Feature: Italian center-left leader Renzi meets Berlusconi on new electoral law

2014-01-18 23:10:57 GMT2014-01-19 07:10:57(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

By Alessandra Cardone

ROME, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- Italian center-left leader Matteo Renzi and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi met in Rome on Saturday, in a major attempt to strike a deal over a new electoral law.

The meeting took place in the headquarters of the Democratic Party (PD) amid minor protests. It was the first time ever that Berlusconi, a media tycoon who has dominated Italian politics as center-right leader for two decades, entered PD's offices, and some left-wing activists among the crowd "welcomed" his arrival by throwing eggs and shouting against him.

Yet, the meeting's outcome seemed so far to be positive.

"The ideas of our two parties were in tune on three main issues," Renzi said at a press conference after the meeting. "First: an electoral law that would boost stability, strengthen the 'two-party' mechanism, and put an end to small parties' veto power. Second: a Senate deprived of its law-making equal status with the Lower House. Third: a cut in the costs of politics at regional level," Renzi added.

A statement from Berlusconi also called the meeting as satisfactory, and praised PD because "it chose a productive and swift way to discuss structural reforms with us."

The two political leaders talked for two hours and a half over the possible electoral reform, on the base of three different "models" unveiled by Renzi in the past weeks as basis for discussion.

The final draft of the electoral law under discussion is to be submitted to the Democratic Party's leadership on Monday for final approval and it will be then entirely disclosed, Renzi explained.

The electoral reform is seen as the most urgent one in Italy since the Constitutional Court partially overturned the current law, because it gives a "manifestly unreasonable" bonus of seats to the winner and limits the citizens' right to choose their own representatives. Overall, the law has been blamed for increasing chronic political instability.

The meeting between Renzi and Berlusconi, however, stirred up much political tension for fear that it could undermine current political alliances and pave the way to snap elections. By choosing to meet with Berlusconi - expelled from the Senate in November over a tax fraud conviction - Renzi came under heavy fire both from fellow PD's members and from other forces backing the coalition government led by Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

According to critics from the left, the meeting would risk rehabilitating Berlusconi, putting him again at the center of the political stage despite his several legal troubles and his decision to pull out of the government after his ejection from Parliament.

Letta and many PD's members have also been visibly uneasy about Renzi's initiative for worrying it would end up shattering the current majority. Moreover, much speculation about Renzi's alleged ambition to oust Letta from his office also circulated in latest weeks.

On the right side, Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano and his supporters - who split Berlusconi's party and stood with the government - fear now of being marginalized.

Renzi, recently elected as PD's leader, has denied such intrigues. However, he declared that a new electoral law cannot be designed without the agreement of all major parties, and firmly defended his decision to deal with Berlusconi - who still counts on a consistent number of MPs - as an essential step to pave the way to major reforms.

"I look for a deal with Forza Italia party now, for not ending up in the government with them later," Renzi declared during a broadcast interview with La 7 TV channel before the meeting.

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