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Sunday, April 18, 1999 Published at 23:59 GMT 00:59 UK

World: Europe

Italy referendum declared void

Polling was slow in many areas

A referendum on scrapping proportional representation in Italy was declared void early on Monday after final returns showed the turnout had failed to reach the 50% required.

Interior Ministry figures showed only 49.6% of the electorate voted.

It had appeared that Italy was about to jettison the last elements of proportional representation from its electoral system after the referendum on Sunday.

[ image: Former Prime Minister Romano Prodi wanted change]
Former Prime Minister Romano Prodi wanted change
Exit polls conducted for Italian TV suggested that up to 90% of those who voted favoured the change.

Politicians who backed the referendum had hailed the first projections as a clear sign that Italians wanted to see strong government.

But with the campaign overshadowed by the conflict in Kosovo, there were always fears that the referendum could be invalidated by low turnout.

Voter apathy

BBC Rome Correspondent David Willey says there was also widespread apathy because of the failure of past governments to act upon the results of previous referendums in favour of constitutional reform.

A "Yes" vote would have been a blow to smaller parties, some of which have wielded enormous power through the years because of their ability to topple administrations.

Italy's current electoral system has been blamed for producing 56 governments in as many years. There are currently 48 different parties.

Under current arrangements, a quarter of the seats in the lower house of the Italian parliament are decided by proportional representation. The other 75% are elected under a first past the post system.

Supporters of the change to a majority vote for all members say the reform would slash the number of parties represented and lead to more stability in the 630 seat parliament.

Opponents have argued that the change would extinguish the voice of smaller parties and weaken Italian democracy.

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Internet Links

BBC News Online's guide to Proportional Representation

Italian Parliament (in Italian)

La Buvette newspaper guide to the referendum (in Italian)

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