Page images
PDF
EPUB

388

IV.-SCRUTIN DE LISTE, AS MODIFIED BY THE

ITALIAN PARLIAMENT.

A N Act just passed in Italy, as a complement to the 11 National Parliamentary Reform, adopts that form of Electoral procedure which is known under the name of Scrutin de Liste. Its working at the coming Elections will serve to demonstrate practically, whether it is preferable for the Constituencies to be divided into small districts each of which elects but one member, each elector writing the name of a single candidate on his voting paper; or whether it is preferable for the Constituencies to be divided into large districts each of which may return several members, the voting paper of each elector containing as many names as there are members assigned to his district. Speaking of the system called Scrutinio di Lista one must necessarily examine the phases through which the question has passed in France, where it had its origin, where it was revived, and where it has been developed side by side with Italy, although with different success. For in Italy the adoption of the Scrutinio di Lista has been, so to say, the crowning of the edifice of Electoral Reform, while in France its rejection caused the fall of its principaladvocate at the time he hadattained the climax of his power and seemed as if he alone had not only the destinies of his country in his hand, but also the peace or war of Europe in the folds of his garments. It would be too long, though perhaps not devoid of interest, to sum up all the arguments alleged for or against the Scrutinio di Lista. In the discussion of these great reforms a free course is usually given in political assemblies to the wildest exaggerations. To the supporters of a reform it seems that the greatest evils will befall the country unless it is adopted, while to its

opponents it appears evident that it will be the beginning of unheard of calamities. Thereupon both supporters and opponents vie with one another in attributing to it imaginary merits and faults, and founding upon it the most contradictory predictions, which are afterwards completely refuted by practical experience. The now celebrated expression of an English statesman “a leap in the dark” may well be applied to every electoral reform whatever it be, and therefore the artifices of the different parties to modify it so as to render it favourable to themselves respectively appear useless. This is natural. The mechanism of all political proceedings can have but a very limited influence on the social body, of which the most complicated evolutions are set in motion by many and various causes.

An illustrious man, whose loss Science has lately lamented, Littré, in his early enthusiasm for the Positivist system of Comte, had wished to apply it to the political events of his time, predicting with confidence the results which they would have. During the latter years of his life, wishing to republish the work containing those ideas, he remarked with melancholy how not one of his forecasts had been realised, and laughed at the human conceit that thinks it can penetrate with its sight into the depths of the future.

One of the most celebrated English philosophers, Herbert Spencer, who is very popular in Italy, has devoted one of his works to demonstrate the difficulties and the prejudices which obscure the right appreciation of social phenomena. One of the examples which he alleges is English Parliamentary Reform. Here are his words :—“Both advocates “ and opponents of the first Reform Bill anticipated that “ the middle classes would select as representatives many “ of their own body. But both were wrong. The class“ quality of the House of Commons remained very much “ what it was before. While, however, the immediate and

“ special result looked for did not appear, there were vast “ remote general results foreseen by no one. So, too, with “recent changes. We had eloquently uttered warnings “ that the delegates from the working classes would swamp “ the House of Commons; and nearly everyone expected

that, at any rate, a sprinkling of working-class members “ would be chosen. Again all were wrong; the conspicuous “ alteration looked for has not occurred.”

Sirnilar remarks may be applied to France, where considerations of personal profit or loss had the greatest influence in determining the action of the parties with regard to the Scrutin de Liste. And yet there can be no example more instructive than the system which they followed, because it has always worked in a direction opposed to the purpose of those who had established it.

The Republican Left of the Constituent Assembly thought in 1848 to secure a majority maintaining the Scrutin de Liste in the Constitution. There never was a more cruel disappointment. The party came out decimated by the elections of 1849, losing many of its leaders, Lamartine among the rest, who had played such an eminent part in the establishment of the Republic, and who, when meditating on his own discomfiture, was led to call the Scrutin de Liste-le cas et le mensonge organisé-organised chance and falsehood. The elections of 1871, made by Scrutin de Liste, gave power to that Conservative majority which attempted the Monarchical restoration. Well, that majority thought it was providing for its own benefit in introducing into the Constitutional Law the uninominal vote, the immediate result of which was the dispersion of those very individuals who had given themselves so much trouble to establish it. Others lay down on the bed which they had prepared for themselves. Sic vos non vobis nidificatis, aves ! Lately Gambetta thought the Scrutin de Liste would have smoothed his way to the dictatorship by giving him a subservient majority all of one political colour. Had he not been overthrown before he carried out his pious design, we might possibly have witnessed another disappointment.

In Italy those who found their greatest hopes on Electoral Reform belong to the Radical party, which proclaims it as its own special property, and prepares itself to meet the contest with a bold front. How far that confidence is justified we cannot yet say. I have myself, up to the present time, fought in the ranks of the Moderate party, and at the coming elections I shall perform my duty at the post that may be assigned to me. But I dare not advance any prognostication. The substantial alterations in the electoral body; the want of political organization in the country; the state of transformation of political parties, which frequently appear on the scene with new programmes, and for whom a new era begins ; the uncertainty whether the Clericals will or not take part in the elections, in the former case by their intervention greatly modifying the arrangements and the coalitions of parties; all these are elements which contribute to darken the veil which conceals the electoral urns from our sight. I abstain therefore from examining the question from this point of view, and I start from a more general platform.

The Scrutinio di Lista was part of the general project of Electoral Reform offered to Parliament by the present President of the Council of Ministers, Depretis. It was quite a new idea. It came out as a surprise, more unexpected by the public than the extension of the Franchise, for which, although there had not been popular agitation, there had been at least some movement, though limited to the cultured classes : a movement in which those had taken part who already possessed the right to vote, but to which those who had been hitherto excluded, and on whom it was desired to confer the right, had remained indifferent. Nothing had happened which could be likened to the agitation preceding the Parliamentary Reform in England, an agitation which revealed a want that had deeply penetrated the national conscience. The eloquent pages written by Thomas Buckle in his History of Civilisation in England, to show that Governments do not resolve on great Legislative Reforms unless the whole nation imperiously claims them, cannot be applied to the Italian Electoral Reform. Therefore, although in Parliament an extension of the Franchise was deemed indispensable, a project of reform through which the electors were raised from 600,000 to 2,000,000, was approved by a strong majority indeed, but without any enthusiasm. The Scrutinio di Lista met with a reception quite unfavourable, and the Ministry was so struck with it that fearing lest this aversion should cause the whole law to fall through, they consented that this special clause should be struck out and reconsidered at a more propitious time. The opponents to the Scrutinio di Lista thought that such a suspension was equivalent to its rejection. It was on the contrary its salvation, for, when it first was brought up for discussion, it would have been sure to be negatived; by obtaining time it acquired partisans, it insinuated itself into people's minds, and on a second trial came out victorious. Signor Depretis, whose sincerity has sometimes been doubted by politicians, but never his parliamentary dexterity, affirmed what was quite true, when in the discussion he said that in a year the Scrutinio di Lista had gained ground. In fact the special law, in which it had been reproduced, approved by a considerable majority of the Chamber of Deputies, and again quite lately by the Senate, is now part of the Law of the Land, which will rule the general elections this autumn. I will now offer a short analysis of the law :-The 508 members are elected by 135 Constituencies, which, according to their extent, return 5, 4, 3, or 2 members respectively. In the Constituencies returning 5 members the elector writes on his voting paper

« PreviousContinue »