Italy’s parliament discussing electoral reform backed by conservatives

Italy's parliament on Tuesday started discussing changing electoral law - a reform backed by Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservatives but criticized by opponents as a measure that would return the country to the days of revolving-door governments.

Debate on the controversial plan in the lower house of parliament is expected to take many days as the center-left opposition has presented hundreds of amendments and other motions in a bid to block passage of the legislation. The reform also needs to be discussed and approved in the Senate, the AP reports.

In a sign of how sensitive the issue is, Berlusconi showed up in the lower house for part of the debate. Speaking to reporters, he defended the law as "absolutely democratic" and said the proposed electoral system is "more consistent with the will of citizens," according to Italian news reports. The conservatives insist the reform, which would restore full proportional representation, ensures fairer distribution of parliamentary seats after an election. The opposition contends the measures are being introduced out of self-interest and would make the country difficult to govern.

Berlusconi's conservatives, who have a solid majority in parliament, seem to have closed ranks in recent days over the reform. However, the opposition is hoping that center-right politicians some of whom have expressed reservations about the reform will vote for its amendments under secret ballot, thus helping to block the bill.

The reform would restore a system Italy jettisoned after a 1993 referendum in a bid to make parliament more directly elected and governments more stable. Until the referendum, the system of proportional representation had produced 51 governments since the end of World War II. A.M

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