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Renzi's election-law deal sparks ructions in PD

Debate over election reform triggers centre-left resignation

21 January, 20:02
Renzi's election-law deal sparks ructions in PD (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, January 21 - Controversy continued on Tuesday over a proposed new election law presented by Democratic Party (PD) chief Matteo Renzi, the result of a deal struck last weekend with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi.

While critics in the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) said the proposal was worse than election laws from former fascist prime minister Benito Mussolini, the new president of the PD Gianni Cuperlo abruptly resigned, saying he felt "alarmed" at the direction of his party.

In a letter published on his Facebook page, Cuperlo - who was defeated in December by Renzi for the top position as party secretary - suggested he felt muzzled.

Cuperlo had been particularly critical of the proposed new election law, which the PD approved Monday despite some reservations within the party, especially over Renzi's collaboration with Berlusconi.

Some parts of the PD complained that such a deal serves as a form of political rehabilitation for the Forza Italia chief Berlusconi, who was ejected from parliament after a definitive tax-fraud conviction last year. "I resign because I am shocked and alarmed by a ...(political) party that cannot bend its uniformity of language and thought," Cuperlo wrote in his letter, addressed to Renzi.

Renzi, the ambitious 39-year-old mayor of Florence, had told his party that his proposals were "concrete," and not open to amendment. "It's a complicated castle that only stands up if all the pieces are together," Renzi said Monday.

"If someone intervened in parliament to change something, it would wreck everything". On Tuesday, members of the M5S complained Renzi's proposal "is worse than the electoral law of the Duce (Mussolini)" and adding that that was "the forerunner of Renzi's (plan)".

Mussolini's so-called "acerbo law," passed in November 1923, was designed to give his party the majority of deputies in parliament.

Cuperlo had expressed his concern at Monday's meeting that Renzi's proposals could not be amended, adding they did not guarantee adequate representation and some feared they were not Constitutional. In his letter Tuesday, he elaborated on his frustration.

"I resign because I want what is good for the Democratic Party and want to commit to strengthen its internal ideas and the values of the left," which Cuperlo suggested are being "redesigned" to the detriment of the left.

"I resign because I will always have the freedom to say what I think. I want to be able to applaud, criticize, disagree, without it appearing to anyone as an abuse". After the letter became public, Renzi said he regretted the loss of Cuperlo and his contribution to the PD.

"I respect your choice," Renzi said to his former leadership rival.

"I thought, and still think, that your personal commitment to the community would have been very good".

But Renzi maintained that the proposals could not be opened to amendment.

Italy needs a new election system to replace the old one that was recently declared invalid by the Constitutional Court.

The political parties failed for years to find an agreement on a new system, even though the old one, which was nicknamed the 'pigsty' and was blamed for contributing to the inconclusive outcome to last year's general election, was widely recognized to be dysfunctional.

That election result led to two months of deadlock and then the swearing-in of the weak left-right coalition government of Renzi's PD colleague, Premier Enrico Letta.

Renzi said his proposed system, based on proportional representation, would feature a significant bonus for the coalition that comes first to ensure it can govern.

A coalition that comes first and obtains at least 35% of the votes would get a bonus that would grant it between 53% and 55% of the seats in parliament, with the maximum bonus being 18%.

He said that if no coalition obtains 35% or more of the vote, his proposal is for a second round of voting between the top two alliances.

Voters would not have the opportunity to express preferences for the candidates who they want to represent them on a party list.

A big problem with Italy's former election law was that the system of long 'blocked lists' of candidates gave voters little power in selecting representatives.

This, and the former win-bonus system, were among the reasons that the old law was ruled invalid by the Constitutional Court last month.

Renzi reportedly wants to get around the detachment this creates between elector and elected with smaller constituencies and lists of just four or five candidates so voters can have a better idea of who the potential MPs are in their area.

He added that his proposal is for a threshold of 8% of the vote for a party to have seats in parliament to prevent the system being too fragmented.

The threshold would be lower, 5%, for parties in a coalition.

The small parties in Letta's government alliance, threatened by the thresholds to entry to parliament, have not ruled out the proposals.

Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, the leader of the New Centre Right, has said they would be acceptable if certain of his demands were accepted, particularly on the question of voter preferences.