Italy's judicial reform bill hits trouble
centre-right Italian government's efforts to pass a controversial
bill on judicial reform are running into unexpected trouble
after some pro-government members of parliament cast votes on
behalf of absent colleagues to push the bill through. Opposition
deputies in the Senate, or upper house of parliament, say the
Senate's adoption of the bill last Thursday should be declared
invalid because it is possible the chamber would have lacked
a quorum without the casting of irregular votes.
The legislation, known as the Cirami bill,
would allow defendants to ask for their cases to be moved to
different courts if there are grounds for suspicion that their
trial judges are biased against them.
Italy's centre-left opposition views the bill as tailor-made
for Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister, and Cesare Previti,
a close aide, who have been on trial in Milan on charges that
they bribed judges in the 1980s. Mr Berlusconi, Mr Previti and
their supporters say leftwing magistrates in Milan are conducting
a political vendetta against them.
The Senate vote embarrassed the government because at
least two dozen senators were caught on video pressing electronic
voting buttons that belonged to absent colleagues.
But the quality of Italian parliamentary politics in general
was placed in question when it emerged that the problem of "pianists",
or legislators who "play a tune" on behalf of their
colleagues, is nothing new.
"The phenomenon of 'pianists' is a bad, deplorable
habit which affects all the parliamentary groups,"
said Clemente Mastella, a centrist opposition deputy. "This
time, however, it has overstepped all limits." Marcello
Pera, the Senate speaker, ruled that the vote had taken place
legally but at least one prominent politician from a government
party made clear his doubts. "The spectacle offered
by the 'pianists' in the Senate was, to say the least, painful,"
said Marco Follini, leader of the Christian Democratic Centre
(CCD). "I hope that those on our side who voted on
behalf of their colleagues say they are sorry. If they don't,
I'm saying sorry for them."
By creating distance between the CCD and other parties in Mr
Berlusconi's government, Mr Follini's apology may add more mistrust
to the complex political relationships inside the ruling coalition.
Mr Follini and his colleagues were outraged recently when Umberto
Bossi, leader of the populist Northern League, called the Christian
Democrats, who once dominated Italian governments, "thieves".
Mr Berlusconi had to calm the situation by declaring the ex-Christian
Democrats in his government were indispensable to his coalition.
The future of the Cirami bill, meanwhile, remains uncertain.
The Senate's version of the bill was slightly different from
that passed earlier this month by the Chamber of Deputies, the
lower house of parliament. The Senate's version will therefore
return to the Chamber, where a final vote is expected in November.
However, the uproar over the circumstances of the Senate vote
means that a legal challenge to the bill cannot be ruled out.