Italy's judicial reform bill hits
The 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
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
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.