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Renzi lays down markers for govt reform pact

Three 'suggestions' for new electoral law

02 January, 19:56
Renzi lays down markers for govt reform pact (By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Rome, January 2 - New Democratic Party (PD) leader Matteo Renzi on Thursday laid down markers for a key government pact the centre-left PD is set to seal with its conservative partner the New Centre Right (NCD) next week.

The 38-year-old Florence mayor, who has vowed to inject a "change of pace" into the unprecedented left-right coalition, put a new electoral law, replacing one that was declared unconstitutional last month, at the top of his priorities.

"There are no more alibis" for this long-promised and long-delayed reform, he said.

"It can be achieved in a month, and the PD will win whatever new system is used," he said. Renzi also suggested changes to Italy's immigration law and said civil unions between gays should be recognised.

The charismatic Renzi, who has galvanized the PD and apparently quashed infighting in Italy's biggest and most fractious party, said he had three ideas for reforming Italy's widely criticised electoral law. The mayor of the Tuscan capital advanced three 'suggestions' for electoral reform: a law modelled on the Spanish system involving the creation of 118 small constituencies, a premium of 15% to the winning list and the introduction of a 5% threshold; reform of the old Mattarella electoral law, in force from 1993 until 2005, involving a mixed system of first-past-the-post rules and proportional representation; and a double-ballot system. The proposals come after the so-called 'pig-sty' law, introduced in 2005 under Silvio Berlusconi's second government and blamed for recent political instability, was ruled unconstitutional because of the huge bonus it gave to the winner in the House and because it did not allow voters to choose their MPs.

The December ruling now formally leaves Italy with proportional representation (PR).

Renzi also called for "a clear time frame and transparency" in the process leading to electoral reform and said his party would be initiating bilateral talks over the coming week to discuss the proposals. Electoral reform tops the list of priorities for the left-right government of PD Premier Enrico Letta and of President Giorgio Napolitano, who renewed calls for much-needed institutional reforms during his annual message to the nation on New Year's Eve.

While the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), led by ex-comic Beppe Grillo, cold-shouldered Renzi's ideas, they were given a qualified welcome by ex-premier and leader of the revived centre-right Forza Italia party, Silvio Berlusconi. However, the three-time premier insisted that a vote should be held in conjunction with European Parliament elections in May.

Berlusconi said he "positively welcomed" the strategy outlined by Renzi in relation to both the possibility of bilateral meetings and consultations and the several electoral models put forward, adding that these "certainly included a reasonable solution able to ensure full governability, an unambiguous two-bloc system and clear choices for the electorate". Berlusconi also renewed calls for fresh general elections to be held at the same time as European Parliament elections and local administrative elections in May "to guarantee high voter turnout and savings for the public purse". Letta's executive, cobbled together by Napolitano between traditional foes after the M5S spurned PD overtures, has defied speculation and survived into 2014 amid repeated calls for electoral, political and economic reform, and a new round of elections in the near future.

The new electoral law would be accompanied by two other key changes, Renzi said.

He stressed, in particular, the importance of stripping the Senate of its equal law-making status with the House.

In Italy, unlike several other countries, laws have to be passed in the same form in both houses and an election winner must have a majority in both in order to rule.

The PD fell short of a Senate majority in February, leading to two months of stalemate and eventually Letta's uneasy alliance, initially with Berlusconi's now-defunct People of Freedom (PdL) party.

Renzi said the Senate should be turned into a regional body.

He also underscored the importance of parliament carrying through on pledges to abolish Italy's provinces to cut political spending amid public anger over bloat and graft.

Renzi, who became PD leader on a pledge to shake up and clean up Italian politics, says he wants to see "real" reform from the upcoming pact between the PD and the NCD, a group led by Berlusconi's one-time heir-apparent, Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano.

The NCD temporarily broke with Berlusconi last month, refusing his bid to sink Letta because of the PD's insistence on applying an anti-corruption law to evict Berlusconi from the Senate over a tax-fraud conviction.

Letta is now supported by much more PD MPs than NCD ones, with Berlusconi having taken most of his supporters into opposition in the resurrected Forza Italia.

Alfano reacted to Renzi's suggestions by saying he, personally, preferred the two-ballot system used for Italian mayoral contests and French presidential ones. The PD, boosted by the dynamic 38-year-old Renzi, currently has a slight poll lead with leftist allies over the centre right composed of FI, the NCD and the populist Northern League.

However, F1 and NCD have combined ratings which are higher than that achieved by the PdL when Berlusconi stormed back to turn the February elections into a much tighter race than expected and produce a hung parliament.

The date of the next election is uncertain but most pundits think Letta should be able to make it through 2014 if he enacts promised reforms and lifts the economy out of its longest postwar recession.

Berlusconi, 77, who has won three elections thanks to charisma and canny campaigning, has vowed to lead the centre right to victory over Renzi, who has been likened to Tony Blair.

Current polls suggest elections will bring more stalemate unless the electoral law is changed to make results sharper than under PR.

Renzi's other proposals focused on civil rights.

He called for legal recognition of same-sex partnerships and modifications to current immigration laws, especially the long term (18 months) it sets for asylum seekers to be held while their applications are processed.

The Florence mayor said the PD-NCD pact over the next 12-15 months should contain "a chapter on Civil Rights", including changes to the 2001 Bossi-Fini immigration law, civil unions, a law on international development cooperation, provisions for families and a more effective procedure for adoptions.