FACTBOX: Italy votes for 62nd government since World War Two

Sun Apr 13, 2008 6:35am EDT

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(Reuters) - Italians started voting in a parliamentary election on Sunday. Following are some facts about the vote:

WHY?:

- An early election was called when Romano Prodi resigned as prime minister in January, after the collapse of his centre-left coalition, which had been in power for just 20 months.

- Only one Italian government has lasted a full five-year term in the last 50 years, led by conservative Silvio Berlusconi between 2001-2006 and even he was forced to resign once during that time by fractious allies.

WHEN?:

- Voting takes place on Sunday, April 13, between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. (2 a.m-4 p.m. EDT) and on Monday, April 14, between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. (1 a.m.-9 a.m.EDT)

- Only for regional, provincial and mayoral elections, if no candidate wins an absolute majority there will be a second round of voting on April 27-28.

WHAT?:

Voters elect:

- A new upper and lower house of the national parliament by selecting from lists headed by 32 candidates for prime minister, of whom only two -- 71-year-old Berlusconi and 52-year-old centre-left leader Walter Veltroni -- have a realistic chance of winning.

- Eight provincial presidents and councils (Asti, Varese, Massa Carrara, Rome, Benevento, Foggia, Catanzaro, Vibo Valentia).

- 426 mayors (including Rome, Treviso, Vicenza, Pisa, Brescia, Sondrio, Massa, Viterbo and Pescara).

- regional assemblies and governments in Sicily and Friuli Venezia Giulia.

WHO CAN VOTE?:

- 47.3 million people in Italy are eligible to vote for the lower house, or Chamber of Deputies, which has 630 seats.

- 43.2 million in Italy can vote for the Senate (25 is the minimum age for voting for the upper house, versus 18 for the lower house). The Senate has 315 elected members and seven unelected honorary lifetime members with full voting rights.

- A further 2.8 million Italians living abroad can vote for 12 members of the lower house; 2.5 million of them can vote for six Senate seats.

- 61,225 polling booths across Italy for the national vote.

- The local elections involve 14 million eligible voters.

RULES:

- A new law against election fraud forbids entering the closed booths with cellphones or cameras.

- Voters indicate their preference on a ballot paper with a cross or line on the symbol of their chosen party.

ELECTORAL LAW:

- Italians blame electoral laws for chronic instability that brought down the 61st government since World War Two in January.

- In 2005 then premier Berlusconi pushed through reforms to damage the chances of challenger Prodi in 2006 elections. The reform's own right-wing author dubbed it "porcata" (rubbish).

- The system, still in use, mixes proportional representation with a threshold of 2 percent for parties in a coalition and 4 percent for single parties. It permitted more than 20 parties to take seats in 2006.

- It awards "bonus" seats to the winners, allocated on a national basis in the lower house and regionally in the Senate. This meant Prodi had a comfortable majority in the lower house but a margin of just two seats in the Senate, a result which analysts say could be repeated this time for Berlusconi.

- Both Berlusconi and Veltroni favour altering the system to reduce the PR element and push Italy towards a two-party system.

The official Interior Ministry website gives full details of the vote: www.interno.it

(Reporting by Stephen Brown and Massimiliano Di Giorgio)

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