Letta survives no-confidence vote easily as Berlusconi suffers humiliating defeat


For one day, at least, gerontocratic Italy was no country for old men.Italy Flag Icon

In his address to the Italian Senato (Senate), center-left prime minister Enrico Letta, just five months into the job, quoted former postwar Italian president Luigi Einaudi to announce as much to his allies and enemies alike in a speech that preceded a confidence vote for his beleaguered government:

Nella vita delle istituzione l’errore di non saper cogliere l’attimo puo’ essere irreparabile. [In the lives of nations, the mistake of not knowing how to seize the fleeting moment is irreparable.]

Italian politics, if nothing else, provides many fleeting moments, and Letta (at age 47, one of Italy’s youngest prime ministers) today seized a huge victory, as did Angelino Alfano, the 42-year-old center-right deputy prime minister and minister of the interior.  Both seized their moments at the expense of 77-year-old Silvio Berlusconi, who remains the central figure in Italian politics 19 years after his first election as prime minister — though perhaps not for much longer.

Letta easily won a vote of confidence in his government after a showdown that ultimately caused more damage to Italy’s centrodestra (center-right) than to Letta’s government that began four days ago when Berlusconi tried to pull his party’s five ministers out of the current coalition government and thereby end Letta’s short-lived government in favor of early elections.

Alfano, Berlusconi’s top deputy, defied Berlusconi by indicating he would vote to support Letta’s government.  With Alfano, other current ministers and at least 25 rebels from Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà (PdL, People of Freedom) prepared to do the same, Berlusconi himself relented at the last minute and instructed all of the PdL’s senators to support Letta, who thereupon easily won a vote of no confidence by a margin of 270 to 135.  Letta leads an unwieldy grand coalition of center-right PdL senators, senators from Letta’s center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) and a handful of centrist, Christian Democratic and other pro-reform senators who support former technocratic prime minister Mario Monti.

But neither Letta’s victory nor Berlusconi’s retreat will come close to solving the problems Italy, its government, its economy, its political system and its political parties face in the months ahead: Continue reading Letta survives no-confidence vote easily as Berlusconi suffers humiliating defeat

Will the Maldives pull itself together to hold a free and fair presidential election?

Mohamed Nasheed

The Maldives was supposed to hold an election last Saturday — a presidential runoff that may have resulted in the return of Mohamed Nasheed (pictured above) to power. maldives

Instead, the runoff was cancelled by the country’s supreme court over allegations of fraud in the first round, setting off protests and scrambles in the island nation of around 340,000 people in the Indian Ocean just southwest of India.  Although the electoral commission ultimately backed down from its initial plan to proceed with the September 28 runoff notwithstanding the court order, it leaves the developing country’s nascent democratic institutions in limbo pending a planned November 11 inauguration for a yet-to-be-determined president.

It’s been a rough go for Maldivian democracy in the five short years since its first free and open presidential election — an election that Nasheed won before he was removed from power in February 2012 by opponents armed by the country’s police and armed forces.  Protests against Nasheed’s administration began in 2011 over the country’s poor economy due to rising prices for an island nation that imports much of its food and energy — GDP growth dropped from around 7% in 2010 and 2011 to just 3.4% last year.

Nasheed, who leads the Maldivian Democratic Party, nearly won the first round with 45.45% of the vote.  His opponent in the runoff is Abdulla Yameen, the candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives, and who narrowly defeated the third-place candidate Gasin Ibrahim, a wealthy businessman in the tourism and media industries who leads the Jumhoory Party — Yameen took 25.35% to just 24.07% for Ibrahim.  Both Yameen and Ibrahim have ties to Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives between 1978 and 2008, when he lost the country’s first democratic election to Nasheed.

But as Sudha Ramachandran writes for The Diplomat, Nasheed’s administration faced difficulties from the outset:

With Gayoom-era appointees and cronies firmly entrenched in the judiciary, bureaucracy, police and military, the Maldives’ nascent democracy was stymied. Meanwhile, anti-democratic forces joined hands with religious conservatives and accused Nasheed of working with Jews and Christians and undermining Islam. Almost from his first day, Nasheed was at loggerheads with the judiciary. Officials in various state institutions ignored the Executive in making decisions, undermining Nasheed’s authority. Massive demonstrations against the president and the MDP were organized, plunging the archipelago in unrest and instability.

Both challengers to Nasheed in the current race have ties to Gayoom, whose legacy looms over the country today — Yameen is Gayoom’s half-brother and Ibrahim served as finance minister and central bank president in the final three years of the Gayoom regime.

Generally, Nasheed opposes the delay in the runoff as a violation of the Maldivian constitution amid fears that Gayoom loyalists are behind the delay, and he Nasheed called for peaceful protests on Saturday.  Gayoom himself has already called for the first-round results to be annulled.

Although the supreme court’s ruling relates to charges from Ibrahim about fraud in the first round (though international observers found little to complain about), Ibrahim supports Yameen.  So does the current president, Mohammed Waheed, who finished in last place with just over 5% in the race, and who served as Nasheed’s vice president until Nasheed was ousted from office.

But it’s not clear where the runoff stands because the Maldivian supreme court didn’t bother setting a new date for the election, leading Nasheed and his supporters to believe that the court might never set a date for a runoff.  In any event, it’s not clear what the delay means for Maldivian law or for Maldivian democracy.  If the runoff is never held, or if the first-round results are cancelled, the Maldives will face another constitutional crisis.  Even if a delayed vote is ultimately held between now and November, a Yameen victory would be tainted by allegations of rigging and bias from the country’s generally pro-Gayoom judiciary.

India, which once buoyed Gayoom’s authoritarian regime (and protected him from a 1988 coup attempt), gradually soured on Gayoom, generally supported Nasheed’s administration and the country’s turn to democracy, denounced the election delay and called for a level playing field for all of the candidates.  Continue reading Will the Maldives pull itself together to hold a free and fair presidential election?