Italy’s election: what it means

Italy failed to change after the Mani Pulite scandal when Berlusconi came to power. Might it finally change now?

by Tim Hedges on 26 February 2013 17:25

Italy is split between centre-left and centre-right. In single party terms the largest in the lower house is, incredibly, M5S, the anti-establishment party of comedian Beppe Grillo. A slight advantage of the centre-left in the lower house means Bersani has a decent majority due to Italy’s strange electoral system, but in the upper house Berlusconi has a slight majority. The two houses rank equally in terms of passing legislation.

Berlusconi, who started from nowhere, fought a brilliant and tireless campaign, whereas Bersani was lacklustre. They were both outshone by Grillo. Monti was a bad fourth.

So, what happens now? A merger? Probably not: Grillo has said he won’t ally himself with any of the established parties, and Berlusconi and Bersani are too far apart. Another vote? Article 88 of the Constitution says the President cannot dissolve parliament within six months of his own mandate being up, which is May.

So Napolitano would have to resign and parliament would have to vote in a new President, which Bersani and Monti could do between them. They are said to favour Emma Bonino, but who knows with so many new faces in parliament? The new president could then call new elections; but what if the result were the same?

Italy is currently trying to issue some €8.75 billion of short term bonds, and the markets don’t like this uncertainty.

What has happened? The papers are full of statements saying that Italy has rejected austerity, but it isn’t quite that. Italian voters are sensible and well-informed and can understand the country is in trouble. What they disapprove of is the political class which they believe makes the people suffer without taking on board any austerity itself. They see tax rises for themselves and they see politicians’ mothers taken shopping on the Via Veneto with a government chauffeur.

Parliament recently voted not to reduce the salaries of its members, which are among the highest in the western world. ‘Mandiamoli tutti a casa’ (let’s get rid of them all) was one of Grillo’s slogans and that rather sums up what people are thinking.

There will be trouble with the uncertainty, yes, but something good may come from this election. At last the people are beginning to say they won’t tolerate the old ways any more, with a well-feathered caste looking after itself at their expense.

This did not change after the Mani Pulite scandal when Berlusconi came to power, although it was supposed to. It just might change now, although you can feel the pressure as the various interest groups struggle to keep a grip on their privileges.

Grillo is probably not another Garibaldi, but he has shown that he is significant. Italy seems to have voted for democracy and fairness at the expense of a bit of anarchy. Let’s see what comes of it.

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