Italy ahead of the elections

Italy is in that state where you read in the papers that everything is going better but you don’t feel it. All over Europe, and indeed the west, there has been a backlash against yesterday’s men. The forthcoming elections will only bring clarity in the sense it is clear that the chaos will continue

The elections won't bring fireworks
Tim Hedges
On 26 January 2018 11:42

In Parma, in the north where they make the ham and the cheese, there was a job for a nurse. One job for one nurse. Five thousand applied, from all over the country.

The regional health authority had to hire a conference centre to handle the applications for interview and lay on a free bus service from the station. They came from as far away as Puglia and Sicily.

The reason for the panic was that it was a permanent job. Because of stretched budgets most health authorities only offer part-time work. One applicant said there was plenty of work for a nurse in Italy as long as you were prepared to do three months here, six months there, living out of a suitcase.

Towards the end of his short tenure as Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi managed to pass his Jobs Act, which changed the work contract to make it easier to hire and fire. This is a good thing, bringing Italy in line with other countries, and alongside it there was a tax incentive to take on permanent workers.

But although Renzi insists that the numbers on permanent contracts have increased, this has yet to be felt. In particular, working for the state was popular in Italy, with good working conditions and a good pension and security, on which young people place a high value here. Now they feel more precarious than ever.

Italy is in that state where you read in the papers that everything is going better but you don’t feel it. You don’t feel better off, no one you know seems better off, but the experts seem optimistic. It is an unfortunate time for the incumbent party to be fighting an election, but there we are: it’s a few weeks off, appropriately on the same day as the Oscars.

All over Europe and indeed the west, there has been a backlash against yesterday’s men, the people (of both sexes) who have failed us. Matteo Renzi, not even 40 when he came to office, was supposed to be Italy’s answer to that. But, nicknamed the Bulldozer, he was too strident, and upset too many people.

As Renzi strode towards the future he suddenly found he was alone: even the rats had deserted the Pied Piper. The end came when he tried to dissolve the senate. His successor, the charming but ineffective Paolo Gentiloni, is much more popular, a great Prime Minister for those who want nothing much to happen.

But an outsider arriving in italy for the contest would conclude Renzi was the obvious choice. He is a reformer, and everyone agrees Italy needs reform. He has experience, he is young, he is European. And look at the competition: an 81 year old with a conviction for tax fraud and another trial pending, dubiously allied with what most people would call fascists, who, let’s face it, didn’t do that much for Italy when he had the chance.

In the other corner, a party which has never governed, and was only started ten years ago by a comedian (Beppe Grillo has since left politics, by the way, leaving the party to 31 year old Luigi di Maio).

But Renzi will not win. Di Maio’s 5-Star is forecasted to be the largest party, and unless Silvio plays a blinder and gets 40 percent of the vote, there will be a stitch up after people have voted. Judging by the exaggerated promises on the campaign trail, the candidates know this. You can always explain it on your new partner when you fail to deliver.

So with the main groupings struggling for votes, the minority parties are sniffing around them hoping for influence. Some may achieve the 3 percent minimum for parliamentary representation, such as one or two splinter groups from the Democratic Party who are confident they can charge a high price for their vote on the day after the count.

Others might get through on a recognisable name, such as Emma Bonino, the women’s rights campaigner, or Pietro Grasso, the anti-mafia judge.

Others are just dreams: there are 98 parties registered, each with its own symbol, making for a colourful ballot paper. I like ‘Poets of Action’, ‘The Holy Roman Empire’ and the ‘Pitchfork Movement’. Elsewhere, unashamed extremists such as  ‘The real Nazis’ and ‘The Revolutionary Left’ compete alongside ‘Christians for happy growth’.

Faced with not liking any of the main contenders, and not sure who they might get into bed with after the vote, it would be understandable if you opted for one of these as a protest.

Let’s give The Holy Roman Empire another chance.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here


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