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Renzi sees smooth path for new election law

PD leader upbeat after deal with Berlusconi

30 January, 14:19
Renzi sees smooth path for new election law (ANSA) - Florence, January 30 - Matteo Renzi, the leader of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), said Thursday that a bill for a new election law based on a deal he struck with ex-premier and centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi is set to be swiftly approved in parliament.

The new law will replace its discredited, dysfunctional predecessor, which was ruled unconstitutional last month and contributed to two months of parliamentary deadlock and the formation a shaky grand-coalition government last year.

Renzi and Berlusconi struck a fresh deal on Wednesday after an agreement they reached at a meeting in Rome earlier this month came under fire and risked running aground. Various aspects of the first agreement have changed, including its system for awarding bonus seats for the coalition that comes first and the thresholds for entry to parliament, which threatened the existence of some smaller parties.

But the revised plan is still being criticised by many, including a minority in the PD, for failing to give voters the chance to express preferences about which of the candidates on any given party list represent them in parliament.

"I'm not worried about any obstacles," said Renzi, the energetic 39-year-old Florence mayor who has revved up the drive for much-needed institutional reforms after winning a party leadership primary last month.

"I'm relaxed and serene," he added on Italian television when asked if he was worried about the agreement being sunk by rebels within his own party.

The new system features much shorter lists of candidates and a bonus of 15% of seats for the coalition that comes first and wins over 37% of the electorate - up from 35% in the previous deal.

If no coalition wins over 37%, the top two would go to a runoff. The parliamentary-entry threshold for small parties in a coalition is set at 4.5%, down from 5% in the previous deal, while parties that run alone need to capture at least 8% of the vote.

The aim is to make it more difficult for small parties to veto decisions and exert an influence on policy that goes beyond their level of support among voters.

Renzi and Berlusconi have also reached a deal to save money by scrapping Italy's provincial governments, handing regional powers back to Rome, and to make passing legislation easier by stripping the Senate of its lawmaking powers and turning it into an assembly of regions. "By February 15 we'll have a text ready with cross-party support to supersede the Senate and clarify the powers of the regional governments," Renzi said. On Thursday the Lower House's Constitutional affairs commission approved the bill for the new election law and it is now set to go to the floor of the House, although it will need amending as it was based on the initial agreement between Renzi and Berlusconi. Renzi has warned that the left-right government, led by his party colleague, Premier Enrico Letta, will collapse if the election-law plan does not come to fruition.