional proportional representation; members serve five-year terms)
elections: Senate - last held 21 April 1996 (next scheduled for NA April 2001); Chamber of Deputies - last held 21 April 1996 (next scheduled for NA April 2001)
election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Olive Tree 157, Freedom Alliance 116, Northern League-Padania 27, Communist Renewal 10, regional lists 3, Social Movement-Tricolored Flames 1, Panella Reformers 1; Chamber of Deputies - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Olive Tree 284, Freedom Alliance 246, Northern League 59, Communist Renewal 35, Southern Tyrol People's Party 3, Autonomous List 2, other 1
Judicial branch: Constitutional Court or Corte Costituzionale, composed of 15 judges (one-third appointed by the president, one-third elected by Parliament, one-third elected by the ordinary and administrative supreme courts)
Political parties and leaders: Bonino List or LB (used to be the Autonomous List, a group of minor parties) [Emma BONINO]; Center-Left Coalition (used to be the Olive Tree) [Massimo D'ALEMA] - Democrats, DS, FdV, PdCI, PPI, RI, UDEUR; Christian Democratic Center or CCD [Pier Ferdinando CASINI]; Christian Democratic Union or CDU [Rocco BUTTIGLIONE]; Communist Renewal or RC [Fausto BERTINOTTI]; Democratic Party [Arturo PARISI]; Democratic Party of the Left or DS [Walter VELTRONI]; Forza Italia or FI [Silvio BERLUSCONI]; Freedom Alliance (a center-right coalition) [leader Silvio BERLUSCONI] - FI, AN, CCD; Green Federation or FdV [Grazia FRANCESCATO]; Italian Communist Party or PdCI [Armando COSSUTA]; Italian Democratic Socialists or SDI [Enrico BOSSELLI]; Italian Popular Party or PPI [Pierluigi CASTAGNETTI]; Italian Renewal or RI [Lamberto DINI]; Italian Social Movement-Tricolored Flame or MSI-FT [Pino RAUTI]; National Alliance or AN [Gianfranco FINI]; Northern League-Padania or NL-Padania [Umberto BOSSI]; Radical Party (formerly Panella Reformers) [Marco PANELLA]; Republican Party or PR [Giorgio LA MALFA]; Southern Tyrols People's Party or SVP (German speakers) [Siegfried BRUGGER]; Union of Democrats for Europe or UDEUR [Clemente MASTELLA]; Union for the Republic or UPR [Francesco COSSIGA]
Political pressure groups and leaders: Italian manufacturers and merchants associations (Confindustria, Confcommercio); organized farm groups (Confcoltivatori, Confagricoltura); Roman Catholic Church; three major trade union confederations (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro or CGIL [Sergio COFFERATI] which is left wing, Confederazione Italiana dei Sindacati Lavoratori or CISL [Sergio D'ANTONI] which is Catholic centrist, and Unione Italiana del Lavoro or UIL [Pietro LARIZZA] which is lay centrist)
International organization participation: AfDB, AsDB, Australia Group, BIS, BSEC (observer), CCC, CDB (non-regional), CE, CEI, CERN, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, ECLAC, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, G- 7, G-10, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, LAIA (observer), MINURSO, MONUC, NAM (guest), NATO, NEA, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIFIL, UNIKOM, UNITAR, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNMOGIP, UNTSO, UPU, WCL, WEU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO, ZC
Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Ferdinando SALLEO
chancery: 1601 Fuller Street NW, Washington, DC 20009 and 2700 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009
telephone:  (202) 328-5500
FAX:  (202) 483-2187
consulate(s) general: Boston, Chicago, Houston, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco
Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Thomas M. FOGLIETTA
embassy: Via Veneto 119/A, 00187-Rome
mailing address: PSC 59, Box 100, APO AE 09624
telephone:  (06) 46741
FAX:  (06) 488-2672
consulate(s) general: Florence, Milan, Naples
three equal vertical bands of green (hoist side), white, and red; similar to the flag of Ireland, which is longer and is green (hoist side), white, and orange; also similar to the flag of the Cote d'Ivoire, which has the colors reversed - orange (hoist side), white, and green
note: inspired by the French flag brought to Italy by Napoleon in 1797