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Berlusconi pact riles rebels as Italy electoral law approved

22 january 2015, 10:10
0

 Italy's Senate Wednesday adopted the framework of a new electoral law aimed at ending the country's chronic political instability thanks to a bitterly contested deal between Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Silvio Berlusconi, AFP reports.

The upper house of parliament voted 175 to 110 to adopt a "super-amendment" to the existing law.

Once implemented, the revised law should ensure elections result in strong governments with clear parliamentary majorities rather than bickering and shaky coalitions, as has been the pattern in Italy for most of the period since World War II.

"We want a stable period not a continuous change of government," Renzi said in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, adding that the electoral law overhaul was part of "an incredible season of reforms" needed in the eurozone's third largest economy.

The details were hammered out on Tuesday at a meeting between Renzi and his disgraced right-wing predecessor -- an arrangement which has angered some on both the left and right, each accusing their own leader of being in cahoots with the enemy.

The new law effectively throws out thousands of amendments presented by the opposition, speeding up a definitive adoption in the coming days of a reform the 40-year-old prime minister has made a keystone of his mandate.

Renzi's ability to maintain cooperation with Berlusconi is seen as key to his ability to deliver on a wide-ranging programme of promised reforms which spans the economy, the country's administration and its legal system and constitution.

The electoral law has met stiff resistance among the rebel wing of Renzi's own centre-left Democratic Party (PD), as well as a part of former premier Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party.

The two camps argue that allowing party leaders to hand-pick the first candidate in each of Italy's 100 constituencies means Renzi and Berlusconi can ensure their favourites are elected.

   'The arms of Berlusconi' 

 "Berlusconi is the best guarantee for Renzi," quipped senator Miguel Gotor, a leading rebel on the left.

Political commentators say the deal comes at a price, with Berlusconi pressing hard on Renzi and the PD for a candidate of his choice to claim the currently vacant post of president, Italy's head of state.

Should that pact fall through, "it will be chaos, with the most unpredictable outcome" for Renzi's other planned reforms, the Corriere della Sera warned.

Experts were split over whether the victory would turn sour, with voters on the left blaming Renzi for Berlusconi's return to the political scene.

"It weakens Renzi because it throws him into the arms of Berlusconi," said Gino Scaccia, a constitutional rights professor at Rome's Luiss University.

But Luiss politics researcher Mattia Guidi said the premier is only being realistic because "to think of being able to select a president against Silvio Berlusconi's wishes is fanciful."

The new law envisages a "winner's premium" of extra seats for any party which wins over 40 percent of the vote at a general election, which would give it a majority 55 percent -- and 340 of 630 seats in the lower house of parliament.

If no party manages to get 40 percent during the first round, there will be a run-off two weeks later between the two leading parties.

The law also lowers the threshold for getting into parliament to 3.0 percent of the vote per party, meaning the smaller parties are assured of seats but will not have the power to bring down the government.

It still has to be adopted by the lower house but the law is not expected to run into difficulty because the government's majority is stronger than in the Senate.

The reform, which should be effective from 2016, is likely only to affect the lower house, because the government hopes before then to have passed a reform which would strip the Senate of the extensive powers it currently enjoys to block and amend legislation.


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