Electoral Reform Is Approved in Italy - Now the Hard Part

ITALIANS finally have a new electoral system, nearly four months after calling for it in a national referendum, but it will likely be longer still before they actually vote in a new Parliament.

The old guard in Parliament, many of whom have been discredited in the eyes of the public by two years of judicial investigations into kickbacks to political parties and ties to organized crime, approved an electoral reform measure in the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday and in the Senate yesterday.

Under the new law, 75 percent of each house of Parliament will be elected following the British model: There will be a single round of balloting, and the candidate getting the most votes will win the contested seat.

The remaining 25 percent of the houses will be elected according to the old proportional system, instituted after World War II to avoid the one-party system under fascism and allow a variety of voices to be represented in parliament. By 1992, the result was a vote split between 12 national political parties. But under a new provision, no party can enter Parliament that has not garnered at least 4 percent of the vote nationwide.

Before Parliament can be dissolved and a date announced for early elections, however, the electoral college must be redrawn, a process that under Italian law can take up to four months. Although it would be technically possible to vote before year's end, analysts say the anticipated political maneuvering will almost certainly mean elections will not be held until next year.

"This parliament, elected under the proportional system, was only able to approve [the electoral reform law] with great difficulty," says Stefano Ceccanti, a member of People for Reform, which pressed for the change toward the British electoral system.

"We need two great opposite political poles," says Mr. Ceccanti, outlining his group's philosophy, "and this is the principal reason for the delay.... The parties have to make this choice." And so far, he says, they have not come down firmly on the side of a two-party system.

After the vote, Mario Segni, the head of People for Reform and the politician who championed the electoral-reform referendum, said the new electoral law, though not ideal, was a step forward. His next battle, he announced, would be to establish the direct popular election of the prime minister. Currently under the Italian Constitution the prime minister is named by the country's ceremonial president.

PRESSURE had been growing for the Parliament to approve the electoral reform before going on August vacation, especially after three car bombs went off last week in Milan and Rome, killing five people.

Prime Minister Carlo Azeglio Ciampi laid the blame for the bombings on the Mafia in a report sent to the Parliament Tuesday. He called for further reforms - changes that this time would bring transparency and efficiency to Italy's secret services - and announced he was personally taking control of the secret services. The move followed his address in Bologna the same day on the anniversary of the 1980 train station bombing that killed 85 people. For years, critics have accused the secret services of incl uding "deviant" elements that they say were responsible for the terrorist acts in the 1970s.

Mr. Ciampi, the former governor of the Bank of Italy, implied in Bologna and in his parliamentary report that some politicians of the old guard had been behind the years of terrorism, which brought a sharp retort from former President Francesco Cossiga, who maintained a close relationship with the secret services.

If Ciampi knows which politicians are responsible for placing the bombs in the past, let him tell us, said Mr. Cossiga.

"If he doesn't know, and he doesn't know much about the country's government in this and in other areas, then let him keep quiet as he did when our lira was heading for disaster. The only thing he knows how to do, in fact, is keep quiet," Cossiga said.

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