ANSA) - Rome, October 26 - Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said on Wednesday that Silvio Berlusconi could be replaced as leader of the centre right if other coalition parties fare better than the premier's Forza Italia in next year's elections .
But he was also careful to defend Berlusconi's leadership record, saying that "Berlusconi is someone you either like or dislike. He is a man who divides public opinion but he is also a man who represented the majority of this country." Berlusconi, who is trailing opposition leader Romano Prodi in the opinion polls, heads a four-party coalition consisting of Forza Italia, AN, the UDC and the devolutionist Northern League .
In the last general elections, Forza Italia was confirmed as Italy's biggest party with 29% of the vote while AN was the next largest centre-right party with 12%. But support for Forza Italia has dwindled and in regional elections last April - a key test of government popularity with 42 million eligible to vote - the party made its worst ever showing, taking just 18.4% of the vote .
Fini's party, which traces its roots back to Fascism, also suffered a drop, from 12% to 10.5% .
But a recent poll by the SWG polling agency indicated that the suave, 53-year-old Fini stood a better chance than Berlusconi of narrowing the opposition's lead .
The independent survey said that if Fini were to run instead of the 69-year-old billionaire media magnate, the centre right would gain 45% and the opposition 50% .
But if Berlusconi stands for re-election, the centre right would fall to 40% and the opposition would rise to 54%, the poll said .
The centre right has ruled out a change of leader before the elections, rejecting proposals to follow the opposition's example and hold 'primaries' to decide the issue .
The UDC in particular had questioned Berlusconi's leadership, arguing that another leader would boost the centre right's chances .
UDC lost its leader earlier this month when Marco Follini quit as party chief after failing to convince allies that Berlusconi should be challenged. FINI BACKS PR ELECTORAL REFORM .
Follini also left in protest at the government's controversial last-minute bid to reintroduce proportional representation (PR) .
While firmly in favour of PR, Follini criticised the way the government was pushing the bill through parliament and the total absence of opposition involvement in the reform debate. Fini confirmed his backing of the reforms on Wednesday, stressing that tying the leadership issue to party election performance was a logical consequence of bringing back PR .
AN has in the past been a staunch opponent of PR, defending a two-bloc political system as the key to greater stability in a country famed for its 'revolving' door governments .
Italy's current electoral system allocates 25% of parliamentary seats by PR and the rest with a first-past-the-post system based on constituencies .
The government's electoral reform bill, which has been approved by the House and is now awaiting a green light from the Senate, would introduce an entirely proportional system .
The centre left heatedly opposes the reforms, saying they are designed to boost the centre right's prospects and that voting rules should not be changed so close to next April's general elections .
It also says such important reforms require the consensus of both sides in parliament and stresses that the new system would go against a 1993 public referendum in which Italians voted to abolish PR .
Many political analysts agree the reforms could reduce the seats won by the multi-party opposition because parties obtaining less than 2% would not gain representation and their votes would not go towards their alliance's overall tally. There are six parties in the opposition coalition which might not exceed the 2% threshold .
But the government argues that the reforms will make the electoral system more democratic and that the power of various parties will be more faithfully represented in parliament. Fini on Wednesday rejected criticism that the electoral reform came too close to the elections .
"When you change electoral laws, you always do so towards the end of a legislature, never at the start," he said. ALSO DEFENDS CONTROVERSIAL JUSTICE REFORM BILL .
He also defended another disputed reform bill which would reduce the statute of limitations on a host of crimes including corruption, false accounting, theft and fraud .
"I don't think the law is as bad as the opposition says it is... It contains much tougher norms for repeat offenders because those who refuse to mend their ways must be treated more harshly." The opposition has dubbed the draft law the "Save Previti bill" after Premier Silvio Berlusconi's former attorney and one-time defence minister Cesare Previti who is fighting two corruption convictions .
Some critics say it will also benefit Berlusconi, who could be tried in connection with allegations of corruption and tax fraud involving his commercial TV network company Mediaset .
The government denies the bill is in any way related to Previti or Berlusconi, claiming that most of the reforms are aimed at repeat offenders .
It says the bill will increase jail terms for 'career criminals', Mafia bosses and those convicted of Mafia association .
But magistrates and the opposition say the law will have a devastating impact on a host of trials .
A review earlier this month by the Court of Cassation - the top court of appeal - showed that 50% of appeals trials would be affected if the bill is approved .
It also said it would nix 88% of appeals trials involving charges similar to those of which Previti is accused .
Justice Minister Roberto Castelli rejected the report, saying the court would have to provide explanations on the methods it had used to draw up the data .
We the victims of the Diaz raid hold Gianfranco Fini personally responsible for ordering the raid during the G8 summit Genoa 2001. Fini will be called to give evidence at this trial either before or after the election. Nobody should feel safe if this man gains power. he wants to take Italy back to the 1930's and enforce 'Mussolini style, 21st century fascism on Italy and the whole world"
Diaz is a warning to voters of Italy, to European and world political leaders and to the rest of world of who he really is: a hardcore Fascist hiding in sheep’s clothing.
I have to say that the experience I have had at the hands of British government tells me that Blair supports Fini. only for the reason that Fini will keep Italian troops in Italy. you are making a very big mistake if you support him, Blair!....and Churchill will turn in his grave. You are supporting a hardcore fascist to appease George Bush.
A message to Blair if you are reading this. Don’t support this man. He is no friend of globalisation. He believes in extreme nationalism. Fini will take Italy out of the EU and kill the euro currency experiment and return to the lira. He will set up immigrate concentration camps that will kill people.
Berlusconi, you are an idiot. you may think you can buy the election but Fini is only going to take advantage of you spending 250 million euros on trying to buy the election. You have lost! You are in reality paying to help Fini to get power. I have lost count the amount of times when Fini has stabbed you in the back, beginning with the events in Genoa four and half years ago.
It should be noted by everyone that Fini has to campaign on the grounds of law and order, the war on terrorism...etc. If you are reading this Fini, we have half of your national anti-terrorist squad on trial, the Genoa flying squad, 7th special anti-riot and other units totalling 75 police. Try and explain that to Italian voters and the rest of the international media, you bastard!
Take note Fini. The Diaz story is not over. The Save previti law will not save you. I have already instructed my lawyers to appeal to the constitutional court and we have also written to President Chiampi. We will cite that Italy has international and European human rights obligations, that the previti law is unconstitutional and incompatible with EU human rights law. Finally, both trials will migrate to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. You will be unable to arrange political immunity of your crimes at Strasbourg. The EU does not and will not recognise the immunity you enjoy at the moment. Try and get out of these problems Fini !