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Triumphant Renzi strikes new election-law deal

'This time it's for real' says center-left leader

29 January, 20:10
Triumphant Renzi strikes new election-law deal (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, January 29 - The new leader of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) was triumphant Wednesday after forging a deal with the center right on a new electoral law, one that will replace its discredited predecessor that led to two months of parliamentary gridlock and a shaky grand-coalition government last year. "This time it's for real," tweeted Matteo Renzi, mayor of Florence, reflecting on a major political win since securing party leadership last month in a landslide primary victory. The deal is likely to pass in parliament given the backing of the two biggest parties in Italy - the PD, followed by the center-right Forza Italia (FI) of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi. Policymakers have waffled for years on reforming the previous law universally seen as ineffective and known colloquially as the "pigsty" law. Last year the Constitutional Court struck it down after February elections produced no clear winner, forcing the center left and the center right to join forces in an unnatural union that risked imploding on several occasions. The new law, set to hit the House Thursday, features much shorter lists of candidates and a slightly smaller bonus of 15% for the first party to win 37% of the electorate, which would take its majority up to 52%. If no party wins 37%, the top two would go to a runoff. The plan also turns the Senate into a regional body leaving the House as sole lawmaker. A winner would only need to get a majority in the House. It would also allow regional parties like the Northern League to get in if they get 8% in seven regions. Renzi and Berlusconi forged a deal 10 days ago that was held up by objections from smaller parties and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S).

The deal became final when the PD and FI agreed to lower a vote threshold for small parties in a coalition from 5% to 4.5%.

Renzi said the move would force small parties to compromise in parliament. "No more power to blackmail from small parties," said Renzi on Facebook. The old law allowed small parties to enter parliament with relatively few votes, even outside a coalition. Under the new law, small parties will have no choice but to compromise and ally in a coalition. "With our deal on the election law, despite the professional naysayers, this step forward is enormous," added Renzi.

It did not come without risk. Stalwarts in his center-left party were outraged when he agreed to negotiate directly with Berlusconi, an act they said helped rehabilitate the three-time premier's image since his ejection from parliament last year.

That move came after a supreme court found him guilty of tax fraud in his first-ever binding conviction in 20 years of legal entanglements. But it did not strip him of his title as head of the biggest center-right party in Italy, a point Renzi stressed throughout negotiations. He countered by putting pressure on his PD colleague Premier Enrico Letta, warning his government would fall if the law was not passed. When the deal became final, Letta said it was "good news".

"The institutional reform, the election law and the end of the system of having two equally powerful houses of parliament, which is obsolete for our country, are fundamental for stability and in order for our country to progress," he added.