Electoral reform clears House
Opposition accuses govt of changing rules for own benefit

Published October 13th 2005 in ANSA Italian News
(ANSA) - Rome, October 13 - A radical reform of Italy's electoral system wanted by Premier Silvio Berlusconi cleared an important parliamentary hurdle on Thursday when it won approval in the House.

The bill, which would introduce a proportional system of voting similar to the one it had until 1993, now passes to the Senate for definitive approval.

Berlusconi hailed the green light in the House as "a great show of compactness" in the centre right, adding that he was sure his alliance would win elections which must be held within the next seven months.

The centre-left opposition, which refused to vote on the reform, accused the government of changing the rules now out of fear it would "disappear" in next year's elections.

Opposition leader Romano Prodi also said there were still "unconstitutional" aspects to the reform despite adjustments made recently after President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi pointed out three areas of doubt.

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 opposition, which recent opinion polls have put ahead of the centre right, has taken a fiercely negative stance on the reform in part because it appears set to lose out as a result. 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.

Prodi 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.