Italian Senate vote a coup for PM Renzi

ROME • Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is set for a historic win as the Senate, or Upper House, votes to relinquish most of its power.

The revolutionary move which began with a vote in the Senate yesterday is expected to end decades of political instability.

Senators are voting to cut their number from 315 to 100, effectively ending their ability to bring down the government - a safeguard put in place after World War II to prevent the return of fascism. The reform still has to go to the Lower House and back to the Senate once more before being put to a general referendum expected next year.

Mr Renzi has said he will resign if he does not get this reform, but experts say he has little to fear.

"Nothing in Italy is ever 100 per cent sure, but the odds are decidedly in his favour," said political science professor Roberto D'Alimonte from Rome's Luiss University.

Mr Renzi has made streamlining Italy's governance by taming the Senate - which has the powers to delay and block legislation - one of the keystones of his mandate.

Under the current system, the two branches of government have equal weight. Transforming the Senate into a small chamber of regional lawmakers would stop Bills getting bogged down in a back-and-forth between the chambers.

It would end the political musical chairs that produced 63 different administrations since 1946. Italy is the only European country, apart from Romania, in which the government needs to get votes of confidence in both chambers.

Italy, which pulled out of a three- year recession at the start of the year, has been enjoying a balmy period of recovery, with the unemployment rate falling in August to a two-year low of 11.9 per cent.

Mr Renzi says his reforms are the reason - in particular a package to shake up the labour market that was welcomed by the business world but bitterly denounced by Italy's once powerful trade unions.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'Italian Senate vote a coup for PM Renzi'. Print Edition | Subscribe