Italian president asks parliament to approve new electoral law ‘urgently’

Italian President Sergio Mattarella said on Wednesday that the country's parliament should approve a new electoral law as soon as possible.

Italian president asks parliament to approve new electoral law 'urgently'
Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

His firm request follows months of parliamentary stalemate, and suggests that general elections could take place before the deadline of February next year.

Mattarella spoke after meeting Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso and President of the Chamber of Deputies Laura Boldrini, and asked them both to convey the urgency of the votes to Italy's House and Senate.

“The head of state underlined the necessity for parliament to proceed urgently with two important institutional duties,” said the Quirinale presidential palace in a statement. As well as approving the electoral law, both chambers also need to appoint a Constitutional Court judge.

“The President of the Republic asked the Presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies to convey the urgency to their respective parliamentary groups,” the statement continued.

Italy's Constitutional Court ruled in January that the new electoral law was legitimate, saying it would be “immediately applicable” – and removing the biggest obstacle to holding elections.

When ex-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi stepped down in December following a failed referendum, opposition parties called for general elections immediately, but Mattarella has held off on calling them until after the ruling on the new electoral law (Italicum).

This is because the law had been drawn up to apply only to apply to the Lower House, because the Italian Senate was set to be reformed under a set of constitutional reforms proposed last year. Hearings on Italicum's constitutionality had been postponed to avoid interference with the referendum.

When these proposals were overwhelmingly rejected in December's referendum, the perfect bicameral system was preserved – leaving the country without a workable electoral law. 

In January's ruling, the Constitutional Court declared as illegitimate those aspects of Italicum which did not fit the bicameral system, but ruled that an amended version of the law was applicable.

However, Mattarella is unlikely to call for elections until both houses of parliament have approved the law.

Paolo Gentiloni's caretaker government is currently in power in Italy, with elections set to be held by February 2018 at the latest, but likely to be called sooner.

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Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.