Party Senators Rebel Against Renzi’s Plan to Overhaul Italy’s Senate

Senators “suspend themselves” from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s ruling party in opposition to his political reform plan.

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi answers a question from a reporter in Rome, June 13
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi answers a question from a reporter in Rome, June 13 (Palazzo Chigi)

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi hit a major stumbling block in his attempt to overhaul the country’s political system this week when thirteen senators said they were “suspending themselves” from the ruling Partito Democratico.

While Renzi was on a state trip in Asia on Wednesday, the senators rebelled against his plan to replace the elected upper chamber with one made up of regional deputies and presidential appointees.

Renzi still has the votes to push through his reforms, especially if former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia also supports the plan. But the party rebellion shows it might be more precarious than Renzi thought to ask the Senate to practically abolish itself.

Renzi struck a deal with Berlusconi before taking power in February to make it easier for larger parties to win majorities in both houses of parliament. Neither the left nor the right had won a Senate majority in elections the year before, forcing them into a coalition that fractured when Berlusconi took Forza Italia into opposition in November. Rebel conservatives, led by interior minister Angelino Alfano, grouped together in a new party, Nuovo Centrodestra, to continue to support the government.

After a cabinet meeting on Friday, Renzi warned that the Partito Democratico could not become “anarchic” and he accused the thirteen senators of seeking their “fifteen minutes of fame.”

“This isn’t a dictatorship,” Renzi told reporters. “But we want to be decisive and get things done.”

The prime minister is eager to enact a series of economic and political reforms to make Italy more competitive and more governable. He appeared to have won a clear mandate for his plans last month when the ruling party got almost 41 percent support in the European Parliament election, up from 25 percent in last year’s parliamentary vote.

Berlusconi’s Forza Italia placed behind the anti-establishment Five Star Movement with under 17 percent support, losing more than half its European assembly seats. Nuovo Centrodestra got less than 5 percent support — enough for three European Parliament seats but barely meeting the 4.5 percent threshold that was introduced for national elections as part of the electoral reform package.