Berlusconi’s Party Says Reform Pact with Renzi Broken

The former prime minister’s supporters are angry they weren’t consulted on the election of Italy’s new president.

European Council president Herman Van Rompuy talks with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy in Brussels, June 23, 2011
European Council president Herman Van Rompuy talks with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy in Brussels, June 23, 2011 (The Council of the European Union)

Italy’s conservatives said on Wednesday a pact with the ruling Democratic Party on electoral reforms was “broken” when Prime Minister Matteo Renzi failed to consult Silvio Berlusconi on the appointment of a new president last week.

The Italian parliament elected supreme court judge Sergio Mattarella as president, days after the Senate approved electoral reforms Renzi had negotiated with Berlusconi, a former prime minister himself.

Mattarella got unanimous support from Democratic Party lawmakers but was rejected by members of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

Earlier, some dissident Democrats had voted down the proposed voting reforms in the Senate and asked why Forza Italia still supported the bill in spite of its low poll ratings.

Under the new law, the party that wins at least 40 percent support in national elections is guaranteed a majority in the lower chamber of parliament. If no party crosses the 40-percent threshold, a runoff would be held between the two most popular parties.

A separate reform, enacted last year, reduces the Senate to a body of regional deputies without the ability to block legislation.

An earlier version of the voting law gave a governing majority to the winning coalition. Forza Italia hasn’t polled above 15 percent support since last year. Only in coalition with the separatist Lega Nord and smaller right-wing parties would it have a shot at winning 40 percent nationwide.

Renzi said there was no hidden agenda. But by working with the prime minister, Berlusconi might have hoped to secure a central role for himself in the presidential election.

The president can nominate prime ministers, dissolve parliament and call elections. He also has the power to grant pardons, something Berlusconi, the subject of many scandals and investigations, would be especially interested in.

With the reforms already enacted in the Senate, Forza Italia may no longer be able to stop them. Renzi’s Democrats have an absolute majority in the lower house where the reforms are yet to pass.

Democratic Party leader Debora Serracchiani said if the pact is broken, “the better. The road to reform will be easier.”

Maria Elena Boschi, the minister in charge of constitutional reforms, told TG3 television there was never an agreement with Forza Italia on the appointment of the next president. “The agreement concerned only the reforms,” she insisted.

Berlusconi and Renzi agreed last year to jointly enact constitutional changes.

Their parties were forced into a coalition after the anti-establishment Five Star Movement prevented either from winning a majority in 2013.

Berlusconi later quit the coalition but the government was saved when centrist rightwingers under Angelino Alfano, the interior minister, split from Forza Italia to form Nuovo Centrodestra. It is polling at around 3 percent, barely enough to cross the electoral threshold introduced under the new voting law.

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