Berlusconi III: Revenge of the Sithio

Haven’t we seen this movie before? Will it be any better this time? Can Italy afford another round of Silvi B?

I know what could make this a great term of office! Start a new campaign: Tyrolia is only Italian! Because it’s worked so well for Greece

Update: I see that David is as enthusiastic as I am.

Italy’s upcoming election: another parliamentary stalemate in the making?

In less than a week Italy will be holding a general election three years ahead of schedule, but before I explain how the upcoming vote may lead to another gridlock, I believe an introduction is in order. My name is Manuel Alvarez-Rivera and I’m the webmaster of Election Resources on the Internet, where I cover elections and electoral systems around the world, mainly (but by no means exclusively) in Europe; I also write about the same topics at the Global Economy Matters (GEM) blog with fellow AFOE authors Edward Hugh and Claus Vistesen. I would like to take a moment to thank the AFOE team for inviting me as a guest poster, all the more so since the ocassion has a special significance to me: my collaboration on GEM with Edward was the outgrowth of his reply to an e-mail I sent to the editors of this blog two years ago, regarding Italy’s closely fought election.

As it happens, two years later Italy is back to the polls, following the collapse of Romano Prodi’s center-left coalition government earlier this year, and the last opinion polls published in March showed a consistent lead for the new, center-right People of Freedom Party (PdL) headed by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which – in coalition with the Northern League (LN) and the Movement for Autonomy (MpA) – appeared set to capture an overall majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies under the country’s 2005 proportional representation with majority prize electoral law.

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A Crisis is Born in Italy

Well as almost everyone must surely know by now, Romano Prodi’s government resigned earlier in the week. The present situation is still far from clear, with President Giorgio Napolitano holding urgent consultations with the various interested parties even as I write. Since my interest in Italy is largely an economic one (see accompanying post to follow this) and since I do not consider myself to be any sort of expert on the Italian political process, I asked Manuel Alvarez Rivera (who runs the Election Resources on the Internet site) and who is a political scientist with detailed knowledge of Italian politics for an opinion. Below the fold you can find what he sent me.

At the same time anyone inside or outside of Italy with a different take or perspective please feel free to add something in the comments section.
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Litvinenko, UKIP, Berlusconi

The Litvinenko case just gets weirder, although perhaps a little simpler. Yesterday’s Observer ran a long report based on the testimony of a Russian doctoral student in London who got in touch with him whilst looking for information on Chechnya. Apparently he boasted of having not only a dossier on the Yukos case, but also sources in the FSB who would provide him with documents on command. He also said he planned to blackmail the Russian government and prominent persons with these documents, in order to escape his financial dependence on Berezovsky.

On the other hand, the role of Mario Scaramella becomes a little clearer with this must-read report in the Independent. It seems that essentially everything he has told British reporters is untrue. He is not an investigating magistrate, nor a professor, nor does his “Environmental Crime Protection Project” exist in any signal way. Instead, he appears to be a political operative of some kind.
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Political Tide Still Flowing Leftward in Italy

Prodi’s majorities in Parliament are still slim, and factional infighting is likely to remain Florentine, but Berlusconi’s political fortunes continued to float away in municipal elections just passed.

The municipal elections held in Italy from May 28 to 29 did not offer Berlusconi the revenge he was seeking. Massimo Giannini, the daily’s deputy editor, looks at the results and at a missed opportunity for the former prime minister. “The revenge, the dirty trick, the stiff uppercut, whatever the precise lexical nuance, Berlusconi’s political sally has failed. The municipal elections as an instrument of grass-roots ‘Jacquerie’ that was supposed to definitively deprive the centre-left government of its legitimacy – this strategy did not work. … And the 15 million Italians who went to the polls did not change the result of April 9 to 10 [legislative elections]. Much to the contrary. … The centre-left no longer has an alibi; it now has no choice but to govern. It can count on a new base: the roughly three million young people who massively voted for it.”

From La Repubblica via Eurotopics

Berlusgone

Well, this is a little late, but we ought to put on record that the fun-lovin’ minicaudillo’s fingers were eventually pried from the Italian prime ministership. As predicted, he went out with a considerable degree of low comedy, as the Italian senate struggled to elect a speaker largely because the Berlusconi side insisted on making a fuss about whether ballots cast for the eventual winner read “Franco” or “Francesco” Marini. Eventually, though, it was done.

The Senate speakership had been the last real opportunity to cling on, as the Left has a working majority in the lower house and therefore appointed its man without trouble. The deeper play of the Senate vote, by the way, was an effort to cause trouble in the Unione’s ranks – Romano Prodi chose to put forward a Refounded Communist, Faustino Bertinotti, as speaker of the lower house, thus getting the far Left on side, and therefore needed to balance the ticket by putting someone from the ex-Christian Democrat wing of his coalition in the Senate. This being achieved, Berlusconi had no longer any excuse to hang on.

The next problem will be to elect a President. In Italy, the presidency is a nonexecutive position more like that of Germany than that of France, but the president does choose who is asked to form a government, so without a prez there can be no prime minister. Now, the simplest option would just have been to re-elect Ciampi, but he says he’s too old. This is where it gets complicated, because a super-majority is needed to elect a president.

Recalling that the Refounded Communists got the speakership of the lower house, and the ex-democristiani the speakership of the upper house (and in all probability the prime ministership). Which major faction on the left is empty-handed? That’s right, the non-refounded communists, who in fact really did refound themselves to become the Democratic Left, unlike their former comrades in the Refoundation who didn’t refound themselves and remained communist. Their leader, former PM Massimo D’Alema, was therefore put forward as a candidate for the presidency even though the chance of Berlusconi’s side supporting him was exactly nil.

In fact, the Right is threatening a campaign of mass demonstrations in the event of his election, and suggesting that Marini be the President. This, your keen and agile minds will soon perceive, is a transparent device to reopen the speakership issue and thus destabilise the Left. Alternatively, the Right proposes, the secretary of the Presidency, Gianni Letta, might be a candidate.
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Italian Elections: Still too close to call.

UPDATE below the fold.

With respect to the Italian elections, there’s still only one thing certain – it’s going to be a long night, and, possibly, not the last one. There have apparently been, if my rudimentary understanding of Italian news broadcaster Rai News 24 is correct, unjustified delays in data processing. Thus, given the closeness of the race between the center-left and center-right coalitions, Italian expatriats may be the ones who cast the decisive votes for both lower and upper chambers of the Italian Parliament, since a law, introduced in 2001 formed four “overseas constituencies.” They will, accordingly, choose 12 of the 630 MPS in the lower, and six of the the 315 senators in the upper house.

So, instead of news, just some more context. At wwitv.com you can find a whole page full of web streams provided by Italian tv stations. Electionresources.com features a long explanation of the Italian electoral systems, both old and new. As the author, Manuel Álvarez-Rivera explains, the system has been altered in numerous ways for this election -

It is widely anticipated that in the event of an Unione victory under the new PR systems, the resulting center-left majorities in both houses of Parliament would be considerably smaller than under the previous systems, and the leader of the Unione, former Prime Minister (and former President of the European Commission) Romano Prodi has promised to undo the changes if the center-left returns to power in this year’s elections.

Finally, here’s the google-translated election website provided by Italy’s interior ministery, which, hopefully, is, where you can find the eventual election results as soon as they are released officially.
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The Market Speaks…and Jörg Packs

Well, by 1630 CET today, the Milan stock market had made a very clear judgment on the outcome of the Italian elections – the MIBTEL index being up just under 1 per cent intraday, despite a pasting for Berlusconi’s own Mediaset..down 1.98 per cent at €9.68 a share. Berlusconi’s departure seems welcome indeed.

More exit poll results are spilling out all the time, showing the Left with a working majority in both houses. So far, the only weirdness has been the rather idiosyncratic kerfuffle in the town of Amelia (German link), where a protest led to the removal of crosses from all polling stations on the grounds of constitutionally guaranteed secularism, and predictable moaning from the ex/post/neo/whatever-fascists. A small outbreak of laicisme.

Oh yes, and this…sorry, more German linkage. Seems Jörg Haider, fun-lovin’ pseudofascist scandal monkey and governor of the Austrian province of Kärnten, is going to stand for election in 2009…in Italy, as a candidate for a party advocating Venetian independence. Not just Northern independence as per routine Liga Nord stupidity, but independence for the Most Serene Republic herself.

Strange really. I’ve always thought of Haider as a man out of place, a Mediterranean politician stuck on the wrong side of the Alps with the Germans. His demagoguery, rocambolesque coalition whoring and-to be brutally frank-corruption and barely concealed racism would have fitted beautifully into Silvio Berlusconi’s recent campaign, the municipal authorities of Marbella, or perhaps the intrigues of southern French Gaullism. Carinthia produced far more than its fair share of Nazis, as did many similarly debatable provinces on the edges of the German linguistic sphere, and in a sense his pumped-up nationalism fits the pattern.

Until you remember that he’s not actually from there at all (not far from Linz, actually), and in fact is putting on the overcompensated border nationalism to ingratiate himself with the overcompensated border nationalists. Which fits, too.

But it’s going to be fun to watch.

Italian Elections

Well it’s not official yet, but the first exit poll has Berlusconi trailing:

An exit poll Monday showed conservative Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi trailing center-left challenger Romano Prodi in parliamentary elections. The Nexus poll indicated that Prodi’s coalition received between 50 and 54 percent of the vote in both the upper and lower chambers of parliament, while Berlusconi’s coalition received 45-49 percent.

Obviously this is the ‘early days’ stage, and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. I will be updating as the day (or night) wears on.

Update I: It’s looking firmer for Prodi. More exit polls are coming up with similar results. For example the Piepoli Institute’s exit polls for Sky TG24 have given the Prodi coalition 52 percent to 47 percent for Berlusconi’s centre-right and for both houses.

Update II. Tobias has now posted more extensively. First thing Tuesday morning the outcome is still in doubt, and those who were sceptical about the early exit polls were right to be so. Prodi is now claiming victory, but this is being challenged vigorously by the Berlusconi camp. The margin is wafer thin for the lower house (the Chamber of Deputies, or ‘Camera’), with Prodi’s having 49.80 per cent of the vote as compared to 49.73 per cent for Berlusconi’s House of Freedoms (a difference of a mere 25,000 votes). Naturally calls for a recount abound. The position of the Senate is still in doubt. There is currently a one seat difference between the camps (in favour of Berlusconi) but six more seats based on overseas votes are still to be allocated.

Wikipedia have a substantial entry on the elections themselves, and another on the Italian parliament, which may prove useful in understanding things if the final out come is ultimately a ‘hung’ parliament.