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Renzi satisfied after election plan passes first big test

Lower House rejects petitions over Constitutionality

31 January, 17:25
Renzi satisfied after election plan passes first big test

(ANSA) - Rome, January 31 - Matteo Renzi, the leader of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), expressed satisfaction on Friday after a bill for a new election law based on a deal he struck with ex-premier and centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi passed its first major test in parliament.

The bill easily won a vote on objections that the plan was unconstitutional, with 154 votes for the objections and 351 against.

There was, however, a little alarm bell for Renzi and Forza Italia leader Berlusconi, as between 20 and 30 lawmakers rebelled against their party line and voted against the bill in a secret ballot.

"Good. We held up," said Renzi, the energetic 39-year-old mayor of Florence who has revved up the drive for much-needed institutional reforms after winning a party leadership primary last month.

"Now we'll move forward, We're going to do it". 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. Some elements of the PD also complained that the election law was tainted as it amounted to a form of political rehabilitation for three-time premier Berlusconi after he was ejected from parliament following a definitive tax-fraud conviction last year. Renzi responded that he had to try to get the largest opposition party on board and that the deal would mean the PD would not find itself in the situation it was in last year, when it was forced into a weak grand coalition with the centre right after an inconclusive election result. The new system features much shorter lists of candidates and a bonus of 15% of seats for the coalition that comes first and gains over 37% of the vote. 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.

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. The bill is set to continue its path though the Lower House on February 11.

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