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The Italian Elections: A Greek-Roman Tragedy

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The Italian elections ended with the predicted result of an absence of a clear majority able to govern the country. Speculations and negotiations are now on the way to find a solution in a political crisis that start to resemble to that of Greece some time ago.

Results

The centre-left coalition of Pier Luigi Bersani (Democratic Party PD) and Nichi Vendola (Ecology Freedom and Left SEL) managed to gain 29.54% at the lower house and 31.6% at the Senate, meaning that, although victorious, they won’t be able to govern. In the lower house they obtained a majority by top up of seats bringing their number to 340, but in the upper house, where regional result make its effects, they have only 133 out of the required 159 to govern.

Silvio Berlusconi and its People’s Freedom PDL, allied with the Northern League, managed to cling to a 29.31% at the lower house and 30.66% at the Senate, with respectively 124 and 116 seats. Due to the success of the PDL-Northern League in Lombardy, they have more senators than PD-SEL.

However the big result came from Beppe Grillo’s Movement Five Stars M5S which collected 25.55% in lower house and 23.79% in the Senate. M5S has 108 seats in lower and 54 at the Senate, being also the first party in lower house and second in Senate.

Mario Monti deluded by collecting 9.13% and 18 seats in Senate and 10.54% with 45 seats in lower house.

The above results, which were largely predicted by analysts, are only the crude confirmation of the illnesses and decline of the political system in Italy, warning obviously not heard or taken seriously by many political figures starting with the big losers of the centre-left coalition.

Winners and Losers

The centre-left coalition appear as the biggest hit by these elections along with ex-premier Mario Monti. The PD paid an electoral campaign based on miscalculation of reality and dreams of an easy victory. If until four months ago they were set for a landslide victory, as suggested by recent regional and administrative polls, this has now been reduced to a slim victory and even a nearly defeat at the lower house. Their defeat in Lombardy, Sicily and Campania, came as a result of an electoral campaign wasted in proclamation of victory already in the pocket, talks of possible alliances with Mario Monti and speculations whether the relation between Vendola and Monti would take off. This policy, commonly branded as “inciucio” or negotiations to share the cake, was the main argument of Beppe Grillo’s M5S movement, and ended pushing the indecisive voters to his arms. Bersani underestimated the increasing tide of Grillo’s movement and even the effect of Berlusconi’s return. PD appeared to many voters as uncertain on programs, ready to fight to cure economic illnesses but at the same time appeasing Mario Monti; talking about workers’ rights and trying not to angry financial institutions. This made-up coalition, which no one is really sure if will even stay together in case of victory, paid the higher price.

Mario Monti is the second in list to have been punished by these polls; his movement, Monti per l’Italia, did not appeal to voters as many angrily reacted to his policies and saw his return as something to avoid. The fact that he could in a way return by signing an alliance with PD definitely shifted the last indecisive voters to Grillo or even Berlusconi. Monti and PD however shared a common story outside the borders, where Italian resident abroad gave them large majority and performed well above the average.

The big winner is obviously the comedian Beppe Grillo, who collected most votes from unsatisfied voters with institutional parties, corruption and bribery, austerity measures and EU diktats. In addition, in the last two weeks, managed to steal voters especially from the centre-left coalition who were increasingly uncomfortable with the constant talking of possible alliances with Monti. This movement, which continued to rise despite attacks from traditional parties, is mainly being fuelled by dissatisfaction with a corrupt élite and decadence out of control.

Berlusconi is clearly the other winner of these elections; his coalition, given for dead until few months ago, regain momentum since his return and a populist policy accompanied by usual promises did pay off once more time. His victory, however, is more due to low profile and underestimation from opponents rather than the fruit of an effective policy. Nevertheless, this now put Berlusconi in a position to be a decider and influence the next consultations.

Analysis

The Italian elections brought up to the surface the limits and incapacity of the current political leadership to deal with the country’s issues in a mature and effective way. The Italian democracy is now at a standstill and the institutional block has been defeated. The Italian electorate, like everywhere, is made of a large sector of voter-shifters, those who can change position at every election and whose weight is decisive for a victory. This kind of electorate is generally malleable and ready to listen to any sort of proclaim but limited by short-sightedness. The general dissatisfaction with traditional coalitions and their policies pushed many of these voters in two directions: Grillo or Berlusconi.

The first received mainly support from angrier voters, willing to send a strong signal; the second gained the most by his populist policies based on the fact that many voters wanted to see what they can get from it. It is easy to accuse Berlusconi to buy voters but what about those who are not ashamed to sell their votes to have something in return? Berlusconi, who is astute and knows very well how to sell, once again used his preferred arm against the opponents who in return made the same errors of the past by campaigning against his personal figure rather than to concentrate on programs. This gave the idea that whilst PD and Monti did not have any clear agenda, Berlusconi at least was proposing something.

Grillo’s movement by achieving a historic victory, however raised doubts about its strength in the long-term: how he will cope inside the institutions he despises? How younger and inexpert politicians will react in front of a ruthless political class? They will resist temptations? Will the access to power ruin their identity and beliefs?

The movement appears as anti-everything, but what exactly are they proposing many people don’t know. They talk about reduction on MPs, salaries, referendum on Euro, end of austerity, control of corruption, which are all good proposal, but how to realise that?

PD can easily govern the lower house but at the Senate will need more seats and even with Monti will not be enough. Grillo already close the door to any proposal calling Bersani “a dead man talking”, therefore leaving as only option an unlikely alliance with Berlusconi, for a majority that will not last probably until summer.

All the above is therefore starting to resemble that of Greece few months ago.

The Greek Medicine: Get Rid of Syriza aka Grillo

PD, PDL and Monti are the hardest hit by the protest vote of Grillo; they are all identified by disillusioned Italians as the main responsible of the mess into which lives the country and, as per Greece, ended up voting to those parties who seems to be outside that oligarchic circle of vice. As per Greece, Grillo represents the “Syriza factor”, an all-out protest movement against the establishment but with a difference: Syriza was a structured and well organised party with an actual programme and design. When Greeks voted in the first round, the outcome was the same as per Italy, traditional parties lost ground against populist and far left movements. With the impossibility to form a stable government and Syriza uncompromising stance, the result was new elections and the victory of established parties.

The case of Italy is so far similar: centre-left, centre-right and Monti paid tribute to Grillo’s energy and no alliance is possible. So what next? The Greek example show a possible way, which is to get rid of the uncompromising party: M5S.
In Greece’s second elections, a wild and ferocious campaign was held by the main parties against Syriza and the risk, if successful, that Greece would be expelled from EU or leaves the Euro. The scaremongering tactics backed by EU countries such Germany and France and financial institutions, instilled fears among Greeks that a Syriza government will lead to ruin. As said above, Greece like Italy has a fluctuant electorate that follows the tide and when this campaign made his mark, all those people who voted for Syriza in the first elections disappeared giving a majority to the same parties that lead Greece to disaster.

Could this system work in Italy? Based on what we have seen so far this scenario is not unlikely and the fear instilled into the traditional parties of losing the grip on privileges and power could ultimately lead them to work together against the common enemy. EU, the markets and the financial institutions are following closely, and we can stay sure that interference, although soft, will start to increase when the reality of chronic instability materializes in front of the Italians. It will be left to the Italians to prove their maturity at the polls.

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Written by Matteo Figus

28/02/2013 at 10:54

Posted in Analysis, Europe

Tagged with ,

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