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Italy poll shows backing for center-left leader Renzi reforms

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[January 25, 2014]  ROME (Reuters)  More than 60 percent of Italian voters support electoral reforms proposed by center-left leader Matteo Renzi and 50 percent welcome his deal on the package with center-right rival Silvio Berlusconi, according to an opinion poll on Saturday.

The survey, by the Ipsos polling institute for the daily Corriere della Sera, offers encouragement for Renzi who pushed through the proposals in the face of skepticism from many on his own side only weeks after winning the leadership of the center-left Democratic Party (PD).

The package is being closely watched by Italy's European partners as an indication of whether Renzi's arrival at the head of the largest party in Prime Minister Enrico Letta's left-right coalition heralds wider reforms of the economy, including a Jobs Act he has promised in the next few weeks.

The proposals are designed to replace the current system, blamed for the messy deadlock after last February's election which left no side able to govern alone and forced the two main parties of the left and right into a fragile coalition that has struggled to pass meaningful reforms.


The survey showed some 61 percent judged the package either favorably or very favorably, against 35.5 percent opposed.

Renzi, who has increasingly overshadowed Letta even though he is not a member of the government, also received backing for his decision to defy party critics and seal a deal on the package with the PD's arch-enemy Berlusconi.

The survey showed 50 percent, including 54 percent of PD voters and 75 percent of voters in Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, backed the move. Some of Renzi's allies have criticized him for negotiating with Berlusconi, who is barred from parliament after a conviction for tax fraud.

The proposals would favor big parties and strong coalitions by setting high minimum thresholds for entering parliament and guaranteeing a strong majority for the winner with a run-off round available if needed to separate the two leading parties.

A separate but related reform, intended to concentrate power in the lower house of parliament and cut the power of regional governments, is expected to be finalized next month.

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That part, which would also turn the Senate into a chamber of the regions without the power to pass or block legislation, would require more complicated constitutional changes that would take at least a year to pass.

The measures on the voting system are intended to come before parliament next week, where smaller parties which risk being wiped out entirely are expected to press for changes.

A party would need to secure at least 5 percent of the national vote to enter parliament as part of a coalition and at least 8 percent to enter on its own.

On the basis of current opinion polls, that would eliminate the centrist bloc in Letta's coalition as well as the small Left Ecology Freedom party and the regionalist Northern League party, normally an ally of Berlusconi.

The measures would not allow direct election of individual deputies, instead leaving voters to choose a list of candidates proposed by the parties, an element which has also been criticized as handing to much power to party bosses.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie, editing by Alister Doyle)

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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