Italy’s parliament votes Tuesday on cutting the number of the country’s lawmakers, a move linked to electoral law reform that the left-leaning government hopes will help keep the far-right from power.
Slashing the number of MPs and senators in Italy by 345 was a flagship manifesto promise of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which rules in coalition with the country’s center-left, and has promised voters it would tackle political elitism and wasteful spending.
Italy currently has the second-highest number of lawmakers in the EU after Britain — some 630 elected representatives in the lower house and 315 in the Senate.
The constitutional reform, which will likely be subjected to a popular referendum in the coming months, would cut the number of MPs to 400 and senators to 200 from the next legislature, with an expected saving of some 100 million euros ($110 million) a year.
“It’s a well-balanced reform with an excellent profile,” legal expert Guido Neppi Modona told Il Fatto Quotidiano on Monday.
A reduced number of lawmakers will “lead parties to take particular care in choosing candidates,” he said.
Critics have warned the cut could affect popular representation, and increase the influence of lobbyists over governing institutions — all for a minimal saving that will have little effect on debt-laden Italy’s book balance.
This is the country’s eighth attempt to cut its number lawmakers since 1983, according to the Open news website.
This time it is broadly expected to be successful, with most opposition parties on board — though the head of Italy’s far-right League Matteo Salvini on Friday warned his party would wait to see if the law was “mere horse-trading”.
Five Star (M5S) made the cut a condition of its alliance with the center-left Democratic Party (PD), following the collapse of the previous, far-right coalition in August.
The PD had previously voted against the reduction but agreed to support it if it meant clinching a deal with the M5S which would prevent a return to the polls and keep popular hardliner Salvini out of power.
The party has insisted the cut be followed by a new electoral law and is pushing for the reintroduction of a proportional representation system.
Under the current mix of proportional representation and first-past-the-post, a winning coalition needs more than 40 percent of the vote to have the necessary parliamentary majority.
With full proportional representation, parties or coalitions would need a much bigger majority to form a government.
‘Why the haste?’
That would force Salvini to ditch any plans to run alone or with a small fellow far-right party at the next election, and force him instead to turn to former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italy party for help, the weekly L’Espresso said.
“Why the haste to cut the seats?” Massimo Luciani said in the Corriere della Sera newspaper, pointing out that the coalition government — an unlikely alliance of former foes — could fall before changes to the electoral law can be made.
“To avoid ‘surprises’, the package of reforms should be launched at the same time,” he said.
Lorenzo Codogno, a former chief economist at the Italian Treasury Department, told AFP the pressing need to change the electoral law could serve as the glue to hold the coalition together.
He warned however that “I have a feeling that (the electoral law) won’t happen very soon”.
International markets and European investors watching the stability of the new coalition was right “to worry about everything,” he said.
British MPs will attempt to chart a new Brexit path on Monday after rejecting Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal for a third time, leaving her strategy in tatters and the country in limbo.
With less than two weeks to go until the day Britain risks crashing out of the European Union, MPs will hold a series of votes to try and find a majority-backed plan to end the current crisis.
Britain voted by 52 per cent to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum but the process has been mired in divisions between Brexit supporters over the terms of the divorce and what kind of future ties to seek.
The government struck a deal with the EU in November, but parliament has refused to ratify it — forcing the government to seek a delay to the originally planned departure date of March 29.
The EU’s offer of an extension until May 22 was conditional on MPs approving the deal last week.
Despite May’s promise to step down if they voted for the deal — an attempt to get Brexit hardliners to vote for it –, they failed to do so.
No more delay
The government must now make a new request to the European Union at an extraordinary summit on April 10 or leave the bloc without a deal on April 12 with potentially chaotic economic consequences.
A longer delay beyond May 22 would have the bizarre consequence of Britain having to hold European Parliament elections like other member states.
Parliament seized the initiative for one day last week but failed to unite around a single option that could replace May’s deal.
Frustration is growing within the bloc, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Sunday telling an Italian TV station that the EU is running out of patience with Britain.
“With our British friends we have had a lot of patience, but even patience is running out,” Juncker told Italian public TV channel Rai 1 on Sunday.
“Up to now, we know what the British parliament says no to, but we do not know what it says yes to.”
However, there appears to be momentum behind a plan to seek a deal that would see Britain stay in some kind of customs union with the European Union.
While this may satisfy the pro-EU members of May’s cabinet, it threatens mass rebellion among the rest of her ministers, posing a serious threat to the government’s survival.
Brexit-supporting minister Andrea Leadsom has organised a letter signed by 10 cabinet members demanding that there be no further extension beyond May 22, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
The letter also spells out that May must stand by her party’s manifesto pledge to leave the customs union in order to be able to strike post-Brexit trade deals with other countries.
General election threat
Agreeing to seek a customs union, if demanded by MPs, could, therefore, trigger a mass ministerial walkout.
But so could ignoring MPs’ instructions, with pro-EU ministers having already quit voting against the government.
All of which leaves a general election looking ever more likely, with May herself last week warning after the third rejection of her deal that “I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House”.
Conservative MPs across the board said they would block such a move, which requires two-thirds support in parliament.
Polling on Sunday signalled why.
The party has slipped seven per cent, according to the Sunday Mail, putting Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour on course to be the largest party if an election were held.
Conservative Party deputy chairman James Cleverly said on Sunday that the party was not preparing for a snap election.
“I don’t think an election would solve anything. Time is of the essence, we have got Brexit to deliver. We don’t want to add any more unnecessary delay,” he told Sophy Ridge on Sky News.
The slip in support coincides with the party’s failure to deliver Brexit on March 29, upsetting its supporters who voted heavily in favour of leaving the EU.
The poll also found narrow support for a second referendum.
May is also facing mass calls from her own MPs to quit immediately as leader of the party — and country — rather than wait until the divorce phase of Brexit has been resolved, as promised.
She has yet to give up on her deal despite it being rejected three times by parliament and is reportedly considering whether to bring it back for a fourth vote, potentially this week.
Israel’s defence minister on Monday called Arab MPs “war criminals”. a day after he urged a boycott of Israeli Arabs living near the scene of clashes over the US president’s Jerusalem declaration.
Avigdor Lieberman was speaking in a televised parliamentary debate on a motion of no confidence in the right-wing government filed by the mainly Arab Joint List alliance.
Presenting the motion, Joint List lawmaker Hanin Zoabi said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “should be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, because he is a war criminal.”
“Occupation is always belligerent, violent, illegitimate and a basis for war crimes,” she added, referring to Israel’s 50-year occupation of the Palestinian territories.
“All the Joint List are war criminals, every one of you,” Lieberman responded.
The alliance has 12 Arab members and one Jew.
“You exploit the weaknesses and advantages of a democratic state to destroy us from within, we have no illusions,” he told them.
“You are here by mistake and the time will come when you will not be here.”
Arab Israelis are descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land following the creation of Israel in 1948. Today they account for some 17.5 percent of the population.
Lieberman has long advocated land-swaps in a future peace deal that would see some Arab areas of Israel handed over to the Palestinians in exchange for Israeli retention of some West Bank Jewish settlements.
He has also proposed conditioning the Arabs’ continued Israeli citizenship on them taking oaths of loyalty to the Jewish state.
Dozens of Arab Israelis on Saturday night blocked the Wadi Ara intersection in northern Israel, police said, throwing stones at vehicles and burning tyres in protest at Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The windows of a bus were smashed and its driver was slightly injured. Police arrested two minors and a man from Arara, an Arab town in the Wadi Ara area.
Speaking to Israeli army radio the next day, Lieberman proposed collective punitive sanctions.
“Those who demonstrate in Israel holding Hezbollah, Hamas and PLO flags are not part of the state of Israel,” Lieberman said.
“I therefore call on Israeli citizens to impose an economic boycott on Wadi Ara — don’t shop there, don’t eat in the restaurants and don’t buy services from them.”
Jewish Israelis must simply “give them the feeling they’re not wanted here,” he said, noting instances in which Arabs from the area carried out attacks against Israelis or supported militant activities.
Clashes and protests erupted in the Palestinian territories after Trump’s declaration last Wednesday, but there has been relatively little unrest within Israel itself.