Italian Senate votes on electoral law

PD slams high majority bar as ruse to keep it out of power

Italian Senate votes on electoral law

Rome, November 6 - After months of haggling over electoral reform before next spring's elections, the Italian Senate on Tuesday appeared poised to approve a new electoral law, using a new rule designed to artificially achieve a clear majority. But the party currently leading polls, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), denounced the deal as actually intended to achieve the opposite, since the bar would be set too high for anyone to qualify for the extra boost. PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani said: "This isn't on, the PD won't stand for it". "Some people are afraid of us governing," he said. PD Senate caucus leader Anna Finocchiaro said the bill, in its present form, "wants to produce a country in which no one wins and no one loses". Political sources said Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who has repeatedly come out in favour of an improvement on the current electoral system to ensure more representation and 'governability', was watching the debate closely. The Constitutional affairs committee approved an amendment that would provide a pro forma majority if the winning coalition secured at least 42.5% of the vote, a much higher requirement than was previously being touted. If the votes in favor of the leading alliance reach 42.5%, an additional 12.5% would be granted to achieve a 55% majority. The PD is currently polling at around 27% and with centrist and leftwing allies could get about 10-12% more, experts say - leaving it short of the mark now proposed to ensure an unassailable governing majority. Finocchiaro and others in the PD accused ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party and allies including the regionalist Northern League of wanting to engineer an "uncertain" outcome that could keep the centre-left out of power and perhaps pave the way for a grand coalition in which current premier Mario Monti might stay on. The centrist UDC, so far the loudest advocate for Monti to serve a second term, hailed Tuesday's "susbstantive progress towards a deal". "Conditions are maturing for an agreement on the electoral law. Finally," wrote Pier Ferdinando Casini, leader of the centrist Center Union (UDC) party, on Twitter. Casini called the law "a work in progress" and said "the law can be refined in the chamber. An agreement will be found". Attempting to counter criticism from the PD, a nominal ally, he said "it (the PD) knows full well that an agreement will be found". But the PD remains a hold-out against the amendment as does the ethics-focused Italy of Values party. "On the electoral law, coups cannot be made by spurious majorities," added Bersani. If the electoral law bill passes the Senate, it will then go to the House. A week ago President Napolitano made his latest appeal to politicians to agree on new rules by the elections, due to take place no later than April. After nearly a year of stalled talks and differences at the party level, skepticism has grown that decisive reforms cannot be implemented in time for the vote. The current law has been widely criticised for distancing politicians from voters, who effectively cannot pick their representatives, as party leaders have the power to name candidates on so-called 'blocked lists', which are then voted on. As a result, candidates do not need to champion the concerns of constituents so much but they do need to lobby within their parties to get high enough on the lists to be elected.

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