ROME (Reuters) - Italian parliamentarians have gathered enough signatures to put to a referendum a law already approved which would have cut their number by a third at the next election.
The law, championed by the ruling 5-Star Movement, was approved in October by an overwhelming majority after the long passage through parliament which is needed for constitutional changes.
However, many parliamentarians quickly set to work to try to block the reform, which would reduce the number of deputies to 400 from 630 and cut the senators to 200 from 315.
Constitutional reforms involving the workings of parliament can be halted and put to a referendum if one fifth of the members of one of the houses sign a petition requesting it within three months of the reform being passed in parliament.
The parliamentary committee in charge of the petition announced on Wednesday it had garnered the 64 signatures required in the senate.
The referendum still has to be approved by the constitutional court before its date can be set, but the court is considered unlikely to withhold its consent.
The setback for the reform is likely to infuriate the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and could accentuate tensions in the ruling coalition whose parties are already at odds over a raft of issues from euro zone reform to migrant rights.
5-Star has long argued that 1,000-odd generously paid parliamentarians are too many and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
It made the reform a key conditions for forming a government with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) in September, after the collapse of its previous coalition with Matteo Salvini’s right-wing League.
However, numerous PD lawmakers have come out against the reform and one of them was on the organising committee for the petition. The full list of signatories was to be made public at a news conference later on Wednesday.
With many parliamentarians apparently fearing for their seats, the referendum could increase the risk of a government collapse early next year.
This is because if there is an election before the referendum takes place, it will be held under the current rules envisaging the election of all 1,000-odd parliamentarians.
Editing by Jon Boyle