By Gavin Jones and Steve Scherer
ROME (Reuters) – Supporters of Italy’s 5-Star Movement rallied in front of parliament on Wednesday to protest an electoral law that is likely to penalize the maverick party in next year’s national election.
The proposed voting system is backed by three of the country’s four largest parties, with the center-left government looking to rush it onto the statute books ahead of elections, which are due by May 2018.
Unlike the current rules, the new system would allow the formation of multi-party coalitions before the ballot, a factor likely to hurt 5-Star, which refuses to join alliances.
“They want to take away our right to choose,” said Nicola Zuppa, 45, who said he had paid 175 euros ($200) to travel from Padua in northern Italy to take part in the protest, which drew up to 2,000 people in the heart of Rome.
Five-Star supporters distributed leaflets declaring a “full democratic emergency” on commuter trains early on Wednesday to try to muster a large crowd ahead of two confidence votes on Wednesday, both of which the government is expected to win.
A third such motion is set for Thursday, as the ruling coalition looks to truncate discussion on the bill and sidestep dozens of planned secret votes on various amendments.
Five-Star said it would not participate in the first confidence vote in a sign of protest, virtually guaranteeing that the motion will pass.
“If you allow the electoral rules to be changed again so that the scum of the country rises to the top yet again, it will be your children who pay the price,” 5-Star’s founder Beppe Grillo wrote on his blog on Wednesday.
Small left-wing parties that oppose the law will stage a protest in front of the ancient Roman Pantheon temple in the afternoon.
Pier Luigi Bersani, a former leader of the ruling Democratic Party (PD) and now a member of the small leftist MDP party, said the decision to use confidence votes to try to force through the electoral law “opens up a huge question of democracy”.
If a government loses a confidence vote, it must resign.
A final secret vote on the bill, in which lawmakers could break with the party line, is scheduled before the end of the week. If it passes, the law moves to the upper house Senate.
Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s PD drafted the new rules, which are supported by right-wing parliamentary rivals Forza Italia (Go Italy!) and the Northern League. Five other small parties are also backing the proposed law.
“This electoral law is supported by eight different parties, and it’s a very delicate equilibrium,” said Ettore Rosato, the PD group leader who presented the bill (dubbed the Rosatellum after him).
Five-Star estimates that the new rules could cost it up to 50 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and potentially scupper its chances of being the largest group in parliament after the vote.
President Sergio Mattarella is expected to give the formation that gets the most seats in parliament the first crack at forming a government.
The ruling Democratic Party denies the new rules are designed to penalize 5-Star.
“No one is preventing (5-Star) from making alliances if they want to,” Rosato told reporters. “If they don’t want to do them, they can continue to be an isolated party.”
(Additional reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Alison Williams and Crispian Balmer)