Rome has more lawyer MPs, fewer in dock

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More women and lawyers, fewer workers, but still dominated by men in their 50s – the shape of Italy’s new parliament is slowly changing with the times.

One disputed statistic that sets Italy apart from its EU neighbours, however, is how many MPs making the law actually have legal problems of their own.

Before last week’s elections, journalists Marco Travaglio and Peter Gomez published “If you know them, avoid them” – a rogue’s gallery of candidates from all parties with troubled pasts. These ranged from judicial investigations to serious court convictions, including Mafia association.

According to the two journalists’ research, the number of elected MPs allegedly “in trouble with the law” had fallen from 91 members – or nearly 10 per cent – of the old parliament to about 70.

The new total includes 45 from the victorious centre-right People of Liberty party led by Silvio Berlusconi (who has two court cases pending), seven from the allied Northern League, 13 from the opposition Democratic party, and five from the centrist Catholic UDC.

“Remember we are at the start of the new parliament and the numbers will go up,” cautioned Mr Gomez. Italy’s lengthy appeals process and the statute of limitations mean only a minority of convicted politicians end up behind bars.

The final figures are not yet out – under Italy’s opaque voting system, parties present candidates on multiple lists and the party leaders decide after the results who will enter parliament on April 29.

Beppe Grillo, a comic and activist who casts himself as the anti-politician, said: “The 70 were elected for lack of information.”

Mr Grillo’s signature-gathering protest campaign wants convicted candidates kept out of parliament. Half-joking, he says convictions help win elections, drawing the votes of the Mafia, lobby groups and tax evaders.

Deborah Bergamini, newly elected for the People of Freedom, dismisses the list of 70, on which she appears, as politically biased and inaccurate.

She denies she was formally investigated in relation to a bankruptcy case. She also says she was cleared by Rai, the state broadcaster where she was a director, of accusations that she connived with Mr Berlusconi’s Mediaset television channels to co-ordinate news broadcasts in his favour.

Publication by the media of her private telephone conversations were illegal and offensive, she adds.

A former Bloomberg journalist, Ms Bergamini is one of many newly elected women.

For the first time, more than 20 per cent of legislators are women. That places Italy just over the European average – ahead of France and the UK, and behind Spain and Germany.

The increase is largely due to the defeated Democratic party, which almost fulfilled its leader Walter Veltroni’s campaign pledge of making women one third of its MPs. A party spokesman said 100 women were elected in the two chambers, about 30 more than the centre-right People of Freedom.

While dominated by older men, notably lawyers and entrepreneurs, Mr Berlusconi’s party does have diversity. It includes the only Muslim MP – Souad Sbai, a Moroccan women’s activist – and Fiamma Nirenstein, a well-known Jewish supporter of Israel.

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