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Renzi, Berlusconi discuss election law by telephone

Sources say leaders are adamant proposals cannot be amended

28 January, 19:23
Renzi, Berlusconi discuss election law by telephone (Updates previous) (ANSA) - Rome, January 28 - Democratic Party (PD) leader Matteo Renzi spoke more than once by telephone Tuesday with centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi on the controversial proposed new election law, sources said.

The pair reached a deal on January 18 that Renzi insisted may be improved but cannot be changed significantly.

"Everything can be improved, but we have an agreement after years of not moving," Renzi said earlier via his Facebook page.

"This can get Italy out of the quicksand". Renzi, who is mayor of Florence, and representatives from Berlusconi's Forza Italia (FI) were in talks over possible changes to a bill that was presented on the basis of the deal between the PD chief and the three-time premier.

The proposal has come under fire from the smaller parties in parliament and parts of the PD over several issues.

These include the thresholds it sets for parties to access parliament, the system of bonus seats that would be awarded to the coalition that comes first and gets over 35% of the vote, and the fact that voters would not be able to express preferences about which candidates on a party list are elected. The debate on the law in parliament, which had been scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed until January 30.

Earlier Tuesday, Renzi played down speculation he would speak with Berlusconi again about possible amendments to the agreement he reached at the controversial meeting 10 days earlier with the 77-year-old billionaire - an encounter some in the PD said gave Berlusconi a sort of political rehabilitation after he was ejected from parliament last year following a definitive tax-fraud conviction.

Renzi, who has said Premier Enrico Letta's coalition government will sink if the election-law plan does not come to fruition, has pledged not to be knocked off track by the complicated Italian political games. "Now, it's up to parliament," he said. "Personally, I won't let myself get caged in by the old tunes of traditional politics. "The cards are on the table, no one can bluff. If anyone wants to ruin everything, they should do it openly and explain this to the country".

Some pundits have said Renzi's uncompromising approach is justified given Italy's recent history on reforms.

Italy needs a new election law after the Constitutional Court ruled the old one invalid last month.

The top court intervened as 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 recognised to be dysfunctional.

A group of top jurists has appealed to President Giorgio Napolitano that the proposed law reproduces key features of the "pigsty" that were ruled unconstitutional: the 'blocked' party lists and the winner's bonus.

A decade ago, Italians voted overwhelmingly against preferences in a referendum after most parties condemned them as spurring vote-buying and clientelism.