Change at a snail's pace in Italy's parliament

The mood on the streets is that Grillo perhaps should be given a chance, but as time goes on more people are realising that life in Italy continues more or less happily without a government at all

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Progress is slow in Italy's parliament
Timwork
Tim Hedges
On 22 March 2013 10:11

It took me by surprise, perhaps because the British don’t expect humour from other nations, and no one suspects it from an Italian contadino on a cold day. He said “we must thank the buon Dio for our excellent government”. Italy of course doesn’t have a government and that’s what he meant: they can’t do any more damage at the moment. It’s come to that.

The parliament assembled last week and you could see immediately the effect of Beppe Grillo’s grillini: 163 deputies and senators, none of whom have had previous experience. The average age in parliament is now 48, lower than in most countries including Britain, and 31 percent are women, up from 20 percent. In what could have fairly been called a misogynous gerontocracy this is quite a change.

They assembled, but that’s where the trouble began. Under the Italian constitution, the two houses each have to choose a speaker before the president can invite the parties to form coalitions, and to begin with no one thought they would be able to do so: the Grillini refused to support anyone from the established parties Then suddenly two speakers emerged, Laura Boldrini, a former UN Human Rights official, for the lower house, and Piero Grasso, an anti-mafia prosecutor, for the senate. The significance of this is that some, perhaps a dozen, Grillini rebelled against the party line and opted for a candidate. Would there be further such betrayals?

The existence of parliamentary speakers merely means that negotiations can begin around forming a government. Note that we knew last year that there would be elections in February, and that they took place nearly a month ago. The torpid, iterative progress leaves people filled with admiration that more than a hundred cardinals gathered together from all points of the globe and elected a leader of 1.2 billion Catholics in a matter of days.

This morning there was what might appear to be a step forward in that President Napolitano, unsurprisingly, has given Bersani of the centre left the mandate to form a government.  Technically, to be a government it has to survive votes of confidence in both houses. Will it? Or will the Grillini hold out for further elections, in which the polls tell them their vote would improve? Or would further elections mean the resignation of Bersani and the emergence of Renzi, the more youthful (and less dull) challenger.

Bersani has said he would not contemplate a coalition with Berlusconi, and Grillo has said he would not contemplate a coalition with either. Who will blink first?

The mood on the streets is that Grillo perhaps should be given a chance, but as time goes on more and more people are realising that life in Italy continues more or less happily without a government at all.

Tim Hedges had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer

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