by Eric J. Lyman
ROME, Oct. 12 (Xinhua) -- The Italian government has started a process of pushing through a new electoral reform through a series of risky confidence votes, a move seen as an attempt to marginalize the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement.
Deputies from the Five-Star Movement, which was founded by comedian-turned-activist Beppe Grillo, sat out the first vote on Wednesday amid protests outside the parliamentary chamber. The measure cleared its first hurdle anyway, passed with 307 votes against 90. Two more votes are scheduled to take place before the end of the week.
Confidence votes are risky because a loss would force the government, currently led by Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, to step down. But analysts told Xinhua it is likely the measure would pass, despite opposition from legislators from the Five-Star Movement.
"There would be a real mess if the measure failed because then the Gentiloni government would have to step down and it's not clear if there would be new elections or if some other figure would try to form a government with the existing parliament," Lorenzo Castellani, a professor of institutional history at Rome's LUISS University, said in an interview. "But the representatives know that, and so the odds are strong the measure will pass."
The reform would allow the formation of multi-party alliances before voting takes place. An alliance would pick a single candidate for each specific district, making a victory for that candidate more likely. As such, the Five-Star Movement, which refuses to make alliances, would likely win fewer seats.
Two-thirds of the next parliament would be chosen on a proportional basis, giving the Five-Star Movement the same chance it would have under the current rules. But the movement estimates it could lose as many as 40 to 50 parliamentary seats under the new rules.
Before the confidence vote was called this week, analysts said they believed the proposal had enough votes to pass, through normal means. But by employing a confidence vote, it shortens the period of debate and removes the possibility that the proposal could be amended. Additionally, according to Federico Castorina, president of Cultura Democratica, a think tank, the move also removes any doubts about the passage of the measure.
"I think they must have been worried they might not have the votes," Castorina told Xinhua. "On paper, they had enough support. But with a secret ballot (this time in parliament), it's never a guarantee."
The passage of an electoral reform removes one of the last major obstacles before next year's national vote. Italian President Sergio Mattarella said he wanted new rules in place before the vote could take place.
The current rules, which were in place for the last national parliamentary vote in 2013, resulted in a stalemate that resulted in back-to-back technocrat governments followed by an unstable period with governments headed by former Florence mayor Matteo Renzi, and then Gentiloni. Renzi, who is seeking to return to the prime minister's office, is a big backer of the new reform and is seen as likely to benefit from its passage.
The new reform is likely to limit the influence of the Five-Star Movement and its new leader Luigi Di Maio, but analysts are split on whether it will help make the next government any more stable than the last four.
"Everybody knows that what is really needed to have a stable government is a reform that gives a certain number of bonus seats in parliament to whatever party does best in the election," Castorina said. "But nobody is willing to vote for it because they fear their opponents will win and be able to hold onto power."