The role of Italy’s south in this weekend’s election


Although Lombardy in Italy’s north has been called the ‘Ohio’ of Italian politics — it’s a huge prize, given that it’s the most populous and richest region, and one of the few regions currently too close to call — Sicily might well be the ‘Florida’ of Italian politics.Italy Flag Icon

It’s the fourth-most populous region of Italy, after Lombardy, Lazio and Campania, and with 27 seats in the Senato (Senate), it’s quite a prize.  Like Lombardy, Sicily is essentially a toss-up in this weekend’s Italian general election.  Voting is underway today and will continue throughout Monday.

In addition to Sicily, the election remains close in three additional southern regions, in Campania (29 seats), Puglia (20 seats) and Calabria (10 seats) — polls, as of mid-February, showed the centrosinistra (center-left) coalition headed by Pier Luigi Bersani with a very narrow lead.  Taken together, the four regions boast 86 seats, representing more than half the seats Bersani will need to form a senatorial majority — a far larger prize than even Lombardy’s 49 seats.

Taken together, the four regions are Italy’s poorest, nearly one-half as wealthy as Lombardy, and plagued by widespread unemployment, even before the latest European financial crisis — the four regions receive funds from the European Regional Development Fund to stimulate economic growth and modernize their economies.  Since Italian unification in 1865, southern Italy never fully integrated into the rest of Italy, and governments for the past century have tried to develop plans to bring southern Italy’s economy up to a level more commensurate with northern and central Italy.

In addition to their economic and cultural gap with the rest of Italy, the regions are hampered by their links to organized crime — the Mafia / Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the Camorra in Campania, the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria and, to a lesser degree, Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia. That, in turn, has led to greater amounts of political corruption, cresting in 1992 with the murders of anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Despite the south’s central role in the election, there’s not much indication that any government would necessarily do much for the south, especially in an era of budget cuts.

All four regions typically favor the center-right in Italian politics — former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centrodestra (center-right) coalition won all four regions in 2008 and even in the 2006 elections, when center-left prime minister Romano Prodi returned to power, his coalition lost both Sicily and Puglia.  Despite the strength of the autonomist Lega Nord (Northern League) in northern regions, such as Veneto and Lombardy, there’s not much of a counterpart in the mezzogiorno.  To the extent there’s a separate ‘southernist’ autonomist movement in the southern regions, it’s split among a group of shifting regional parties that routinely aligned with the centrodestra, and that continues to be the case in this election — a patchwork of southern parties, Grande Sud (Great South), has joined Berlusconi’s coalition, making them, oddly enough, electoral allies of the Northern League.

The winner in each region is important under Italy’s election rules — in each region, the party or coalition that wins the greatest number of votes is guaranteed 55% of the senatorial seats from that region.  So in a highly fragmented election like the 2013 elections, Bersani’s centrosinistra coalition could win 30% of the vote and still take 55% of the seats in a given region.

In the Italian parliament’s lower house, the winner of the national vote is guaranteed 54% of all seats, and polls show that Bersani is very likely to win the national vote.  In contrast, however, the regional rules for the upper house mean that he’s far from guaranteed a majority in the Senato, and so may be forced to form a government with prime minister Mario Monti’s pro-reform centrist coalition.

In this weekend’s election, however, the left has hope that if it can sweep Lombardy and the key southern regions, it will have a shot at winning a clear senatorial majority: Continue reading The role of Italy’s south in this weekend’s election

Suffragio goes to the Oscars

Of course, most Americans this weekend aren’t thinking about the Cypriot presidential election or even the relatively higher-impact Italian elections, but the results of yet another election this weekend in Hollywood — the winners of the 85th Academy Awards. somaliaUSflagafghanistan flag

It’s been a very foreign-policy heavy year for the Oscars.

Zero Dark Thirty, a nominee for best picture, depicts the raid that led to the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan two years ago. It’s ignited anew a political thunderstorm over the use of torture (ahem, I mean enhanced interrogation techniques) in procuring information by the United States in its fight against radical Islamic terrorists.

Argo, another nominee for best picture, directed by Ben Affleck, depicts the daring 1979 raid in Iran by CIA operatives and other, mostly Canadian, nationals to rescue six diplomats from Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis.  Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who approved the raid while in office, and top film critic, recently gave the film two thumbs up.

Indeed, it’s a highly international year for the awards, given that Amour, an Austrian film is up for both best foreign language film and best picture, and Life of Pi, a film based on Yann Martel’s novel of the same name, which won the 2002 Booker Prize, is also up for best film.

Even if the Academy’s rule limiting each country to just one nominee for best foreign film in a year is outdatedNo, Chile’s first nomination for best foreign film, stars Gael García Bernal in an impressive picture about the end of Augusto Pinochet’s autocratic rule in that country in 1988.  Nanni Moretti, perhaps the best living director in Italy, will have been disappointed that his Habemus Papam (‘We Have a Pope’), was not nominated, despite the film’s sudden timeliness.

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy surveys the recent history of films that weigh the issues of U.S. foreign policy, especially in the post-9/11 phase and ponders whether Hollywood itself has a discernible foreign policy view and how that could change in the future:

One big question going forward is whether Hollywood’s increasing reliance on international audiences will affect the kinds of stories that get told. The Academy has shown itself to be more open to films with Indian protagonists like Slumdog Millionaire and The Life of Pi in recent years. Perhaps it will soon be ready for a movie about America’s place in the world where the rest of the planet gets a speaking role.

But Keating ignores two short films that have been nominated for best live action short that, I believe, are really the future of Hollywood — Buzkashi Boys and Asad.

Buzkashi Boys (see trailer above) is a 27-minute film about two young boys in Kabul — and it might be my own favorite film from among the entire oeuvre of 2013 nominees.


Director Sam French has captured an incredibly beautiful side of Kabul — the snowy, mountainous backdrop has never made the war-zone city look more appealing — and in avoiding any direct mention to the 12-year U.S. military action there, has managed to show a side of Afghanistan that’s rarely seen and even more rarely appreciated in the United States.  Notably — and unusually — the U.S. government helped bankroll the film, with a $220,000 grant from the U.S. state department.

It’s the first film shot in Afghanistan to be nominated for any Oscar awards.

The two young stars of the film, Jawanmard Paiz and Fawad Mohammadi, are in Hollywood for tonight’s Oscars, and French has started an education fund for Mohammadi, who French came to know on ‘Chicken Street’ in Kabul as one of many boys selling maps, gum and other small items to foreigners.

Asad, an 18-minute short film produced in South Africa, features a cast of Somali refugees currently living in South Africa, none of which are professional actors, an African version of neorealismo that examines the effects of nearly two decades of civil war and state failure in a small Somali fishing village.  A far cry indeed from the over-the-top depiction of Somalis in Black Hawk Down, which won director Ridley Scott a ‘best director’ nomination in 2001.

In both cases, unlike the more well-known films Keating mentions, which as he correctly notes, all too often lump Muslims worldwide as an ‘undifferentiated mass of beards and hijabs,’ Buzkashi Boys and Asad alike both depict their protagonists in more tender, human, universal and relatable terms.

Regardless of whether either Buzkashi Boys or Asad wins tonight, both are well worth your time for a brief view into the cultures of both Afghanistan and Somalia.

Asad‘s trailer follows below: Continue reading Suffragio goes to the Oscars

Cyprus votes for ‘Nice Nic’ as Anastasiades sweeps to victory pledging bailout talks


Cypriot voters have selected a new president in today’s runoff, finishing the business they started last weekend in the first round of the presidential election.cyprus_world_flag

Nicos Anastasiades, the candidate of the center-right Democratic Rally (DISY, Δημοκρατικός Συναγερμός or Dimokratikós Sinayermós) has won 57.48% of the vote to just 42.52% for health minister Stavros Malas, the candidate of the governing, leftist Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL, Aνορθωτικό Κόμμα Εργαζόμενου Λαού or Anorthotikó Kómma Ergazómenou Laoú), which will likely jumpstart talks between Cyprus and the European Union over a potential bailout.

Anastasiades nearly won the election outright last Sunday, when he garnered 45.46%, with just 26.91% for Malas and 24.93% for the independent, center-left anti-austerity Giorgos Lillikas.

Once derided as ‘nasty Nic’ for his hot-tempered manner — he is alleged to have once hurled an ashtray at an associate — he’s been all ‘nice Nic’ throughout the campaign.  The leader of DISY since 1997, Anastasiades was on the wrong side of a 2004 referendum when he supported the ‘Annan Plan’ to reunite the Greek and Turkish sides of the island; a majority of his own party and 76% of the Greek Cypriot electorate opposed the plan.  His election today, however, marks a triumphant personal comeback.

So what does Anastasiades’s victory mean?

First and foremost, Cyprus has chosen a new president who is much keener on securing a €17 billion Cypriot bailout for a government whose finances are on the brink of default, ironically, perhaps, due in part to the stage-managed default of Greek sovereign debt, which has had a disproportionately adverse effect on Nicosia (though the potential Cypriot bailout would dwarf the €245.6 billion Greek bailout).  Continue reading Cyprus votes for ‘Nice Nic’ as Anastasiades sweeps to victory pledging bailout talks