Italian general election, 1979

Italian general election, 1979
3 June 1979

All 630 seats in the Italian Chamber of Deputies
316 seats were needed for a majority in the Chamber
315 (of the 322) seats in the Italian Senate
Turnout 90.6%
  Majority party Minority party Third party
Leader Benigno Zaccagnini Enrico Berlinguer Bettino Craxi
Party Christian Democracy Communist Party Socialist Party
Leader since 1975 1972 1976
Leader's seat XII - Eastern Emilia XX - Latium III - Milan
Last election 263 & 135 seats, 38.7% 227 & 116 seats, 34.4% 57 & 29 seats
Seats won 262 (H)
138 (S)
201 (H)
109 (S)
62 (H)
32 (S)
Seat change Increase2 Decrease33 Increase8
Popular vote 14,046,290 11,139,231 3,630,052
Percentage 38.3% 30.4% 9.9%
Swing Decrease0.4% Decrease4.0% Increase0.3%

Legislative election results map. lightskyblue denotes provinces with a Christian Democratic plurality, Red denotes those with a Communist plurality, Gray denotes those with an Autonomist plurality.

Prime Minister before election

Giulio Andreotti
Christian Democracy

Elected Prime Minister

Francesco Cossiga
Christian Democracy

General elections were held in Italy on June 3, 1979.[1] This election was called just a week before the European vote: the lack of matching between the two elections caused much controversy for wasting public money.

Terroristic attacks by the Red Brigades caused a result which was quite opposite than three years before: for the first time the Italian Communist Party lost a lot of votes, delaying that government change that was seeming imminent in 1976, and the Communist defeat gave a new strength to all the minor parties, a concentration of vote on the Christian Democracy seeming less urgent to stop the red progress. However, the catholic party remained stable, while neo-fascist Italian Social Movement was weakened by its spin-off National Democracy.

Electoral system

The pure party-list proportional representation had traditionally become the electoral system for the Chamber of Deputies. Italian provinces were united in 32 constituencies, each electing a group of candidates. At constituency level, seats were divided between open lists using the largest remainder method with Imperiali quota. Remaining votes and seats were transferred at national level, where they was divided using the Hare quota, and automatically distributed to best losers into the local lists.

For the Senate, 237 single-seat constituencies were established, even if the assembly had risen to 315 members. The candidates needed a landslide victory of two thirds of votes to be elected, a goal which could be reached only by the German minorities in South Tirol. All remained votes and seats were grouped in party lists and regional constituencies, where a D'Hondt method was used: inside the lists, candidates with the best percentages were elected.

Historical background

On 16 July 1976, Bettino Craxi was elected to the vacant Italian Socialist Party chairman position, ending years of factional fighting within the party. Ironically, the "old guard" saw him as short-lived leader, allowing each faction time to regroup. However, he was able to hold on to power and implement his policies. In particular, he sought and managed to distance his party away from the communists bringing it into an alliance with Christian Democracy and other centrist parties, but maintaining a leftist and reformist profile.

Moro, photographed during his kidnapping by the Red Brigades.

On 16 March 1978, former Prime Minister and Christian Democratic leader Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades, and five of his bodyguards killed. The Red Brigades were a militant leftist group, then led by Mario Moretti. Aldo Moro was a left-leaning Christian Democrat who served several times as Prime Minister. Before his murder he was trying to include the Italian Communist Party (PCI), headed by Enrico Berlinguer, in the government through a deal called the Historic Compromise. The PCI was the largest communist party in western Europe. This was largely because of its non-extremist and pragmatic stance, its growing independence from Moscow and its eurocommunist doctrine. The PCI was especially strong in areas such as Emilia Romagna, where it had stable government positions and mature practical experience, which may have contributed to a more pragmatic approach to politics. The Red Brigades were fiercely opposed by the Communist Party and trade unions, a few left-wing politicians even used the condescending expression "comrades who do wrong" (Compagni che sbagliano). The circumstances surrounding Aldo Moro's murder have never been made clear, but the consequences included the fact that PCI did not gain executive power.

Investigative journalist Carmine Pecorelli was assassinated on March 20, 1979. In a May 1978 article, he had drawn connections between Aldo Moro's kidnapping and Gladio.[2]

In the period of terror attacks of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the parliamentary majority was composed by the parties of the "Arco costituzionale", i.e. all parties supporting the Constitution, including the Communists (who in fact took a very strong stance against the Red Brigades and other terrorist groups). However, the Communists never took part in the Government itself, which was composed by the "Pentapartito" (Christian Democrats, Socialists, Social Democrats, Liberals, Republicans).

Parties and leaders

Party Ideology Leader
Christian Democracy (DC) Christian democracy, Popularism Benigno Zaccagnini
Italian Communist Party (PCI) Communism, Eurocommunism Enrico Berlinguer
Italian Socialist Party (PSI) Social democracy, Liberal socialism Bettino Craxi
Italian Social Movement (MSI) Neo-Fascism, Italian nationalism Giorgio Almirante
Italian Democratic Socialist Party (PSDI) Social democracy, Centrism Pietro Longo
Radical Party (PR) Radicalism, Anti-clericalism Marco Pannella
Italian Republican Party (PRI) Social liberalism, Centrism Giovanni Spadolini
Italian Liberal Party (PLI) Liberalism, Conservatism Valerio Zanone
Proletarian Unity Party (PdUP) Communism, Trotskyism Vittorio Foa


Regional pluralities in Senate

Even this eighth legislature of the Italian Republic was a period of great instability. After the election, the Christian-Democratic leadership instructed moderate Francesco Cossiga to form a centrist minority government with the PSDI and the PLI, which accepted an official engagement into the government for the first time since 1973; however, when in 1980 Benigno Zaccagnini was fired as Secretary of the DC and socialist leader Bettino Craxi offered his help, Cossiga suddenly resigned and formed a new centre-left government with the PSI and the PRI, underling that the catholic leaders had no more problems to choose their allies from anywhere. However, Cossiga later fell on a budget project, and a traditional centre-left government led by Arnaldo Forlani was formed. The great scandal of the masonic lodge P2 sank Forlani in 1981.

This deep political crisis marked the birth of a new political formula which ruled Italy during the 80's: the Pentapartito (Pentaparty, or five parties), which was no more than the fusion of the two main alliances that DC had used to rule Italy since 1947, the centrism and the centre-left. This formula became possible because Bettino Craxi's Italian Socialist Party and Valerio Zanone's Italian Liberal Party accepted to form their first republican government together, moderating their positions and passing the opposition that had always divided them. But the Pentaparty pact had another important condition: the DC accepted to recognize a pair role with the other four parties, alternating into the government leadership. The Secretary of the Italian Republican Party, Giovanni Spadolini, so became the first non-DC Prime Minister of Italy since 1945. However, his little party was unable to stop the quarrels between their great allies, and after a little crisis during summer 1982, Spadolini resigned in autumn of the same year. Former-PM Amintore Fanfani formed a new government without the offended republicans, but the PSI, which had good surveys, imposed the final crisis in 1983 and a new general election.

Chamber of Deputies

Summary of the 3 June 1979 Chamber of Deputies election results
Party Votes % Seats +/−
Christian Democracy14,046,29038.30262−1
Italian Communist Party11,139,23130.38201−26
Italian Socialist Party3,596,8029.8162+5
Italian Social Movement1,930,6395.2630−5
Italian Democratic Socialist Party1,407,5353.8420+5
Radical Party1,264,8703.4518+14
Italian Republican Party1,110,2093.0316+2
Italian Liberal Party712,6461.949+4
Proletarian Unity Party502,2471.376±0
New United Left294,4620.800New
National Democracy229,2050.630New
South Tyrolean People's Party204,8990.564+1
List for Trieste65,5050.181New
Friuli Movement35,2540.100New
Valdostan Union33,2500.091+1
Invalid/blank votes1,571,610
Registered voters/turnout42,203,35490.62
Source: Ministry of the Interior
Popular vote

Senate of the Republic

Summary of the 3 June 1979 Senate of the Republic election results
Party Votes % Seats +/−
Christian Democracy12,010,71638.34138+3
Italian Communist Party9,855,95131.46109−7
Italian Socialist Party3,252,41010.3832+3
Italian Social Movement1,780,9505.6813−2
Italian Democratic Socialist Party1,320,7294.229+3
Italian Republican Party1,053,2513.366±0
Italian Liberal Party691,7182.212±0
Radical Party413,4441.322+2
Radical Party–New United Left365,9541.170New
National Democracy176,9660.560New
South Tyrolean People's Party172,5820.553+1
List for Trieste61,9110.200New
New United Left44,0940.140New
Valdostan Union37,0820.121±0
Friuli Movement31,4900.100New
Invalid/blank votes1,645,509
Registered voters/turnout36,362,03790.69
Source: Ministry of the Interior
Popular vote


  1. Nohlen, D & Stöver, P (2010) Elections in Europe: A data handbook, p. 1048. ISBN 978-3-8329-5609-7
  2. Moro's ghost haunts political life, The Guardian, May 9, 2003
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