October 17, 2016 / 4:44 PM / 3 years ago

Factbox: Critics of Italy's constitutional reform worry over Senate, electoral law

ROME (Reuters) - Italy holds a referendum on Dec. 4 on the government’s proposed overhaul of the constitution.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s reform program says the changes will bring greater political stability to Italy by curbing the powers of the upper house Senate and streamlining the lawmaking process.

Opponents argue that it will undermine democracy and say the reform is poorly written, leaving unanswered questions that risks sowing confusion if they are approved.

Here are some of the main criticisms leveled at the reform.

MAKE-UP OF THE SENATE

A lot of the angst focuses on the future role of the Senate. Under the reform, the number of senators will be cut from 315 to just 100. The senators will no longer be directly elected. Instead, five senators will be appointed by the president, 74 will be regional councillors and 21 mayors. There are some 8,000 mayors in Italy and it is has not been established how they will pick just 21 to be senators.

Critics say the mayors and regional councillors already have full-time jobs and will not be able to give the necessary attention to their new roles as senators.

The senators will be appointed following regional elections, which have a different cycle from the national ballots. This means that the political make up of the Senate could very well be different from that of the lower house.

Critics say this could create friction in those areas where the Senate will still have a legislative say.

SENATE POWERS

Under the current system the Senate and lower house have identical powers. They both have to approve all laws and they can both bring down governments with no-confidence votes.

The reform strips the Senate of most of its powers, turning it into mainly a consultative assembly. However, its approval is still needed for laws that change the constitution, the electoral system, the organs of government, laws on referendums and EU-related issues.

In addition, the Senate has to examine the annual budget law within two weeks of its approval. Its observations are passed back to the lower house, where they can be accepted or rejected. The Senate can request to review other laws, but again, any changes it proposes can be ignored by the lower house.

Critics say a confrontational Senate could review every law, creating constant tensions with the government and significantly raising the political temperature in Italy.

Supporters of the reform dismiss this, saying ending the automatic back-and-forth passage of bills between the two houses will speed up the legislative process. Critics say Italy already passes more laws that neighbors such as France and Germany. They argue that Italy needs more coherent, better written laws.

ELECTORAL LAW

Although a 2015 electoral reform is not part of the constitutional overhaul and is already law, it looms large in every debate on the merits of the referendum. Critics say the two measures taken together will place too much power in the hands of the party leader who wins an election.

Under the two-round electoral law, called the Italicum, whichever party wins a second round run-off ballot is guaranteed to take 55 percent of seats in the lower house of parliament. This should, in theory, enable it to rule for a full five-year term - something that has not happened since World War Two.

It also lets party leaders hand-pick many of their own parliamentary candidates. Critics say parliamentarians will not risk defying their leader over policy making for fear of being cut from the lists in the next ballot. As a result, they say, anything the leader wants will be rubber stamped in parliament, reviving memories of Fascist rule in Italy.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alison Williams

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