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Italy faces crucial test on electoral reform

Italy's president urges parties to overcome differences

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America24, 26 gennaio 2014, 08:02

Italy's fragile left-right coalition government faces a crucial test this week when a closely-watched electoral reform moves to the lower house for its first vote.

The recession-hit country needs to push through reforms to boost economic growth after painful austerity measures, and a widely-agreed electoral reform would ensure political stability after last year's election left no party able to govern alone.

Democratic party leader Matteo Renzi, who leads the largest party in prime minister Enrico Letta's coalition but is not a member of the government, warned on Friday that failing to approve the bill would push the country toward early elections.

"Enough with the professionals of swamp politics, if the reform fails, the government fails," Renzi said.

Italy's president Giorgio Napolitano, who is largely seen as the guarantor of the coalition government, urged parliament to speed up the institutional reforms needed to respond to the economic challenges posed by a prolonged crisis.

"It is necessary to approve the institutional reforms as soon as possible, in order to make our system able to face, in a European context, the new needs posed by the crisis and the challenges of global competition," Napolitano said in a statement.

The so-called "Italicum" electoral bill goes to the lower house for a vote on Wednesday, following an unusual accord between 39-year-old Renzi and centre-right rival Silvio Berlusconi.

The package is being closely watched in Europe as a test for Italy's ability to carry out reforms, including a promised "Jobs Act" to spur employment.

The proposal sets high minimum electoral thresholds and a majority premium to give a stronger majority to the winner, thus favoring big parties. It also introduces closed lists of candidates, a solution criticized by a minority of the PD party and by the New Centre-Right (Ncd) party led by Interior minister Angelino Alfano.

Their opposition could materialize when the lower house holds a secret ballot, potentially derailing the reform.

Furthermore Renzi, who has put his credibility at stake on the reform, frowned upon Letta's support of calls from the opposition to allow voters to choose their candidates.

Speaking on Friday, the mayor of Florence warned that, if the reforms is not passed, Italy would likely face early election when it holds its six-month presidency of the EU Council later this year. "It would be better not, but it can be done," he said.

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