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Will the Italian election be decided abroad once again?

13 February 2013 Liège, University of

In the upcoming Parliamentary Election on 24 and 25 February, 3 million Italian voters residing abroad will have the right to elect 6 senators and 12 MPs who, like themselves, are Italian citizens living abroad. Together with the other parliamentarians elected by the 45 million Italian voters residing in Italy, these MPs and senators will occupy a seat in Parliament in Rome. In 2006, the centre-left coalition led by Romano Prodi reached a majority in Parliament by winning more overseas seats than Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition. As the next parliamentary election appears more disputed than predicted, the possibility that Italian voters abroad once again cast decisive ballots cannot be discarded. For this reason, Italian political parties are also running intensive electoral campaigns abroad in order to win the votes of, for example, the 500,000 Italian voters in Germany or the 400,000 voters in Argentina.

The right for emigrants to vote in home country elections — also known as external voting — provokes a series of questions: Is it acceptable that emigrants potentially decide the electoral results of their home countries where they no longer reside? Isn’t the absence of control on electoral campaigns and electoral operations abroad a potential risk for the democratic system? These questions are at the heart of a research project by Jean-Michel Lafleur, Research Associate at the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research and Researcher at the Centre for Ethnic and Migration Studies (CEDEM) at the University of Liège. He has recently published a new book with Routledge titled, ‘Transnational politics and the State. The external voting rights of diasporas’. This book is available on the publisher’s website:

In the book, Jean-Michel Lafleur looks at the impact of the political participation of emigrants in their home countries, and also assesses the reasons why states choose to enfranchise citizens abroad. In just two decades, the number of states allowing such a form of political participation has grown significantly. Looking at different case studies, the book underlines the potential risks of such systems for democratic processes, while simultaneously showing that external voting also has the potential to strengthen the connections between diasporas and their home states. Indeed, when states are concerned with opening new markets abroad, these transnational ties can be major economic assets.

Overall, this book shows that the recent expansion of external voting as a norm adopted by states in different parts of the world is not an accident. It is proof that states are increasingly willing to engage with their citizens living abroad. Though the book shows that this form of political participation poses a series of challenges, it also presents several solutions to reconcile the protection of states’ democratic interests with the legitimate desire of emigrants to be represented in their home countries.

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