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Berlusconi bows to Renzi on landmark election reform

Bill to avert govt deadlock nears House floor, despite delays

04 March, 20:10
Berlusconi bows to Renzi on landmark election reform (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, March 4 - Premier Matteo Renzi on Tuesday moved "an important step" closer to passing a landmark election bill that would solidify his reputation as an effective reformer and help steer Italy away from the type of political deadlock seen this time one year ago. Despite a vote scheduled Tuesday on the reform bill being postponed, the new premier was able to avert stalemate with the center-right Forza Italia opposition party of Silvio Berlusconi by striking a deal with the ex-premier. Under the deal, only election rules in the House would be changed, as another bill on the docket aims to demote the Senate to a regional council of mayors and local officials, similar to Germany's upper house, none of whom are elected at the national level. "Whether or not the Senate has its own election law is secondary, given the Senate (as we know it) will be abolished," said Renzi at a press conference in Tunis, where he is currently on his first foreign visit as premier. Renzi has pledged to pass one reform per month, and a new election law would be his first since coming into office in February after forcing his predecessor Enrico Letta out of office for alleged inaction. "Let's see if we'll have an election law by Friday," said Renzi after the deal went public.

Upon agreeing to Renzi's terms, Berlusconi said he acknowledged with "dismay" that the premier was having difficulty getting the governing coalition to back the agreement. Forza Italia had been moving to tie the law to Senate reform, which would take more than a year.

"We confirm the agreement...and reiterate our full cooperation on this issue," said Berlusconi, "and our clear opposition to the government on economic and social issues".

The reform, negotiated between Berlusconi and Renzi in January, is widely seen as a precursor to the young leader's rise to power. At the time, pundits were taken by the 39-year-old's ability to reach across the aisle and get things done, seemingly with more ease than the sitting premier.

If all goes to plan, the bill could be approved by Friday before passing to the Senate for scrutiny.

Under Italy's parliamentary system it must be approved by both houses in identical form before it can pass into law.

Voting had been due to begin in the House earlier this month but got postponed amid the manoeuvering that led to the ouster of former premier Letta.

The election law sets bars for small parties to force them into alliances, and provides a 15% winner's bonus for a coalition that gets 37%.

It aims to prevent the havoc that followed an inconclusive result in the February 2013 national election under a law that was subsequently struck down by the Constitutional Court.

After two months of subsequent deadlock, the PD teamed up in an unnatural alliance with Berlusconi plagued by instability.