In Italy on June 12th and 13th citizens are called to vote directly to abolish a couple of laws that the current government insisted on forcing upon us. I will not spend a word on the laws themselves, since that is not the point of this short post. Rather, I want to explain the importance of going to vote, and why I hope that Italian readers of this blog will do it.
The Italian democratic system contains a mechanism called "referendum" whereby voters may be called to express their opinion on a law, which can thus be abolished if the majority of them does not support it. In order to have a referendum, you need to collect at least 500,000 valid signatures by Italian citizens to testify their support to your action against a law of the State.
The devil is in the details: this very democratic means of "controlling" what the elected government does is in jeopardy if citizens do not participate: if a referendum is called, and it turns out that fewer than 50% of allowed votes are cast, the referendum is declared invalid, and no decision is taken regardless of what the regular votes express (the vote is a simple "YES" or "NO" to the question posed, which is at times complicated but it boils down to a simple "Do you want to abolish law xx.yy").
The 50% rule was not a player in the game thirty years ago, when typically over 75% of eligible voters used to participate to referendums and did cast a vote. Nowadays, the percentage is much lower -partly because of the disaffection of citizens to Italian politics, and partly because the instrument of referendums has been used a bit too often, sometimes by the very government!
Because of the size of the "non-vote" party, those who want the laws to remain valid (and who would thus vote "NO" to the question) just choose to not participate. This is rather anti-democratic, in my opinion, and dangerous, since it jeopardizes a very useful control instrument in the hands of citizens. All the recent referendums have failed to pass the 50% threshold, and this is indeed a pity.
So please, if you are Italian, go to vote next Sunday, regardless what your opinions on the questions are. Do it for your country.