Rome

>>>ANSA/ Parliament to set about revamping institutional set-up

Measures to include new election law, remodelling of Senate

>>>ANSA/ Parliament to set about revamping institutional set-up

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, May 15 - The Italian parliament will start debating institutional reforms designed to make the country easier to govern on May 29, Relations with Parliament Minister Dario Franceschini said Wednesday. Premier Enrico Letta has said these institutional reforms are a priority for his left-right coalition government, which was sworn in last month to end Italy's two-month post-election political deadlock. The parliamentary debate will be based on a draft of measures Letta's cabinet agreed on during a 24-hour 'retreat' at a former abbey in Tuscany on Sunday and Monday. The proposals will include a new election law to replace the much-criticised current one that failed to produce a clear winner in February's general election. Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) came first in February but was unable to form a government alone because it did not have a working majority in the Senate and ended up having to make a pact with its longstanding enemy, ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party. The current election law, widely derided as a "pig's sty" since it was framed by the centre right ahead of the 2006 elections, has also been blasted because it awards an unfairly large bonus to the top party in the House and does not allow voters to pick their MPs. The fact voters cannot express preferences about which of the candidates on any given party list they want to go to parliament means party bosses effectively decide who becomes a lawmaker by setting the order in which candidates feature on the lists. Some commentators have said this means politicians are more interested in pleasing their party superiors than they are in helping their constituents The reform measures will also look to change the current parliamentary set-up in which all laws must be approved by both the House and Senate. This is seen by many as being one of the major sources of dysfunction for Italy's institutions. Letta's government aims to keep the Lower House as the main law-making chamber of parliament, while turning the Senate into an assembly of Italian regions. "These institutional reforms have failed to come to fruition for 30 years," said Franceschini, who announced the date of the start of the debate after a meeting with party whips on Wednesday. "Now the government is actively working to make this path of reform concrete, with full respect for parliamentary sovereignty. "The issue of reforms may seem abstract to the public, but in reality, the lack of reform has produced a situation of paralysis that the whole county is paying for". The plan is for the process in parliament to be flanked by the work of a special panel formed by the House and Senate constitutional affairs committees, with input from independent unelected experts. Franceschini said the constitutional affairs committees will start work on the reforms on May 22 and both houses of parliament will start debating proposals a week later. He added that he wants all the parties in parliament, including those not supporting Letta's government, to take part in the process of passing the reforms. "I hope that the path is shared as much as possible," said Franceschini, a PD MP. This comment was probably directed primarily at comedian-turned politician Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S). The movement, which won around a quarter of the vote in February's election, wants to see the end of the current party system, which it says has produced corruption and ineffective government.

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