Italy’s elections: the impasse continues

Things continue to drift in Italy, with Monti as Prime Minister, without any power. Assuming the markets don't take fright, they may continue that way

Berlusconi and Bersani are at the heart of Italy's impasse
Tim Hedges
On 27 March 2013 13:02

Thirty days since the elections and Italy is still without a government. The markets seem to have shrugged off the political impasse, their attention being focussed more on Cyprus, although we cannot be certain how long this tolerance will last.

The greatest effect so far of the hung parliament is to enforce the Italians’ resignation to the fact that, politically, nothing much matters. A few people (the political and industrial class) are doing all right; most people aren’t.

“It’s personal”, said Aldo, a bar owner, “a personal matter between Berlusconi and Bersani.” Indeed this is a complaint you hear more and more: Bersani, the cigar-chomping former communist who now leads the Centre-left coalition, resents having missed an open goal at the election. Berlusconi, however, having fought a brilliant campaign, is now making life difficult for the putative leader by making increasingly unrealistic demands in response to proposals for coalition.

“It’s got to be either a grand coalition, like they have in Germany, or new elections”, said the barista. Berlusconi and his deputy Alfano are now openly saying there must be another vote. The reason? The latest SWG poll shows Berlusconi on 30.2 percent and Bersani on 29.7 percent. Silvio senses victory. But the result would still point to a hung parliament, dependent on the recalcitrant Beppe Grillo’s 5-star movement.

Last week it seemed as if it might have been different. The Grillini, former comedian Grillo’s acolytes in parliament, appeared to be wavering, showing signs of weakness when up to a dozen of them voted to elect the Centre-left’s candidate for speaker of the Senate, a position which had to be filled before discussions of coalitions took place. People thought that they might be about to support the majority against the wishes of their leader.

It now appears that spin doctors for Bersani had spread the rumour that the centre-right candidate, Renato Schifani, was winning. Schifani is loathed in his native Sicily, where Grillo holds the balance of power, so the ingénu Grillini panicked and voted for the centre-left candidate, Pietro Grasso, who won with ease. A reminder, if one was needed, that Machiavelli was Italian.

Now, however, the Grillini are holding out, refusing any kind of co-operation with the two big parties, or even with Monti. They seem to show particular distaste for Bersani, “a dead man walking” as Grillo put it, and this may indicate a willingness to be flexible if the next generation of left and right, Angelino Alfano for Berlusconi’s PdL and Matteo Renzi for the Partito Democratico, were in power.

But it all seems a long way off. Berlusconi has (officially) already handed over to Alfano but the Left would need new primaries. And before that there would have to be a presidential election which is more than a month away. Would president Napolitano appoint an interim non-political administration? He is said not to be keen. More likely that things drift on with Monti as Prime Minister, without any power.

That’s assuming the markets don’t take fright.

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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