The 5Star Movement claims the legislation was designed to scupper their chances of power.
ROME — The Italian parliament Thursday gave its final go-ahead to a highly contested electoral law that will shape the results of next year’s general election to the advantage of established parties.
The center-left government headed by Paolo Gentiloni was forced to impose eight separate confidence votes as the electoral bill passed through parliament in order to win final approval.
In the final step of a tormented approval process, the bill was approved in the Italian Senate by 214 votes to 61 earlier Thursday, following days of heated protests from the opposition benches.
The new rules are furiously contested by the anti-establishment 5Star Movement and some leftist groups. The 5Stars claim that the new law was expressly designed by the ruling center-left Democratic Party (PD) and its allies to kill the movement’s chances of winning the upcoming election, due by next May.
The populist movement, which staunchly refuses any alliance with the other traditional parties, is leading opinion polls in the run-up to election — neck and neck with former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s PD. But by changing the voting system in national elections in favor of broad pre-election coalitions, the law could severely dent the movement’s chances of power.
The 5Star Movement’s leaders, headed by ex-comedian Beppe Grillo, staged a huge protest Wednesday in a square in Rome close to parliament, covering their eyes with white blindfolds to indicate that Italy’s parliament was going to vote “blind.”
Hundreds of their supporters filled the square at the Roman Pantheon to protest against the bill, chanting “honesty, honesty” and waving party flags.
The new electoral system, named “Rosatellum” after the PD’s deputy who drafted it, was pushed strongly by Renzi’s PD and backed by the main parties within Italy’s main left and right blocs, including Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s Northern League, who will likely forge a strong electoral alliance in the north of the country.
Supporters say the new rules — a mix of proportional representation and first-past-the-post voting — aim to make Italy more governable by encouraging coalition-building, especially among smaller parties.
But electoral experts believe that if opinion polls are accurate, the system won’t be able to produce a clear-cut winner, meaning that old-style political bargaining will be needed to try to avoid a probable political impasse immediately after the election, which will likely be held in March.
“This electoral law is setting the clock back to the old First Republic, when governments were created through back-door political bargaining, bringing together different parties in huge coalitions,” said Wolfango Piccoli, head of research at Teneo Intelligence, referring to the period after World War II up to 1992. “The result risks being, again, a hung parliament, or, in the very unlikely case that one coalition manages to prevail, a very unstable majority.”
Piccoli noted that the only way to avoid a political deadlock would be for one bloc to win more than 40 percent of the vote. But, at present, none of the three main political groups look likely to win more than 33 percent.
The 5Stars and other opposition parties have called for President Sergio Mattarella to use his powers to reject the legislation. But that seems a vain hope since the Italian president has repeatedly called on parliament to draw up a new electoral law to harmonize the two existing systems, in a bid to avoid political instability.