Renzi Sees Off Critics, Pushes Through Italian Voting Reform

An overhaul of the voting system should make it easier for the leftist premier to win reelection.

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi attends a remembrance ceremony in Rome, April 25
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi attends a remembrance ceremony in Rome, April 25 (Palazzo Chigi)

Italian lawmakers late on Monday approved an overhaul of the voting system that should make it easier for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to win reelection. But some leftwingers, and many in the opposition, were critical, calling the reform a power grab.

Prominent members of Renzi’s Partito Democratico, including his predecessor, Enrico Letta, and former party leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, had voiced concerns. More than three dozen party lawmakers abstained from a confidence vote last week that Renzi had called in response to opposition from the left. On Monday night, many lawmakers walked out of the vote.

Renato Brunetta, the parliamentary leader of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, had accused Renzi of “fascism” in pushing through the reforms. On Monday, he said, “It’s a very ugly day for our country’s democracy.”

Berlusconi’s party previously backed the electoral changes but pulled out of the pact with Renzi when the premier failed to consult its leader on the appointment of a new president in February.

Establishment media have also been wary. La Repubblica, a leftist newspaper, characterized Renzi’s threat to resign if the reforms failed as “a show of weakness, disguised as a show of strength.” The editor of Milan’s Corriere della Sera, a centrist daily, called the prime minister a “young caudillo” (strongman) who committed “errors borne out of arrogance.”

Under the new law, which goes into effect next year, the party that wins at least 40 percent support in national elections is guaranteed a majority of the seats in the lower chamber of parliament. If no party crosses the threshold, a runoff would be held between the two most popular parties. Given the division on the right, where Forza Italia threatens to be overtaken by the separatist Lega Nord, the new rules would mostly benefit Renzi’s Democrats.

A separate reform, enacted last year, reduces the Senate to a body of regional deputies without the ability to block legislation, further concentrating power in the prime minister’s party.

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