Renzi reform plan take steps forward

Key amendment moves through Senate committee

(ANSA) - Rome, July 9 - Premier Matteo Renzi's reform plan to make election results clearer and government easier took another couple of key steps forward Wednesday. The Senate Constitutional Affairs Committee on Wednesday vetted a proposed amendment to the electoral-reform agreement between Renzi's majority Democratic Party (PD) and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia party.
    According to the new norm, Senators would not be elected by the general public but rather by regional councils, proportionate to the representation by the council groups in the Senate. The committee also approved an amendment that brings to 800,000 the number of signatures required to propose a referendum to repeal a law.
    The senate reform bill goes to the Senate for voting Thursday afternoon, with voting on the amendments to begin July 16.
    PD leader Matteo Renzi struck a deal with Berlusconi six months ago to reform the Senate and streamline elections and government so as to avoid inconclusive results.
    The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement has recently come to the Constitutional-reform table despite fulminations from its firebrand leader Beppe Grillo, reiterated Wednesday, that the Renzi-Berlusconi pact is aimed at "saving Berlusconi's skin". Grillo recently presented the M5S's proposal for a new election system. The proposal is for a new system based on proportional representation that gives voters the opportunity to express preferences about which candidates go to parliament, with a mechanism to help make sure the party that wins has a working majority in parliament.
    The move came after Grillo's surprise announcement that he was ready to talk to Renzi about election reform, having previously spurned negotiations with the traditional parties.
    Renzi replied that he was willing to talk to the M5S and any other party to try to find common ground on the "rules of the game".
    Grillo's proposal is an alternative to the bill that the premier is currently aiming to push through parliament by the end of the summer to replace the dysfunctional system that was declared unconstitutional last year and contributed to the inconclusive outcome to the February 2013 national vote.
    The bill was the result of an agreement Renzi reached in January with Berlusconi a month before he unseated Letta to become Italy's youngest premier at 39.
    However, Berlusconi has on several occasions said he may withdraw his backing for the bill and Constitutional reforms agreed at the January meeting to overhaul Italy's costly, slow-moving political apparatus.
    Renzi's election bill, which has cleared the Lower House, sets bars for small parties to force them into alliances and limit their veto power, and provides a 15% winner's bonus for a coalition that gets 37% to ensure it has a working majority in parliament.
    It would see a run-off vote for the bonus seats if no coalition reaches the 37% threshold.
    Grillo has said on his Facebook page that he "means business" with his alternative.
    "It's not a pure proportional representation (system), as it allows a political party that obtains around 40% of the votes to have over 50% of the seats," Grillo wrote in an open letter in his popular blog, which gave life to the M5S in 2009.
    Grillo' added that, in addition to giving voters the chance to express preferences, something not featured in Renzi's proposal, it would also give them the opportunity to say if there is a particular candidate they do not want to represent them.
    Grillo said that Renzi's success in May's European elections, when the PD gained over 40% of the vote, almost twice as much as the M5S in second, was a big factor in his change of approach.
    "Two things have changed the scenario," wrote Grillo. "The M5S has a (proposal for an election) law approved by its members.
    "Renzi has been legitimized by a popular vote and not just by the votes of the PD. So a lot has changed".
    Grillo had previously ruled out negotiations with the established parties, including Renzi's PD, saying they are part of a system that has produced corruption and economic decline.