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Renzi's disputed election-law plan lands in parliament

Smaller parties fear squeeze over higher votes threshold

22 January, 20:06
Renzi's disputed election-law plan lands in parliament (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, January 22 - A proposal to reform Italy's discredited election law was held up before 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 was sent 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. Politicians were negotiating a clause that would make exemptions for the League, but such plans were ultimately ruled out. The Constitutional affairs committee said there were also technical issues to work out in the bill before it could be formalized.

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 vote no on the bill as it stands.

The New Center Right (NCD), 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. In a last-minute twist, the NCD joined the PD and the NCD in underwriting the bill, according to sources from the majority parties, citing that differences had been resolved by rejecting the proposal to make special allowances for the League to remain in parliament despite its small size on the national scale. Constitutional affairs committee head Paolo Sisto, from Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia, said the overall 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".

Those remarks contradicted Renzi's earlier in the week. The ambitious 39-year-old mayor of Florence told his party Monday 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. If someone intervened in parliament to change something, it would wreck everything," he said at the time.

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.