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Renzi's election reform set to clear Lower House

Premier offers gender-parity olive branch 'after bill passes'

11 March, 20:11
Renzi's election reform set to clear Lower House (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, March 11 - Premier Matteo Renzi's landmark election reform appeared set to clear the Lower House late Tuesday as MPs voted against a series of amendments that would have introduced quotas for women in parliament.

In what was seen as an olive branch, Renzi said that it may be possible to address the issue when his election-law bill reaches the Senate. "If there are the conditions to discuss sexual equality in the Senate, we will reopen the debate," said Renzi, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which failed to unite in backing the amendments for women MP quotas in three secret votes on Monday. Many women PD members felt betrayed by the outcome of those votes as the party had publicly said it was in favour of promoting greater equality in parliament, although Renzi's government gave individual MPs the freedom to follow their conscience. The election law bill is the result of a deal that Renzi struck with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of the opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party, before he became premier last month. The question of the so-called "pink quotas" was a potential problem as FI said it was against them as unconstitutional - even though many women centre-right lawmakers were in favour - and the deal on the reform risked breaking down. The Renzi-Berlusconi deal did not address moves to have greater sexual equality in parliament. Renzi has said that the PD will ensure half of its candidates are women in future elections even if the quotas are not brought in. 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 with the same alliance Letta had had since November, when Berlusconi's party pulled its support for the administration. 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 said Tuesday that his administration will have a package of Constitutional reforms, including a revamp of the Senate, to make Italy easier and cheaper to govern ready in two weeks.

The executive plans to strip the Senate of its lawmaking powers and turn it into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives.

It also wants to change Article V of the Constitution to scrap Italy's provincial administrations and take back some powers from the country's regional governments, many of which are guilty of overspending.

Furthermore, Renzi is promising to present 10 billion euros in tax cuts, launch a major programme for Italy's schools and unveil his Jobs Act to combat chronic unemployment after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. "For the first time a significant quantity of money will be put into the Italian people's pockets," he told a meeting of PD lawmakers.

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