Is Italy headed into a post-Berlusconi ‘third republic’ era of national politics?

Silvio Berlusconi this week all but conceded that he would not run as the main center-right candidate for prime minister in Italy’s upcoming elections, due to be held before April 2013 — and he even hinted he could support a moderate coalition in favor of continuing the economic reforms of current technocratic prime minister Mario Monti (pictured above).

I’m not convinced this is the last we’ve heard from Il Cavaliere, though, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t his last word on whether he’ll run in 2013.

Berlusconi has been the central figure of Italian politics since 1994, so if he changes his mind tomorrow, or next month, or next year, he has sufficient money and control over Italian media to play a huge role in the upcoming election.  Current polls indicate, however, that most Italians are ready to turn the page on Berlusconi.

Many political scientists and Italians alike consider the period from 1945 to around 1993 Italy’s ‘first republic’ — a period where Italy’s Christian Democratic party (and various allies) essentially controlled the government continuously, through less-than-stable coalitions that often split and re-formed in various permutations of the center-right and center-left.  Despite consistently strong opposition from Italy’s Communists, the Communists never had enough strength — or were permitted to gather enough strength — to enter government.

After the Tangentopoli (‘Bribesville’) scandal that implicated essentially every major politician in Italian public life in the 1990s, Italy entered its ‘second republic’ — an era that’s been dominated by Berlusconi and has featured somewhat more stability — Italian politics since the 1994 general election can be seen as a struggle between a largely rightist coalition and another largely leftist coalition (despite Italy’s reputation for pizza topping politics).  Governments have been more stable, but media freedom has in some ways regressed, in large part due to Berlusconi’s overweening control of private (and sometimes public) media in Italy.

If Berlusconi indeed remains on the sidelines in the upcoming election, however, we could see a tectonic shift in Italian politics that represents yet another era — a new ‘third republic’ — one where Italy continues to develop even more engrained democratic norms and stronger liberal freedoms.  Even if that somewhat overstates the case, 2013 is set to become as much a transformative year in Italian politics as 1994.  What’s striking is that, no more than six months before the next general election, what we know about the future of Italian politics is massively outweighed by what we don’t.

The latest poll, as of October 9 from Ipsos, currently shows Berlusconi’s center-right Il Popolo della Libertà (PdL, the People of Freedom) winning just 18.0% of the vote, to 28.5% for Italy’s main center-left party, the Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) and the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five-Star Movement), a populist protest vehicle of popular comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo, with 17.4%. Those numbers, however, are very likely to change between now and the election.

At the risk of dumping a laundry list of minor parties at my readers, it’s important to note the other actors in Italian politics and where they stand:

  • the rump of Italy’s once-dominant Christian Democrats, led by the highly respected Pier Ferdinando Casini, the Unione di Centro (UdC, Union of the Centre) wins 6.4%;
  • the centrist, anti-corruption Italia dei Valori (IdV, Italy of Values) of former Tangentopoli prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro wins 6.0%;
  • the socialist Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (SEL, Left Ecology Freedom) of the popular — and openly gay — president of Puglia, Nichi Vendola, wins 5.6%;
  • the separatist Lega Nord (LN, Northern League), under the new leadership of Roberto Maroni following a corruption scandal involving former longtime leader Umberto Bossi, wins just 4.9%;
  • no other party wins more than 3% of the vote — the most notable of the smaller parties is the newly-formed free-market liberal Futuro e Libertà (FLI, Future and Freedom) of former foreign minister Gianfranco Fini, a former Berlusconi ally who once headed the neofascist National Alliance party (although he worked to move it from the fringes to the center).

With all of that in mind, consider exactly everything we don’t know about an election ostensibly just six months away: Continue reading Is Italy headed into a post-Berlusconi ‘third republic’ era of national politics?

First Past the Post: October 11

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde calls for limits to austerity — make no mistake, this is a game changer for international politics.

Writer Mo Yan becomes the first Chinese national to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

A poll shows Lithuania’s government (still) set for defeat in advance of Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

In Lebanon, prominent Maronite politician Amin Gemayel warns about Hizbollah.

On the eve of elections Sunday, Montenegro seems headed toward European Union membership.

Reaction in Spain to the latest credit rating downgrade.

The family of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori is seeking a pardon on medical grounds.


In naming Maduro as new VP, Chávez indicates preference for successor

Fresh off his reelection after nearly a year-long and tough-fought election campaign against Henrique Capriles, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez yesterday named Nicolás Maduro as his vice president.

The move clearly establishes Maduro as a favorite successor for a president who’s also over the past year received treatment abroad for cancer and whose new presidential term runs fully until January 2019.

As such, one of the questions looming over Sunday’s election was whether Chávez would even survive until the election (he did, of course), and if so, whether he could groom a successor who would both stand on his own among the Venezuelan people as a champion of chavismo after Chávez’s death (or retirement) and whether the various factions of Chávez’s ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, or United Socialist Party of Venezuela).

Maduro himself is a former bus driver and trade unionist (unofficially, however, as trade unions were not permitted in the 1970s and 1980s), and became politically active on the Venezuelan left.  He helped found the PSUV and its predecessor movement, he was a key aide in Chávez’s winning election campaign in 1998 and was elected that year to the Chamber of Deputies (which preceded today’s National Assembly, which was introduced under Chávez’s 1999 constitution) and has been a member of the National Assembly thereafter, serving as the speaker from 2005 to 2006.  Since 2006, Maduro has served as Chávez’s foreign minister, and has been generally known as a loyal, but moderate, member of Chávez’s inner circle.

A very juicy (and perhaps wine-soaked) internal email from the private intelligence group Stratfor from 2011 leaked by Wikileaks earlier this year pinpointed Maduro as the likeliest candidate:

Maduro is loyal as a dog to Chavez. (the source knows Maduro personally, from the days that Maduro was a driver of the metro bus.) At the same time, maduro is seen as the most pragmatic in the regime. If Chavez’s health deteriorates significantly before the scheduled Oct 2012 elections, expect him to proclaim Maduro as his successor in one way or another. You can already see him propping up Maduro in a lot of ways. This is less risky than Chavez going through with elections, winning, suddenly dying and then a power struggle among the Chavistas breaking out. It will be much harder in this latter scenario for Maduro to assert himself against rival Chavistas like Diosdado Cabello, Rafiel Ramirez, etc.

Maduro is seen as more of a Lula candidate. He has a following, he has charisma, but he’s also a balancer. He’s the kind of guy that would open up to the US and keep tight with everyone else, but that still makes Iran nervous. The source seems to think that Obama in his second term would open up to Maduro (and this is something that he is actively working on.)

The e-mail claims that both Russia and China — and possibly Cuba — support Maduro as the preferred successor to Chávez.  Sure enough, Maduro has true roots in the movement for social progress that represents the best of what the Chávez regime has accomplished since 1998, and he has sufficient charisma to carry forward that project in the 2018 election, and sufficient moderation to be a calming influence on each of the United States, Russia and China, even as he has worked to develop closer ties to the Castros in Cuba.  Even Juan Cristobal Nagel at Caracas Chronicles, not exactly a partisan, has some nice things to say about Maduro, but Maduro is not quite the second coming of Lula (nor even, apparently, as open to LGBT rights as the Castro regime in Cuba is fast becoming).

So who loses out with Madero’s elevation? Continue reading In naming Maduro as new VP, Chávez indicates preference for successor