Electoral Reforms Undergo Revision
Government revises bill after objections from Ciampi

Published October 10th 2005 in ANSA News
Rome, October 7 - The governing coalition considered revisions to a controversial electoral reform bill on Friday in response to criticism from President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi .

A quintet of 'wise men' representing the four parties in Premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right alliance met for almost three hours to discuss possible solutions to points raised by Ciampi's office earlier this week .

The government is pushing ahead with plans to switch to proportional representation less than seven months before the country goes to the polls .

Italy's current electoral system allocates 25% of parliamentary seats by proportional representation and the rest with a first-past-the-post system based on constituencies .

The government's reforms would introduce an entirely proportional system with three separate cut-off thresholds for parties and coalitions .

Single parties obtaining less than 2% of the national vote would not be represented in parliament and their votes would not go towards their coalition's overall tally .

Parties obtaining less then 4% (but more than 2%) would not be given seats but their votes would contribute to their coalition's tally .

Finally, coalitions which failed to win at least 10% of the vote would not obtain seats .

In the event of a narrow outcome, the coalition with the most votes would be given extra seats to guarantee it a parliamentary majority of 340 seats in the 630-seat House and 170 seats in the 315-seat Senate .

The House will begin voting on the bill next Tuesday but Ciampi's office has objected to three articles on constitutional grounds .

The first concerns plans for coalitions to designate their candidate premier, which conflicts with the president's constitutional right to appoint the premier .

The second concerns the 2% cut-off point for small parties, which would exclude representation for members of linguistic minorities in the northern regions of Valle d'Aosta and Trentino-Alto Adige .

Both regions have their own statute, akin to a regional constitution, which guarantees representation for ethnic minorities .

The final point which concerned Ciampi's office was a plan to assign seats in the Senate on a national basis instead of the constitutionally stipulated regional basis, guaranteeing each region at least seven senators .

In possible solutions to these issues, the coalition's 'wise men' said the candidate premier could be 'proposed' rather than designated by his supporting parties .

They also said three or four parliamentary seats could be set aside to ensure representation for members of linguistic minorities in the two northern regions .

They said the point concerning the election of the Senate could be more difficult to solve .

But Berlusconi's Forza Italia party stressed the government would tackle all the president's concerns .

"We have always respected the observations, suggestions and doubts expressed by the president... the government and majority will respond to these doubts and ensure there are no constitutional problems with the bill," the party said .

House Speaker Pier Ferdinando Casini also said that "the reforms must fully respect the Constitution." "The majority has the right to pass reforms just as the opposition has the right to try and obstruct them," he added .


The opposition heatedly renewed its objections that voting rules should not be changed just before next spring's general elections .

There are six parties in the centre-left alliance which might not exceed the 2% threshold and so their contribution to the opposition's votes would be lost .

The opposition says it will block all parliamentary activity in order to stop the new system being approved. Such an important reform requires the consensus of the opposition as well as the majority, it says .

It also argues that the reforms go against the will of voters, citing a 1993 public referendum in which Italians voted for the abolition of proportional representation .

The coalition's unanointed leader Romano Prodi, who is ahead of Berlusconi in the opinion polls, has accused the government of trying to improve its election chances after a regional election thrashing earlier this year .

"They have decided to change the electoral law either in an attempt to win or an attempt to narrow their defeat... The spirit and the letter of democracy are being violated," the former European Commission chief said recently .

"This reform will reduce stability... they want to pass from a bipolar system which still needs perfecting to a proportional system which is even more imperfect," he said .

Prodi has called on Italians to protest against the bill by joining an opposition demonstration in Rome on Sunday .

Meanwhile, the opposition Green party urged citizens to help sink the reform plan by using the Internet to express their protests .

"Every single citizen and Internet user can support our parliamentary opposition to this fraudulent reform which is an extreme act of arrogance by a desperate government," the Greens said .

But Forza Italia Deputy House Whip Isabella Bertolini defended the bill .

"These are useful and necessary reforms introducing a proportional system which is in the interests of the country and guarantees governability," she said .


But the opposition's line on the reforms appeared less than united .

Prodi said this week that if the reform bill passed, his coalition would revoke the law if it won the spring general elections .

But Communist Refoundation Party leader Fausto Bertinotti, who brought down Prodi's 1996 government, said his party was firmly pro-proportional and would insist on the law remaining in place if it is approved. The hard-left leader's comments highlighted the fragility of the opposition alliance. Prodi is seeking to establish and consolidate his leadership of the coalition by holding US-style primaries this month .

The centre left will hold a nationwide poll on October 16 when Bertinotti will be among several other centre-left chiefs facing off against Prodi .

Prodi is widely expected to win the vote .

© Copyright ANSA. All rights reserved     2005-10-07 17:40