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Renzi's election plan faces new hurdles in House

Letta loyalists 'try to derail' legislation with women MP quotas

10 March, 20:15
Renzi's election plan faces new hurdles in House

(By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, March 10 - Premier Matteo Renzi's hopes of getting a bill for a new election law approved quickly by the Lower House suffered a setback on Monday when a member of Silvio Berlusconi's opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party said it was against the possibility of including minimum quotas for women MPs. The bill, which Renzi was aiming to pass Tuesday, is the result of a deal that the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) struck with Berlusconi before he became premier last month. "Forza Italia is against minimum quotas for women MPs because it would be a law with evident problems of Constitutionality," said FI's Francesco Paolo Sisto, who was one of the lawmakers proposing the election-system bill. As a result, work on the bill was suspended for much of the day. Once it resumed, the committee overseeing the bill announced that a secret vote would be held on quotas for women, which would limit seats for men to 60%. The Renzi-Berlusconi deal did not address moves to have greater sexual equality in parliament, although there had been calls from many parts of the political spectrum for them to be incorporated into the new system. The new election law is set to replace the previous system that was declared unconstitutional in December and was blamed for the inconclusive outcome to last year's general election. The new bill sets bars for small parties to force them into alliances, limiting their veto power, and provides a 15% winner's bonus for a coalition that gets 37% to ensure it has a working majority. The aim is to prevent the havoc that followed the February 2013 national election. After two months of deadlock, the PD teamed up in an unnatural alliance with centre right led by Renzi's predecessor and party colleague Enrico Letta.

That government was plagued by instability and ultimately collapsed after 10 months when Renzi pulled the plug on it, saying he could do better at pushing through much-needed reforms. Daniela Santanché, an FI MP, said the question of quotas for women in the Upper House was an effort derail Renzi's landmark legislation by Letta loyalists out for revenge. Known as Berlusconi's 'pythoness' for her unflinching defence of the three-time premier, Santanché leapt to the defence of Renzi in light of the deal he struck with Berlusconi earlier this year on the reform in question. That move, made while Renzi was still just mayor of Florence, was seen as pivotal in his rise to power and Letta's coinciding decline, brought about in a party coup to strip him of the premiership. Santanché said that among the 90 signatories to appeal for a minimum quota for women in the House, "I don't see any who are Renzi loyalists". On Monday those same women wore white to the House in a sign of protest. Santanché was dressed in pink.

Renzi, Italy's youngest premier at 39, is looking for a fast conclusion to the election bill, which will go to the Senate after approval in the House, to back this claim. Last week Renzi and Berlusconi agreed that the effect of the new election law should be limited to the Lower House. This effectively obliges Renzi to pass reform of the Senate, otherwise Italy will find itself voting with two different election laws the next time it goes to the polls, one for the Lower House and another for the Upper House. Renzi and Berlusconi have a deal to change the Constitution to transform the Senate into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives stripped of law-making powers. The aim of the move is to make passing legislation, and therefore governing Italy, easier and help reduce the massive cost of the country's political apparatus.