Tag Archives: prodi

Why Trump isn’t quite an American Berlusconi

Despite similarities between former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and US businessman Donald Trump, there are also key differences to their governance approach.
Despite similarities between former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and US businessman Donald Trump, there are also key differences to their governance approach.

One of the sharpest comparisons for Americans trying to understand the resilient appeal of Donald Trump is the rise of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi in the 1990s.Italy Flag Icon

Rising from the ashes of a widespread corruption scandal that tarred Italy’s entire political elite, Berlusconi, one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, rose from 1994’s power vacuum to what would become nearly two decades dominating Italian politics. Though he lost power less than a year after his first election, he stormed back to power in 2001. Despite a short-lived turn in 2006 to the center-left’s Romano Prodi, Berlusconi once again returned in 2008. Forced to resign in 2011 amid a debt crisis, Berlusconi still led the Italian right to what amounts to a draw in the 2013 election.

It’s as if Italian voters just couldn’t help themselves, such was the spectacle of a showman that the Italian media dubbed ‘Il cavaliere,’ the ‘knight.’ Time and again, Berlusconi’s charms proved irresistible. It’s not out of the question that he might mount yet another comeback by the time that the 2018 elections roll around. Continue reading Why Trump isn’t quite an American Berlusconi

Don’t be surprised by papal meeting with Kim Davis

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi meets former Pope Benedict XVI. (Alessia Giuliani/Getty)
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi meets former Pope Benedict XVI. (Alessia Giuliani/Getty)

Days after Pope Francis left a historic visit to the United States, news emerged that he spent part of his time at an unannounced meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk waging a fight to withhold marriage licenses to same-sex couples on religious grounds.USflagItaly Flag Iconvatican flag

As The New York Times reported earlier this morning, Francis met with the Kentucky woman last Thursday at the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C.:

On Tuesday night, her lawyer, Mathew D. Staver, said in a telephone interview that Ms. Davis and her husband, Joe, were sneaked into the Vatican Embassy by car on Thursday afternoon. Francis gave her rosaries and told her to “stay strong,” the lawyer said. The couple met for about 15 minutes with the pope, who was accompanied by security guards, aides and photographers. Mr. Staver said he expected to receive photographs of the meeting from the Vatican soon. On Wednesday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed that the meeting took place, but he declined to elaborate. “I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no other comments to add,” he said.

Noah Feldman, a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard University, argues that the meeting undermines the rule of law:

When Francis met with Davis — who let it be noted is an evangelical Protestant, although her parents apparently are Catholic — he was sending the wrong message, namely that there’s something sympathetic or even legitimate about public official refusing to do his or her job when religious teaching goes the other way.

Running for president, John F. Kennedy had to overcome the Protestant allegation that as a Catholic he would obey the pope and not the laws and Constitution of the U.S. In a famous speech, Kennedy made it clear that he wouldn’t take instructions from Rome. And he said he would be a president “whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.” That’s exactly what’s required of all public officials. And no one should undercut it, pope or otherwise.

For better or worse, the Vatican City is a state (albeit a very small one), and both the Vatican City, a traditional jurisdictional-based sovereign, and the Holy See, the universal ecclesiastical government of the Catholic Church have their own versions of the ‘national interest.’ That is, the Vatican and the Holy See both work to perpetuate their global power and influence, chiefly by maintaining and growing the base of 1.2 billion Catholic believers worldwide.

So it should come as no surprise that any pope, Francis or otherwise, would seek to empower the religious influence of Christians, including Protestants like Davis, even if it means trashing the rule of law. It’s no shock to learn that the Catholic Church has often joined the side of illiberalism in history.

The Vatican City came into existence on in 1929 as a sovereign entity when Italy’s Fascist leader at the time, Benito Mussolini, signed the Lateran Treaty with the Holy See, settling a long-running question that followed Italy’s unification in the 1860s. The support that the Catholic Church provided to Italy’s Fascist government is well-documented. Moreover, the Church played an important postwar role in bolstering the essentially one-party rule of Democrazia Cristiana (DC, Christian Democracy), making the Church all too often bedfellows with the Sicilian Mafia and other uncomfortable backers of the Christian Democrats.

As recently as 2008, the Vatican helped pressure senators in Italy’s parliament to bring down the elected government of center-left prime minister Romano Prodi because it fiercely opposed Prodi’s effort to introduce same-sex civil unions. Prodi, it’s true, pushed ahead with the vote despite warnings from many politicians that it would cause his government to collapse. The Church, for what it’s worth, did not force anyone in Italy to vote for Silvio Berlusconi in the resulting election, who won and would serve as prime minister until 2011. But it’s impossible to avoid the uncomfortable conclusion that the Vatican played a significant role in Prodi’s fall. Moreover, Italy today remains one of the only western European countries that lacks marriage equality. That’s almost entirely due to the Vatican’s influence.

Throughout most of the world, the Vatican’s power is limited to ‘soft power’ — that is, the authority that it commands as an arbiter of moral and ethical standards for 1.2 billion Catholics and, likely, throughout all of Christendom. Sometimes, a pope’s influence is political, like John Paul II’s particular experience and anti-Communist credentials as a Polish national serving at the height of the Cold War. Francis, the first Latin American pope, has a particular hold in South America, especially in Brazil and his native Argentina, that mixes religious belief with national pride.

But in Italy, the Vatican actually has quite a bit of ‘hard power’ — according to a recent article in The New Yorker, the Church owns around 20% of all real estate in Italy and 25% of the property in Rome, Italy’s capital and home to the Vatican City itself: Continue reading Don’t be surprised by papal meeting with Kim Davis

After Irish vote, what next for same-sex marriage in Europe?

adamsLGBT

There’s no doubt that the landmark vote in Ireland on May 22, the first such referendum where a popular majority enacted same-sex marriage, has been received as a huge step forward for marriage equality and LGBT rights in Europe.Ireland IconEuropean_Union

While the United States supreme court is set to rule later in June on marriage equality as a legal and constitutional matter within all 50 states, it may feel like a watershed moment in Europe as well, where French president François Hollande and the center-left Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) and British prime minister David Cameron and the Conservative Party both swung behind legislative efforts to enact same-sex marriage, in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel officially married his own partner in May, but it was only six years ago that Iceland’s Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir became the world’s first openly LGBT head of government, followed shortly by Belgian prime minister Elio Di Rupo.

Yet the lopsided Irish referendum victory — it passed with 62.07% of the vote and the ‘Yes’ camp won all but one constituency (Roscommon-South Leitrim) — obscures the fact that additional marriage equality gains across the European Union will be slow to materialize. Leave aside the notion, now reinforced by Ireland, that the human rights of a minority can be legitimately subjected to referendum — a precedent that Europeans may come to regret. Amid the recent burst of marriage equality in Europe, the immediate future seems grim.

Nowhere is that more true than just next door in Northern Ireland, which is the only part of the United Kingdom that doesn’t permit same-sex marriage. With the Protestant, federalist electorate dominated by the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), one of western Europe’s most harshly anti-LGBT political parties, there’s little hope that Northern Ireland will follow in the footsteps of England, Scotland and Wales. At the end of April, Northern Irish health minister Jim Wells was forced to resign after suggesting same-sex couples were inferior parents. It’s home to the late Ian Paisley’s ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign in the late 1970s, and it’s where sexual relations between two consenting same-sex partners were illegal until 1981, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Northern Irish law violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

But Northern Ireland is not alone in its reticence — marriage equality faces long hurdles in some of the European Union’s most important countries, including Germany, Italy and Poland.

The irony is that despite Europe’s leading role two decades ago on LGBT marriage rights, the United States could eclipse Europe with the supreme court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, as the European Union struggles for years to enact consistent marriage equality legislation. Continue reading After Irish vote, what next for same-sex marriage in Europe?

A guide to Italy’s post-Napolitano presidential puzzle

Renzi NapolitanoPhoto credit to Roberto Monaldo / LaPresse.

Italy’s presidential election functions more like a papal conclave than a direct election or even like a party-line legislative vote like the recent failed attempts to elect a new Greek president.Italy Flag Icon

The long-awaited decision today by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano to resign after nine years in office is not likely to result immediately in snap elections in Italy, as it did recently in Greece. Nevertheless, the resulting attempt to select Napolitano’s successor presents Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi with perhaps the most treacherous political task since taking office last February.

Napolitano’s legacy

Napolitano, at age 89, was anxious to step down after Italy relinquishes its six-month rotating European presidency this week. Elected president in 2006, Napolitano (pictured above, left, with Renzi), a former moderate figure within Italy’s former Communist Party, is Italy’s longest serving president, reelected to an unprecedented second seven-year term in 2013 when the divided Italian political scene couldn’t agree on anyone else after five prior ballots.

Critics refer to Napolitano as ‘Re Giorgio‘ (King George), but there’s little doubt that he was consequential during Italy’s financial markets crisis in late 2011 by nudging Silvio Berlusconi, who first came to power in 1994, out of office — seemingly once and for all. Napolitano’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering may have prevented Italy from the humiliating step of seeking a bailout from European authorities though his detractors argue that he circumvented the democratic process by engineering Berlusconi’s ouster and appointing former European commissioner Mario Monti as prime minister. Monti, who stepped down after 2013 national elections, largely failed to push through major economic reforms that many investors believe Italy needs to become more competitive, and that Renzi now promises to enact.

Napolitano, who will remain a ‘senator for life’ in the upper chamber of the Italian parliament, steps down with generally high regard from most Italians, who believe that he, in particular, has been a stabilizing force throughout the country’s worst postwar economic recession.

An opaque process to select a president

The process to appoint his successor involves an electoral assembly that comprises members of both houses of the Italian parliament, plus 58 additional electors from the country’s 20 regions — a total of 1,009 electors. Within 15 days, the group must hold its first vote, though it may only hold a maximum of two voter per day. For the first three ballots, a presidential candidate must win a two-thirds majority. On the fourth and successive ballots, however, a simple majority of 505 votes is sufficient. Continue reading A guide to Italy’s post-Napolitano presidential puzzle

Rise of new Italian political leadership eclipses Berlusconi’s expulsion from the Senate

silvioout

There’s not much to say about the decision of Italy’s upper house of parliament, the Senato (Senate), to expel former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi last week.Italy Flag Icon

Berlusconi, convicted on a tax fraud charge related to his media company, faces a year of community service and future legal troubles, most notably over charges of soliciting sex from underage prostitutes.

But the fallout from Berlusconi’s most recent political fall dropped long before his expulsion, as a new generation of Italian political leadership has increasingly taken center-stage in Italian politics.

The first sign was the decision among the center-right ministers in the current ‘grand coalition’ government headed by center-left prime minister Enrico Letta to push back against Berlusconi’s September attempt to bring down the government through a vote of no confidence.  Ostensibly, Berlusconi was registering disapproval over the rise of Italy’s VAT from 21% to 22%, but he certainly must have hoped that he could marshal the center-right’s unity to bring down the Letta government, thereby bringing about new elections before the Senate even had a chance to expel him.  Despite initially supporting Berlusconi (who has never served as a minister in the Letta government), deputy prime minister Angelino Alfano and the other ministers gradually pulled away from Berlusconi’s position.  By the time that the Italian parliament voted, Berlusconi himself had resigned to supporting Letta’s government.

The second sign was the formal rupture in mid-November of the party formerly known as Il Popolo della Libertà (PdL, People of Freedom).  When Berlusconi tried to rechristen the party under the name of his initial 1994 party, Forza Italia, Alfano and the other moderates within the party pulled out of Forza Italia to form their own bloc, the Nuovo Centrodestra (New Center-Right).  The split meant that Alfano and his allies would continue to support the coalition government and that Berlusconi and his shrinking core of allies would pull their support from the coalition government — it’s a mutually convenient arrangement for both Berlusconi and Alfano, who remain united over their opposition to Berlusconi’s eviction last week and who would still run together under the same broad centrodestra (center-right) umbrella in the event of a new election.  Alfano can play the role of a statesman, and Berlusconi, free from the burdens of government (if not free from the demands of criminal liability) will be able to attack Letta and the center-left without abandon.

For his part, Letta will call a new no-confidence vote on December 11 in the wake of the center-right split, asserting control over his government in the post-Berlusconi era, giving Letta a new chance to deliver on the two major issues that his coalition was designed to address — fiscal reforms to make the Italian economy more competitive and election reforms to fix a helter-skelter system that’s partly responsible for the inertia of Italian government.

Compared to those two efforts, the formal vote to kick Berlusconi out of the Senate was a relatively minor affair.

Berlusconi supplanted Alfano, a former minister of justice and Berlusconi’s one-time protégé, to lead the center-right in the election campaign earlier this year.  Berlusconi’s shrewd success showcased his residual appeal to Italian voters — Berlusconi powered the centrodestra from a huge deficit to coming within 0.4% of defeating the centrosinistra (center-left) coalition.  It’s now a cliché to say that it’s never wise to count Berlusconi out, due not just to Berlusconi’s two decades at the center of Italian politics and power, but also to his wealth and ability to shape opinion through the ownership of much of Italy’s private media.

Polls showed an uptick in Berlusconi’s popularity in the wake of the Senate’s decision, and a December 2 Tecnè poll found that his new Forza Italia still wins about 22% of Italian voters — that’s just around 1% less than Beppe Grillo’s protest Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement) and around 4% less than Italy’s main center-left party, the Partido Democratico (PD, Democratic Party).  While Alfano’s New Center-Right wins just 6.9% of the vote, the centrodestra would win around 36% of the vote if an election were held tomorrow to just 31% for the centrosinistra.

‘Aha!,’ say Berlusconi watchers — even at his weakest point, he’s still driving Italian politics.

But it seems more likely today than ever that Berlusconi will never again be Italy’s prime minister.  Continue reading Rise of new Italian political leadership eclipses Berlusconi’s expulsion from the Senate

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

letta

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

Berlusconi verdict plunges Italian right (and everyone else) into uncharted uncertainty

berlusconiverdict

Although Italy’s highest court upheld a one-year sentence against former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi today, the longtime center-right leader made it clear that he intended to remain in the thick of Italian politics for the next year and then some.Italy Flag Icon

Berlusconi’s legendary legal troubles outdate even his nearly two-decade political career, but today was the first time that Italy’s Corte di Cassazione (Court of Cassation) upheld any of Berlusconi’s multiple criminal convictions.  The decision upheld Berlusconi’s conviction for tax fraud and upheld the four-year sentence, though the actual sentence has been reduced to one year, thanks to an amnesty passed into law by former center-left prime minister Romano Prodi back in 2006.  But Berlusconi is unlikely headed to prison anytime soon, due to his advanced age (76) and the fact that this is technically his first final conviction — Berlusconi has successfully appealed previous convictions or otherwise evaded jail time due to immunity while in public office or through the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Furthermore, the court remanded for review by the lower appeals court in Milan a previous five-year ban on holding public office, which the court ruled should not last five years, but instead between one and three years.  Berlusconi’s public service ban will therefore need to be confirmed by the upper house of Italy’s parliament, the Senato (Senate).

That creates an immediate tripwire for prime minister Enrico Letta’s ‘grand coalition’ government that has brought Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà (PdL, the People of Freedom) together with the center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party).  Together, the two parties hold a majority in the Senate, but the PdL holds just 98 out of 315 seats.  Berlusconi’s ally, the Lega Nord (Northern League), holds an additional 18 seats, even though it’s chosen not to join the current governing coalition.  So in order to evade the public office ban, Berlusconi will need the support of the Letta and the Democrats, and there’s a real danger that Berlusconi will threaten to bring the Letta government down unless they back him.

But that’s assuming the Letta government even makes it that far, in light of an economy that shrank by 0.6% in the first quarter of 2013 alone and  a generation-high unemployment rate of 12.2% as of May 2013.  Despite Letta’s hopes to reform Italian finances, the PdL campaigned on reversing an unpopular property tax levied by the previous technocratic government of prime minister Mario Monti last year, so Berlusconi and his allies are pushing to scrap the property levy and to prevent a proposed 1% increase in the highest bracket of Italy’s value-added tax.  Meanwhile, Berlusconi’s top lieutenant, deputy prime minister and interior minister Angelino Alfano is under fire for the swift deportation of the wife and six-year-old daughter of Kazakh dissident oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov in May.  Letta’s minister for integration, Cécile Kyenge, and Italy’s first black government minister, has faced a barrage of racial slurs — most recently, an opponent threw bananas at her during a speech last week.

Monti, who formed the centrist, pro-reform Scelta Civica (Civic Choice) in advance of February’s election, and who, alongside other centrist allies, forms the third and smallest bloc in the governing coalition, is allegedly so frustrated that he was ready to resign as leader of his own party yesterday.

Beppe Grillo, the leader of the protest Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement), which finished a strong third-place in February’s elections and who has refused to ally with either the Italian right or the Italian left, compared the Berlusconi conviction to the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall at his popular blog earlier today.

The volatile Berlusconi is also appealing a preliminary conviction of paying for sex with underaged Moroccan dancer Karima el-Mahroug and of abuse of office after trying to pressure local authorities to release the dancer after an alleged theft.

After today’s verdict, Berlusconi lashed out in a television address (pictured above) against what he called an irresponsible judiciary, as he’s done so many times before — he attacked the judiciary as a dangerous and unelected branch of government that began with the judicial investigations of the Tangentopoli (Bribesville) scandal in 1992 and 1993 that so thoroughly wiped out the longstanding Italian political order that it marks the unofficial designation between Italy’s ‘first’ and ‘second’ republics.  Berlusconi reiterated plans, unveiled just last week, to change the name of his party back to its original name, Forza Italia, in a bid to attract younger voters, renewing speculation that he may be preparing to pass his political baton to his 46-year-old daughter, Marina Berlusconi.

So Berlusconi may well just try to roll the dice by bringing the coalition down immediately and move for early elections now.

He would do so knowing that the Democratic Party itself remains hopelessly divided and leaderless — Letta, though he is prime minister, remains the deputy prime minister of the party, pending a still-unscheduled leadership election later this year.  Though 38-year-old Florence mayor Matteo Renzi is the most popular politician in the country, having harnessed the frustration of Italians with the entire spectrum of current political leadership, his potential leadership of the party remains controversial.  It could well result in the disintegration of Italy’s Democratic Party, which formed in 2007 after a gradual melding of former moderate Italian Communists and former liberal Christian Democrats.

The latest polls show, essentially, a toss-up: the centrosinistra would win 33.7%, the centrodestra would win 34.3%, Grillo’s Five Star Movement would win 20.6%, and Monti’s centrists would win just 6.1%.

As the always-sharp Alberto Nardelli concluded earlier today:

It’s impossible to make predictions on what will happen next as we’re in unchartered territory, but what is certain is that today was one of the most significant events in Italy’s recent political history and the consequences and risks could be dire however you look at it. Continue reading Berlusconi verdict plunges Italian right (and everyone else) into uncharted uncertainty

Prodi emerges as united center-left’s presidential candidate in Italy

prodi

So with the third ballot completed in the election of Italy’s new president, the centrosinistra (center-left) has a new candidate for the fourth ballot — which can be won by a simple majority — former prime minister Romano Prodi.Italy Flag Icon

Prodi is no doubt the most successful member of the Italian center-left in postwar history, winning the 1996 and the 2006 elections, though he failed to serve out the full terms in either case.

On the one hand, Prodi is a superb, even canny, choice — he has much more international credibility than Franco Marini as a former president of the European Commission, he has a lot of goodwill for pushing through a limited set of reforms in the mid 1990s to prepare Italy for entering the eurozone, and he’s generally an even broker.  It’s a much safer bet for the leader of the Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party), Pier Luigi Bersani, who will have re-united his coalition after so damagingly supporting Marini on the first ballot as a consensus candidate who won the backing of Silvio Berlusconi and his centrodestra (center-right) that drew howls from within Bersani’s own party.  Both Florence mayor Matteo Renzi and the leader of the more leftist Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (SEL, Left Ecology Freedom), Nichi Vendola, will support Prodi, and the centrosinistra seems likely to rally around Prodi.

But it’s left Berlusconi angry and further apart than ever from Bersani, which means elections are likelier sooner rather than later.  It’s a much more blatantly political choice than many of the past Italian presidents:

  • current president Giorgio Napolitano was a former Communist, but widely respected and out of the political fray upon his election in 2006;
  • his predecessor Carlo Azeglio Ciampi was a former president of the Banca d’Italia, Italy’s central bank, and a former short-term technocratic prime minister when he was elected in 1999;
  • his predecessor, in turn, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, was a former Christian Democrat and magistrate, elected in 1992.

Prodi’s candidacy will also rankle members of the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement), not to mention the fact that, despite his absence from frontline politics since 2008, Prodi still represents much of the old fights of the past 20 years in Italian politics.

Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà (PdL, People of Freedom) will cast blank ballots on the fourth vote, and the Five Star Movement will continue to support former leftist parliamentarian and legal scholar Stefano Rodotà.

Although the center-left controls nearly a majority of the seats in the electoral college, it will still need a handful of additional votes for Prodi to win on the fourth ballot, and that’s provided that none of the centrosinistra breaks ranks in what is a secret ballot.  So Prodi’s election is far from certain — if he fails, it’s not certain what will happen on the fifth ballot.

ballot3

Where Italy goes from today’s elections: a look at four potential outcomes

pierluigi

Although we still don’t know exactly how the results of the weekend’s Italian election will turn out entirely, we know enough to say that Italy’s short-term future will be beset with gridlock.Italy Flag Icon

We know that, unless there’s a major change among the final results (very unlikely at this point, but still a possibility — La Repubblica‘s latest count shows a 0.4% gap between the two major coalitions), Pier Luigi Bersani will have led his broad centrosinistra (center-left) coalition to a victory in Italy’s lower house, the 630-member Camera dei Deputati (House of Deputies).  That’s because the national vote winner of the lower house elections automatically wins at least a 54% majority of the seats in the lower house.

We know that, whatever the final result, both Bersani’s centrosinistra coalition and the centrodestra (center-right) coalition led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi will each hold between 110 and 120 seats or so in Italy’s upper house, the Senato, which is composed of 315 elected members and, currently, four additional ‘senators for life.’ (That’s because the majority ‘seat bonus’ is awarded to the winner of each regional vote rather than on a national basis like in the Camera dei Deputati).

It doesn’t really matter who holds the greatest number of senatorial seats, because no group or party will control enough seats in the Senato alone to form a majority government, including Bersani’s coalition.

So given Bersani’s lead in the lower house, whatever government emerges — if a government emerges — will have to include Bersani’s center-left bloc, with presumably Bersani heading the government as prime minister.  In the short term, that puts Bersani in the driver’s seat but not, perhaps, for long.

None of Bersani’s options, frankly, are very stable, for either his center-left coalition or for Italy.

Given the ongoing eurozone sovereign debt crisis, the pressure will be on Bersani and on the entirety of Italy’s political elite, which now must be said to include Beppe Grillo and the leaders of the Movimento 5 Stelle (the Five Star Movement).  Right now, Italy’s 10-year bond rate is 4.49%, much lower than the 7%-and-higher rates that led to the downfall of Berlusconi’s government in November 2011.  But that could change — and fast — if Italy’s political leadership seems unable to form a government.  Grillo and his allies are now stakeholders in ensuring that Italy doesn’t unravel.

If Bersani succeeds in forming a government at all, it will be less stable than any government in Italy’s so-called ‘second republic’ — i.e., the period from the early 1990s to the present that’s been characterized by the downfall of the former Christian Democrats during the 1992 Tangentopoli (‘bribesville’) scandal that implicated virtually all of Italy’s political elite, the emergence in 1994 of Silvio Berlusconi as the head of the mainstream Italian right, and the increasing consolidation of the mainstream Italian left through what’s now become the Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party).

Any Bersani-led government, at this point, will not only be less stable than Berlusconi’s governments, but even less stable than the four notoriously rocky governments of Italian prime ministers Romano Prodi, Massimo D’Alema and Giuliano Amato from 1996 to 2001 and Prodi’s short-lived and troubled return to government from 2006 to 2008.

In light of that bleak background, here are the four potential outcomes over the coming days that you should watch for:

Continue reading Where Italy goes from today’s elections: a look at four potential outcomes

History shows Italy’s likely center-left coalition will likely be short-lived and tenuous

bersanivendola

In the last days of Italy’s election campaign, it’s become somewhat conventional wisdom that although the broad centrosinistra (center-left) coalition headed by prime ministerial candidate Pier Luigi Bersani is still on target to win control of Italy’s lower house of parliament, the Camera dei Deputati (House of Deputies), it’s now a toss-up as to whether Bersani’s coalition will win enough of the 315 seats up for election to the upper house, the Senato (Senate), to form a stable government.Italy Flag Icon

The reason is based on some odd quirks of Italian electoral and constitutional law — the key point is that while elections to both the Camera dei Deputati and the Senato are conducted according to proportional representation, seats are awarded differently between the two.  The party or coalition that wins the largest proportion of the vote nationally will be guaranteed at least 54% of the seats in the Camera dei Deputati, but seats are awarded to the Senato only on a regional basis, so that the largest vote-winner in each of Italy’s 20 regions is guaranteed a majority of the region’s seats.  Given that Lombardy, Campania and Sicily, three of Italy’s four largest regions, are essentially tossups, the centrodestra could win those three regions and deny Bersani a senatorial majority.

For Bersani to control the lower house, but not the upper house, of Italy’s parliament is certainly somewhat of a nightmare for a campaign that led by double digits when the campaign began.

Thus the hand-wringing that Bersani will be forced to assemble a governing coalition that includes not only his electoral partner, the socialist Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (SEL, Left Ecology Freedom), the party of the two-term regional president of Puglia, Nichi Vendola (pictured above, left, with Bersani, right), but also turn to other partners — practically, this means some sort of alliance, in the upper house at least, with the centrist coalition led by prime minister Mario Monti, Con Monti per l’Italia (with Monti for Italy).

If the senatorial balance were, however, incredibly close (say, one to three seats), Bersani might also turn to a tiny number of senators likely to be elected from the predominantly communist Rivoluzione Civile (Civil Revolution) coalition, though it remains to be seen whether they would back Bersani — Vendola would certainly find more common cause with them than with Monti and his allies.

Monti and Vendola have mutually ruled out serving together in the same coalition — although Bersani has already committed to many of the reforms that Monti began, Vendola has been much more critical of the Monti government’s efforts, whcih have included tax increases and tax and labor reform.

It doesn’t help that Vendola, who is openly gay and supports same-sex marriage in Italy, is at contretemps with the social conservative bent of Monti’s coalition.  Although Monti has expressly opposed same-sex marriage and adopt by same-sex couples, the coalition includes the Unione di Centro (UdC, Union of the Centre), comprised of former Christian Democrats and led by Pier Ferdinando Casini, who has very close ties to the Vatican, and Futuro e Libertà per l’Italia (FLI, Future and Freedom), a party formed by Gianfranco Fini, a moderate who once served as Silvio Berlusconi’s foreign minister.

There are no easy answers for Bersani, and on Monday, Wolfgang Münchau at The Financial Times predicted a re-run of the prior leftist government of former prime minister Romano Prodi, who came to office in April 2006 as the moderate head of a wide-ranging leftist coalition that included relatively moderate former Christian Democrats, more progressive social democrats and die-hard communists (including Fausto Bertinotti, who became the president of the Camera dei Deputati from 2006 to 2008).

That government fell in early 2008 over a vote of no confidence in the Senato, when senator-for-life and former Christian Democratic prime minister Giulio Andreotti scuttled an attempt to pass equal civil rights for same-sex partners.

So Münchau is right to predict that the chances of a full five-year — or even one-year — government are fairly slim in the event of an unwieldy coalition that would include not only Vendola and Bersani (difficult enough), but also Casini, Fini and Monti.

That will certainly cause even more hand-wringing and not just in Milan and Rome, but in Berlin, Brussels, London and Washington, too — without a stable government to assure investors, a new Italian financial crisis could once again endanger the future viability of the single currency.  That’s assuming that Italy, and the other troubled economies of the eurozone, finds a path out from the wilderness of increasing unemployment and low or declining GDP growth.  The reality is that the next government, whether led by Monti, Berlusconi or Bersani, will face a lot of incredibly difficult and painful choices for Italy’s future.

But the troubling precedents go beyond the most recent Prodi government — the Italian left has been long fragmented and disorganized since the end of the ‘first republic’ and the breakup of the former Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI, Italian Communist Party), which goes a long way in explaining how dysfunctional leftist governments have been in Italy.  Continue