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Disputed election bill held up

Smaller parties fear squeeze over higher votes threshold

22 January, 16:29
Disputed election bill held up (ANSA) - Rome, January 22 - A proposal to reform Italy's discredited election law was held up from going to parliament Wednesday amid controversy over a deal struck last weekend with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and the bill's architect Matteo Renzi, head of the center-left Democratic Party (PD). The proposal is set to be formalized in an evening session within the Constitutional affairs committee, which will then vote on the bill and send it to the floor on January 29.

It was postponed earlier in the day over concerns from the regionalist Northern League party, which has a strong constituency and a number of mayors and governors in the north, but remains relatively small on the national level, and could be squeezed out of parliament under a higher 8% votes threshold imposed by the new bill. "There's the issue with the League," said PD House whip Emanuele Fiano. Meanwhile, other small parties have expressed concern over losing their influence if the bill is passed. Alessandro Maran, the bill delegate from the centrist Civic Choice party, resigned from that role Wednesday after Renzi allegedly "battered and ridiculed" his party's suggestions. Puglia Governor Nichi Vendola, head of the leftist SEL party, said it would note no on the bill as it stands. The New Center Right, which occupies key cabinet seats in the current left-right government, said it was firmly against a system that did not allow voters to directly choose their representatives. A big problem with Italy's current election law, which was ruled invalid last month in the Constitutional Court, is that the system of long 'blocked lists' of candidates gave voters little power in selecting representatives. 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.

Constitutional affairs committee head Paolo Sisto, from Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia, said the election bill reflected the wishes of Berlusconi and Renzi, but stressed the language was "open, it's not a question of take it or leave it".

Despite passing a vote within the PD, the proposal has sparked divisions in the center-left party, with left-leaning traditionalists upset over Renzi's reaching out to Berlusconi, ejected from parliament late last year over a binding conviction for tax fraud. On Tuesday the new president of the PD, Gianni Cuperlo, abruptly resigned, saying he felt "alarmed" at the direction of his party.