Italy MPs vote for end of era

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ROME - The most scandal- tainted parliament in Italian history voted its own demise yesterday, approving an electoral reform that should, in a few months, consign a discredited political system to oblivion.

'It's a remarkable achievement - nothing less than hara- kiri,' said a jubilant official at the office of the Prime Minister, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, after the vote. 'Parliament has just signed its own death warrant.'

The final vote in the lower house was 287 in favour, 78 against and 153 abstentions. On Tuesday night, the Senate, or upper house, had rushed through approval of its part of the reform. This can now become law.

The change in rules, largely scrapping proportional representation, clears the way for a general election expected to be called early next year under a new first-past-the-post system.

The electoral reform, enacting the will of the overwhelming majority of Italians who voted in an April referendum to scrap the old system, was Mr Ciampi's top priority. He had given parliament until tomorrow to complete it.

Mr Ciampi welcomed the vote, saying it showed Italy had 'the capacity to renew itself profoundly through the simple application of existing constitutional and parliamentary rules without resorting to emergency solutions'.

With nearly 20 per cent of MPs under investigation for serious crimes ranging from corruption to Mafia links and murder, few of those who approved yesterday's law expect to be re- elected.

The next election will give Italians their first chance to punish politicians exposed over the past 18 months by magistrates investigating a web of corruption that included all the main parties and the country's leading businesses. The worst-hit parties are the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, the two that have ruled Italy in coalition for most of the past 30 years.

MPs had been dragging their feet over the reform for months, but were finally spurred into action by a wave of unexplained bomb attacks since May. Mr Ciampi and President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro blamed opponents of Italy's political renewal for the bombings.

Parliament also approved a series of proposals to strip the former Socialist prime minister, Bettino Craxi, of his immunity from prosecution for corruption. He is to be investigated in four separate cases brought by Milan and Rome magistrates.