Italy to make parliament ‘pianists’ a thing of the past

By Peter Mayer, DPA,

Rome : First they vote, then, with a sleight of hand and some nimble finger work, they also vote on behalf of one or more colleagues absent from parliament. But the tune may be about to change for Italy’s political “pianists” – the name given to parliamentarians who surreptitiously express more than the single, personal vote allowed.

Support TwoCircles

“It’s a real disgrace that has to stop,” said Gianfranco Fini, the speaker of the lower house Chamber of Deputies who is spearheading a change in the way parliamentary votes are registered.

The electronic voting system currently in place in the Chamber of Deputies and in the upper house Senate, is simple enough to operate.

And, as offenders caught on television have often shown, quite easy to trick.

Each parliamentarian’s bench is fitted with a console containing three buttons – green for a “yes” vote, red for “no” and white for an abstention.

Cheating parliamentarians register their vote by pressing one of the buttons on their own console and then press those on the empty benches next to them.

“It amounts to committing fraud with aggravating circumstances,” said Antonio Di Pietro, a former magistrate and leader of the centre-left opposition Italy of Values party.

As Di Pietro pointed out in a parliament debate on the issue this week, absentee parliamentarians, and the political parties they represent, get to benefit twice from the scam.

Votes get to count despite the failure to personally register them, and absentee parliamentarians by virtue of having “voted” are marked as present in official records, entitling them to receive the daily parliamentary attendance allowance.

In Italy, where parliamentarians are the best paid in Europe – earning around 16,000 euros ($24,000) a month – this daily allowance amounts to 250 euros ($389).

Past measures to curb the cheating have had little success.

These including forcing “pianists” caught in the act to forfeit their own attendance allowance and to expel them for at least one parliament session.

Fini has now proposed installing a new electronic console that would require each parliamentarian to register their personal vote by pushing not one, but two buttons.

These would be set a distance apart so as to force the voter to use both hands and leave none free to vote on behalf of someone else.

Parliament, including the pianists, will first have to vote and approve Fini’s proposal, before it can become law.