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?