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Italy's instability deepened by 'pigsty' law

Italy’s electoral law is at the centre of political instability.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. Picture: AFP.

ROME - So bad it is universally known as the "pigsty", Italy's electoral law is at the centre of political instability that is stoking fears the euro zone's third-largest economy could topple into a Greek-style debt crisis.

Market jitters over whether Italy is heading for a default that would probably destroy the euro have been aggravated by uncertainty over what will happen when respected technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti steps down for elections next spring.

Those worries are compounded by confusion over what electoral system will be used, with time running out for politicians to keep years of promises to replace the law.

The remarkably resilient "porcellum" or pigsty law was passed in 2005. It robs the electorate of the power to choose candidates directly, voting instead for a fixed list selected by party leaders under a proportional system.

This enables the leaders to select compliant party hacks or favourites, including in the case of Silvio Berlusconi a former starlet who became a minister in his last government.

The law also awards a large premium to the winning party or coalition, guaranteeing a strong majority in parliament.

Even the man who introduced the law, the separatist Northern League's Roberto Calderoli, called it "crap" soon afterwards.

Giovanni Sartori, one of Italy's most respected political scientists and the man who gave the law its nickname, told Reuters: "This electoral system is a horror and shameful."

He said it "does the one thing that proportional representation should not do, which is to transform a minority of votes into a majority of seats."

Two attempts to repeal it by referendum have failed the latest early this year when Italy's highest court ruled out a plebiscite on technical legal grounds despite a petition signed by 1.2 million people.