Italy’s 62nd Government: Berlusconi’s tris

, by Elena Montani

Italy's 62nd Government: Berlusconi's tris

The Italian elections held on April 13 and 14 have in many ways yielded more than their fair share of surprises. The foremost result that one notices is the striking majority of votes garnered by Berlusconi’s coalition. This coalition, comprised of Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà, Lega Nord (Northern League) and Movimento per l’Autonomia (a sort of Southern League) heavily dominated the elections. The coalition won Veltroni’s coalition with 46.8% against 37.6% at the Chamber of Deputies and with 47.3% against 38% at the Senate.

In terms of seats, Berlusconi obtains 171 seats out of 315 in the Senate and 340 out of 630 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Such a strong majority in both chambers was not at all obvious before the elections, also because of the strange ibridum created by the Italian electoral system. This system, primarily proportionate but also with strong majority premiums and high thresholds for small single parties, has not served Italians well.

Behind these self-explanatory figures lies another important result, one which will strongly influence the development of the institutional and political scene in Italy.

3 important outcomes of these elections

First of all, Berlusconi’s party has not won alone. On the contrary, the support of Libertà’s allies, especially Lega Nord, has been exceptionally instrumental in the landslide victory. Lega Nord, a party which is present mainly in the North of Italy and which claims autonomy – or even independence – for the North of Italy from the central Government, has been chosen by 8.1% of the total number of votes. This is double the vote that they have captured in previous elections. In Lombardy and Veneto, Lega Nord obtained a significant victory – nearly 30% of the vote.

Second, and even more striking, for the first time since 1946 – when the Italian Republic was founded – the communists will not have any representation in Parliament. Sinistra Arcobaleno, the list led by Bertinotti which welds together the extreme left, the greens and other smaller parties, has not passed the threshold of 4% of the votes required for the Chamber, nor (by far) the 8% threshold in any of the regions in order to be represented in the Senate.

Thirdly, the political landscape, at least the one that will be represented in the Parliament, has become much less pluralistic. Only five parties managed to obtain seats: on the centre-right, Berlusconi’s PDL and Lega Nord; on the centre-left, Veltroni’s Partito democratico and his ally Italia dei Valori (lead by former magistrate Di Pietro); on the centre, Casini’s Unione di Centro. All other smaller parties, including the extreme left, the greens, the extreme right, the socialists, the republicans and the liberals, have disappeared for the moment from the Italian representative institutions.

Changing Italian political landscape

The greater picture which emerges from these figures present a few, but important, indications the Italian electorate has given to its political leaders: a preference should be accorded to the bigger rather than the smaller lists. Support for small lists which have continuously endangered or even caused the regular Italian political crises should be forgone; general political stability and bi-bipartisanism should be the primary concern of Italian polity. The rising influence of autonomous parties (i.e. Lega Nord) is a consequence of the inefficiency and the wasted resources perceived by the management of the national administration. A strong and definite defeat of the communist left (and the greens), which will have to reconsider their role and strategy, and reflection upon their (ir)responsibilities in particular while being at the Government of the country together with other allies.

Italy needs now concrete action and courageous political choices

The positive news for Italy is that the country, after many years of chronic instability and fractured small party coalitions with serious divergences on priority topics, can finally boast a Government with a clear majority. This majority promises potential for going towards a true two-party-system. Questions remain, though, regarding the political direction the future Government will take, especially when it pertains to European and international issues. The third time of the Cavaliere at the head of Italy is surely not good news for the rest of Europe, not only considering the policies he adopted in the past (putting always national – when not individual – interests on top, using Brussels as a scapegoat for every internal problem), but especially taking into account the loyalist, secessionist and xenophobic view of his (presently) strong ally, Lega Nord.

Conclusion

A fair prediction of the new balance that will be achieved and the consequent choices of the winning coalition poses a difficultly at the moment. The climate is still overwhelmingly dominated by emotions and promises, rather than reality and concrete strategies. Certainly, what Italy needs is neither good declarations of principles, nor individualism and isolation. The Italian economy is based on an increasing debt. Research is at a minimum level, and inflation has caused the prices to rise while the salaries remain static. Old generations have major difficulties in eking out a living on their tiny pensions and younger sets are finding it increasingly more problematic to find employment; in light of this evidence, the “brain drain” is an ever more important reality.

Italy needs now concrete action and courageous political choices – those which cannot be the produced by the limited judgement of a single coalition - even one with an important majority. These choices have to be made on the basis of a sense that the state as a whole needs to recover. These choices have to represent the will of more than just half of the Italian population. They have to represent also those who, tired of the impasse that has dominated the country for years, are now too tired and disappointed of choosing one political party or another. We have to start from scratch; parties have to cancel their old or new oppositions and start working towards common goals: the interest of the Italian citizens, the future of Europe, and justice in the world.

Image: Silvio Berlusconi during his election campaign in Palermo 6th April 2008, Fiera del Mediterraneo; source: Flickr.

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