Rome, Oct 12

The Italian government on Thursday won a third confidence vote in the lower house of parliament on a contested electoral law bill that opponents claim will stymie the anti-establishment Five-Star party in national polls due by May next year.

Lawmakers approved the so-called 'Rosatellum' draft law by 309 votes in favour, 87 against and six abstentions.

A secret vote on the bill was due to be held by Friday in the lower house, giving dissident MPs of all stripes the opportunity to scupper the bill, as happened in June to a previous draft electoral law.

If the 'Rosatellum' fails to pass the secret ballot, it will be a serious set-back for the government and could force Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni to resign.

If the bill is approved in the secret ballot, it will pass to the upper house Senate for approval, where the government lacks a clearly defined majority.

The Five-Star Movement organised a protest outside the Italian parliament on Wednesday over the 'Rosatellum' which its founder, comedian Beppe Grillo, was due to address. He was earlier spotted in Rome carrying a giant foot thought be part of a planned stunt.

Five-Star, which refuses to form political alliances, has accused the 'Rosatellum' which is backed by the ruling centre-left Democratic Party, of subverting democracy by allowing parties to form broad electoral coalitions.

Five-Star, which tops some voter opinion polls, reckons that the new rules could cost it up to 50 seats in the lower house of parliament and wreck its chances of being the largest group in parliament after the elections next year.

Opinion polls show support split three ways between the centre-left, centre-right and 5-Star Movement, raising the prospect of a hung parliament as the proposed new electoral system looks unlikely to produce a clear parliamentary majority, according to analysts.

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