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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
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
At the moment the head of state is elected by lawmakers
from the Senate and Upper House and representatives of Italy's
"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
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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