by Alessandra Cardone
ROME, April 15 (Xinhua) -- As Italy prepares for the upcoming European and local elections, both scheduled on May 25, experts and lawmakers are at work to tackle what it is considered a major flaw in Italian political system: vote-buying linked to the mafia.
A new text to reform the existing legislation is being discussed in parliament, providing a more specific definition of this illegal conduct, and different conviction terms for those politicians or candidates who commit the crime.
The draft law got the green light from the lower house on April 3, and it is expected to be examined by senate on Tuesday.
The text under discussion does not please everybody, and MPs have been bickering harshly over it until the very last days. Some parties, such as the opposition Five Star Movement (M5S) and some members of centre-left ruling Democratic Party (PD) especially, have fought for an even stricter version of the proposed reforms.
Submitted to parliament since April 2013, the draft law was thus discussed twice by both the lower house and senate, and twice modified.
Most analysts and experts, however, urge the parliament to overcome doubts and ratify the reform. The issue is seen as most crucial for the country, since the forthcoming administrative vote would involve 4,106 local councils.
"The worst scenario for Italy would be to delay further this provision and miss the chance to reform the current law, which is absolutely no longer adequate to reality," Rodolfo M. Sabelli, president of Italy's National Magistrates Association (ANM), told Xinhua.
The ability of mafia syndicates to influence Italy's political life is quite plain. At least 248 city councils have been dissolved for mafia infiltration between 1991 and 2014, according to statistics released by Legautonomie Calabria association and based on Interior Ministry data.
"The most important thing now is to see the new law promptly approved. Further changes on the text would mean a further delay," Sabelli insisted.
An amendment has been awaited for long. The existing law, specifically section '416-ter' of the national anti-mafia legislation, is 22 years old and deemed outdated because it identifies vote-buying only with the exchange between votes and money.
The current version of the draft law would change this, punishing those "who accept the promise to bring votes in exchange of money, or pledge of money, or any other benefit." The penalty for offenders would be between 4 and 10 years in jail.
The key passage in the text is the reference to "any other benefit," which would better define criminal behaviour, experts say. It was absent from the first version of the draft, then reintroduced under pressure from magistrates and anti-mafia activists.
Few simple words, which are in fact rather crucial, expert said.
"The words 'any other benefit' get to the core of mafia vote-buying, which today is much more connected to an exchange of favors, information on public contracts, or job recruitment," Enrico Fontana, director of Libera anti-mafia association, told Xinhua.
Today, mobsters don't need money and rarely ask it from politicians, the expert said. What they need is to launder their huge illegal revenues in the legal economy, and expand their businesses. And for that, they need to be well informed and connected.
"Mafia syndicates seek politicians and public servants to obtain crucial information, in order to influence economy and public life," Fontana explained.
Libera, a renowned association in Italy's anti-mafia struggle, has been a main supporter of the campaign for updating vote-buying legislation, collecting the signatures of 465,000 citizens in favor of the reform.
Magistrates seem now quite satisfied. "This version of the draft law should allow magistrates to work more easily inside court," agreed the head of Italy's Magistrates Association Rodolfo Sabelli, who is also the prosecutor for the Anti-mafia District Directorate (DDA) in Rome.
National anti-mafia prosecutor Franco Roberti also commented that "the draft law is now perfectly adequate to fight the exchange between politics and mafia."
Yet, as Italy's senate gathers on Tuesday to start voting the reform, final approval is not taken for granted. Opposition forces, M5F movement especially, are still displeased with the new conviction terms, which are milder than the current ones since vote-buying would become a lesser offence than the wider crime of mafia association.
With Italy's bicameral system, any change to the text in senate would require the draft reform to go back to the lower house, to be discussed and approved again.