Italian politics: different this time?
If earlier it was like a game of chess, now Italian politics is more like the Melee in Ivanhoe
If earlier it was like a game of chess, now Italian politics is more like the Melee in Ivanhoe: ’The love of battle is the food on which we live – the dust of the melee is the breath of our nostrils’. It may be bloody, but they’re beginning to enjoy it. Everyone is gleefully denouncing everyone else.
The mathematics are often rehearsed. The centre-left coalition, led by Pierluigi Bersani, narrowly beat the centre-right coalition, led by Silvio Berlusconi, with Beppe Grillo’s 5-star movement close behind. A ridiculous Italian electoral law, popularly known as the ‘porcellum’ (piggery), gives Bersani a decent advantage in the lower house, but he cannot command the senate without either Berlusconi or Grillo. Grillo has repeated continually that an alliance with one of the old parties is out of the question, and Berlusconi wants another vote, sensing he may win.
Napolitano has imposed ten ‘wise men’ to explore the possibilities of a government before he goes. These are unlikely to get any further that agreeing a new electoral law and coming together to elect a new president. Unless something changes there is not enough meeting of minds for anything but the shortest-lived administration.
The populace is increasingly favouring another election.
First, however, there must be a presidential election (a president cannot dissolve parliament within six months of the end of his own mandate and Napolitano’s mandate ends on May 15th). The president is elected not by the populace at large but by the entirety of both houses of parliament and a number of regional assessors: over 1,000 people in all.
The timing is tight. Voting begins on April 18th and it is likely to take around five days. Assuming that there is a new incumbent on April 23rd and Napolitano leaves as soon as he is appointed, three weeks early, the new president would consult with the various parties – say another five days - and dissolve parliament on April 29th.
The electoral period, according to the constitution, is between 45 and 70 days, so the vote would be any time between June 12th and July 7th. Italy will have been without a proper government for five months.
The last election was unique in that Italians don’t like voting in the cold; there had never been an election in February before. But they don’t like voting in the summer heat either: June 26th has been the latest ever. Clement weather – not too hot, not too cold – is what gets the electoral juices flowing here.
What they have done in the past when change threatens the holiday period is nod through a Governo Balneare – delightfully, a ‘seaside government’ – so the country is run part time by the chaps who are staying in Rome with their mistresses, and when the family men return after a month by the sea they form a proper administration. There have been at least three seaside governments so far, and don’t forget the President probably wants to get away to Pescara as well.
But I think a Governo Balneare unlikely. Napolitano wants to get things settled and the awful prospect of an interruption to the holidays is about the only threat he has left.
The Corriere della Sera of Milan lists 30 names as possible, but these include both Silvio Berlusconi and Ilda ‘The Red’ Boccassini, the magistrate who is prosecuting him over the underage prostitute. She is not just called ‘The Red’ because of her red hair. Also on this list are former Prime Ministers Giuliano Amato, Massimo d’Alema, Lamberto Dini, Romano Prodi and Mario Monti (Italy has plenty of former Prime Ministers from which to choose), Emma Bonino the leftish firebrand who has been a European Commissioner, and Mario Draghi, governor of the European Central Bank, who is likely to want to steer clear of all this. Favourites are Enrico Letta for the Right (and it is the Right’s turn) and Annamaria Cancellieri of the present administration.
And for the parliamentary elections? It looks increasingly likely that there will be a contest between Angelino Alfano of the centre-right and Matteo Renzi of the centre-left (Bersani has offered to stand down). And if Beppe Grillo has the scalps of Berlusconi and Bersani under his belt he is likely to be a little more emollient to the new, younger men. He will make other demands, though, including attacks on the salaries and perks of parliament. Things just might be different this time.
The Italians will go to the polls – in summer as well as winter – but they will like their political class even a bit less than before.
Tim Hedges previously worked in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer and novelist
Read more on: Italian elections, Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, Beppe Grillo, and Tim Hedges
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