Italy aims to replace defective election law by summer

Replacing current 'pigsty' system priority for Premier Letta

Italy aims to replace defective election law by summer

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, May 22 - Premier Enrico Letta on Wednesday said the life of the government and the parliamentary term depended on reforming the current election law and the structure of the Senate, according to sources in his office. Meeting with cabinet members and majority whips, Letta said it was crucial to change both systems, especially the election law as early as this summer in case a new vote is held soon. "Otherwise we'll be going to the polls with a law that does not give citizens the right to choose and that will create a gridlocked parliament that is ungovernable," Guglielmo Epifani, the leader of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), told the House. Italy's current election law - passed under a previous government of Silvio Berlusconi and often referred to as Porcellum, or 'pigsty' - has been widely blamed for leading to inconclusive February election results, two months of political deadlock, and now the unprecedented left-right government which is seen as highly volatile. Last week the supreme Cassation Court called on the Constitutional Court to review the electoral systems by which bonus seats are granted in both the House and Senate. Critics say the election law also distances 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. Constitutional changes to make the country easier to govern is also a top priorities for Letta's left-right government. Part of the reason the general election was inconclusive was because the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement tapped into widespread disenchantment at a political system that has failed to address many of Italy's social and economic ailments in recent years. Letta wants to strip the Senate of law-making powers, turning it into a regional assembly, which would help avoid post-election logjams in parliament. Reform Minister Gaetano Quagliariello, meanwhile, on Wednesday mooted the idea of introducing direct elections for the Italian president as part of possible changes to the Constitution. At the moment the head of state is elected by lawmakers from the Senate and Upper House and representatives of Italy's regions. "The increasingly wide gap between the political world and the public and the situation in Europe mean we should assess whether it is preferable to adopt a system with direct elections for the president," Quagliariello told the House. Quagliariello is a Senator of three-time Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party. Berlusconi has called for the president to be elected directly by the people in the past and is widely thought to want to become head of state one day. The Italian president is mostly a non-political figurehead role, although the holder does have the power to send laws back to parliament if they are deemed to be unconstitutional. The head of state has a key role to play though in situations of political crisis, such as the impasse that followed February's inconclusive general election. President Giorgio Napolitano was instrumental in the formation of Letta's unprecedented PD-PdL coalition government. Quagliariello also said he was against a bill presented by PD Senators that threatens to force the M5S out of the Italian political arena. If it becomes law, the bill would force the Internet-based M5S to become more like a conventional party in several ways if it wants to run in elections. M5S leader Beppe Grillo has said the movement will never do this. He said his movement will boycott the next election if the bill is signed into law and warned there would be "an expansion of violence" if the M5S were shut out from politics.

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