Italy passes electoral overhaul to end chronic instability


In a victory for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Italian lawmakers have passed a hotly debated electoral law designed to bring stability to a country that has had 63 governments since World War II.

Italy‘s parliament on Monday gave final approval to the new electoral law, despite furious objections from the opposition and some members of Renzi’s ruling Democratic Party.

The electoral overhaul, which becomes law after more than a year of discussion in both chambers of parliament, is a central part of the prime minister’s political and economic reform agenda.

It replaces a widely decried electoral law passed more than a decade ago under former premier Silvio Berlusconi, nicknamed “Porcellum” (which means pig in Latin).

The new legislation, which only takes effect in July 2016, is based on proportional representation but guarantees a big majority to the winning party and gives party bosses wide powers to handpick preferred candidates.

If the winning party gains at least 40 percent of the vote, it qualifies for a winner’s bonus that automatically gives it 340 seats in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies.

If no party wins 40 percent, a run-off ballot between the two largest parties is held two weeks after the first election to determine which party gets the winner’s bonus.

Renzi says this will provide political stability to Italy, which has already seen four different governments since the start of the decade, and end the backroom horsetrading between parties often needed to form ruling coalitions.

“There will be a system in which our country will finally be a point of reference for political stability which is a precondition for economic and cultural development,” Renzi said earlier on Monday.

Opposition walkout

Opponents complain that the new law concentrates too much power in the hands of the winning party and does not allow voters to directly choose their representatives.

Opposition parties have appealed to President Sergio Mattarella not to sign off on the bill in order to prevent it becoming law. They have also threatened to organise a popular referendum to try to have it repealed.

“We say no, because this law has been conceived to create a one-party state,” said Renato Brunetta, floor leader of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. Forza Italia previously supported the bill, but changed its mind following a dispute over the election of Mattarella in January.

The 630-seat Chamber of Deputies approved the bill in a secret ballot by 334 votes to 61. With most opposition lawmakers refusing to take part, the result indicated that 40-50 dissidents in Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) voted against him.

Despite the strife within Renzi’s party, analysts said the chief beneficiary of the reform was likely to be the 40-year-old prime minister, who faces a weak and divided opposition and holds a clear lead in opinion polls.

Renzi brushed aside resistance from PD rebels last week by imposing confidence votes to prevent further amendments being added, which would have prolonged its parliamentary passage.

The new electoral law, which only applies to the lower house of parliament, cannot be used until a separate reform of the senate is completed.

Renzi wants to abolish the senate as an elected chamber and turn it into an assembly with reduced powers made up of mayors and regional councillors.



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