by de Gondi
Wed Apr 2nd, 2008 at 04:40:53 AM EST
158 parties with 181 symbols have been admitted to the Italian electoral pageant. Of course almost none of these parties will make it through the labyrinthine quorum system.
In order to win seats in the House, a coalition must garner at least 10% of the votes on a national basis. A party that stands alone must cull 4%, while a party within a coalition need only 2%. This hardly thwarts parties that would never make it to either threshold. If there's no seat, one can settle for a low government position, a fat contract down the line - or just a pay-off. In the best of cases there's the mechanism called the "best loser" clause. The best placed loser in the election gets a seat just for the effort. The Senate quorums instead are calculated on a regional basis, 20% minimum for coalitions and 8% for single lists.
Also see the Introduction. Promoted by DoDo
Now all of this is further complicated by a bonus system which, like one of those Sunday evening family game shows, has prizes and block buster sweepstakes - yet fails to take into account that real life is full of jollies. In fact law 270/2005 turned the Senate into a toto-system with a pool of 17 regions or "games" where hazard plays a crucial role. This can produce paradoxical situations in which an opponent party can cheer for an adversary in a particular region (the so-called "disjunctive vote"). There is no failsafe way to predict an outcome in the Senate.
In short, with two legislative chambers with practically identical functions but expressing different electoral compositions, Italy is condemned to be ungovernable. The bottom line is that any government in Italy still has to have approval in both the House and a Senate where anything goes. A unique double whooper that no other state on the planet has taken the luxury to inflict on its citizenry. Researchers quickly concluded that with the present law the coalitions should refrain from provoking government crisis in the Senate. A call for an agreement between gentlefolk that went unheeded.
For the sake of brevity, I'll spare further comment. For those who are interested in the chronic institutional crisis in Italy and the present electoral law there are links and a bibliography below. Fortunately none of this concerns Italians abroad who are left to cope with a fairly straight-forward system of representation.
There are several reasons for this exceptional demonstration of democracy, this vivacious grabble of parties. And one of them is not to focalize on an issue or a program. Put aside the Internet Party, the Don't Vote Party or the Liberal Catholic Holy Roman Empire And So On Party. A small party may use leverage to get a tithe off a bigger party that needs those crucial votes, as said above. The most notorious recent case was Clemente Mastella's Udeur which did help win the Campania to the center-left coalition in the last elections. Minister of Justice, no less. Another reason is to qualify for state subventions if a minimum of votes are racked up. And yet another ploy is to disperse votes that would go to the adversary by creating parties that mimic the adversary's party. There are also copy-cat parties, one of which was to Berlusconi's undoing in Veneto last time around. In the end in the 2006 elections both coalitions consisted of 20 parties each.
Italy is not the only country that enjoys a robust pick of parties. Israel, Belgium and the Nordic nations do have juicy national lists and parliaments with quite a few parties. But no nation beats Italy when it comes to putting together a government. For the Prodi government it took eight parties just for the ministers and twenty with all the undersecretaries included. A mock majoritarian system plagued by fragmentation.
Now with all this in mind we can put the present campaign in context.
It was a surprise gambit by Walter Veltroni that upset the game. Veltroni decided immediately to run as a single party, not a coalition, and he dared Berlusconi to do the same. Berlusconi had no intention of taking up the challenge although it put him in an unfavourable light. In the popular imagination a parallel between David and the Philistines took form. Veltroni had no intention of putting together an elephantine coalition of the sort Prodi had been forced to make and govern with. He interpreted the put-off of many Italians for decades of bickering coalitions. Better alone and go down with honour.
His move radically changed the electoral panorama. The rest of the center-left broke up and formed an improvised coalition called the Rainbow Left (Sinistra Arcobaleno). Berlusconi's rightwing coalition, which had already collapsed in November 2007, was hastily patched together. It however lost its key "centrist" group in the person of "pluri-candidate" Pier Ferdinando Casini, head of the UDC (Union of Democrat Christians) and is hounded on the right by the far rightwing La Destra, generously encouraged and financed in the past by Berlusconi himself.
Veltroni then partially back stepped and accepted to run with two parties in a situationist, streamlined coalition largely on his own conditions that both parties be absorbed into the Democratic Party. Both parties have solid voter basins and had worked well in the Prodi government. They were Antonio Di Pietro's Italia dei Valori and Emma Bonino's Radical Party. The latter party, known for its civic campaigns in the 70's (divorce, abortion), was welcomed by many as a counterweight to the Vatican theodem presence in Veltroni's Democratic Party. It was deplored by the Vatican.
On a national level there are approximately sixteen lists of which four are main contenders. There are two major contenders for premiership: the so-called "People of Liberties" rightwing coalition that consists mainly of eight recognizable parties plus a funeral of mayfly parties, and Veltroni's Democratic Party allied with the two parties mentioned above.
The other two coalitions that may gain seats in parliament are the Left Rainbow coalition represented by pluri-candidates Fausto Bertinotti and Pecoraro Scanio (Oliviero Diliberto has declined candidacy this time), and the "centrist" UDC coalition with Pier Ferdinando Casini as candidate premier. A fifth coalition that could ruin the party is La Destra coalition which has candidate Daniela Santanché as premier. These last three minor coalitions are crucial in determining the composition of the future parliament as well as the outcome of who will be designated to form a government. Even if it is unlikely that La Destra will be represented in parliament, it may make the difference, especially in Lazio, of who wins the national elections.
I have tried to show the difficulties in evaluating the outcome of the national elections. Polls and past election results favour Berlusconi. Veltroni has closed the gap but seemed to stabilize around minus 6%. However, now that polls are no longer allowed to be published in the two weeks preceding elections, there is little that can be added from that angle.
In terms of campaigning, Veltroni has outclassed and outmanoeuvred Berlusconi on all counts and would win any debate against him. He is after all an accomplished orator and veteran debater, while Berlusconi is a verbal stuntman along the lines of Ronald Reagan. Berlusconi is so repetitive, predictable and boring that one need only put his rehashed phrases in a hat and pull them out one by one as the day passes by. He has to his advantage his control over the media and the very nature of his constituency, characterized by zero memory retention and religious adulation.
Veltroni has banked on the real world, eschews television. He vowed to visit every Italian province on an endless bus tour. His local rallies have brought out unexpected turnouts everywhere. He has sought to put politics back in the town square where people rub shoulders and breath open air rather than relegate it as a spectator sport behind domestic walls. Rallies by his main opponents, Berlusconi and his personal waiter, Gianfranco Fini, are surprisingly empty (e.g. Fini in Palermo March 31st).
Berlusconi's recent gaffes over the Alitalia case and his self-sanctification as the only Catholic alternative has lead the founder and ex-director of la Repubblica, Eugenio Scalfari, to change opinion last Sunday on Veltroni's chances of winning. There is after all a consistent population of undecided voters this time. The financial elite do not appear to favour Berlusconi, as unbridled clientelism is no longer in vogue worldwide. Italy is at the point where the most revolutionary national figure is the head of the Bank of Italy, Mario Draghi.
If Berlusconi continues to make mistakes and re-run the same stale sitcom, he may risk losing. Whether he loses or wins Italy will continue to be plagued by a political and institutional stalemate. These elections will once again deprive Italy of an opportunity to put an end to the First Republic and its rampant corruption, so fittingly personified by his person, his actions and above all his execrable laws.
Links and Bibliography
For the sake of information two weeklies, the Economist and Newsweek, have services on the Italian campaign this week. I regret that I haven't the time nor the interest to deconstruct Newsweek's pithy and cute services. Newsweek's Gros koalition between Berlusconi and Veltroni is utterly out of the question. I do not see Veltroni repeating D'Alema's mistake in the Nineties with the bicameral reform that promoted Berlusconi to the role of a serious partner. Further, the presentation of Berlusconi as an entrepreneur is false. A man who built his fortune on government concessions, illegal monopolies, corruption, recycling and re-laundering does not represent sound business practices nor liberalism. Berlusconi owes his luck and fortune to plying his trades in Italy.
An informative blog on the campaign in English is run by Chris Hanretty.
Polls have been taken off-line on all official sites with the exception of some sites such as this one.
The latest prediction market based on the Iowa Electronic Market may be seen here. You can see all results by registering at Prediction People. The latest bids published on March 23rd place the Berlusconi coalition at 42,3% and Veltroni at 38,7%.
In depth articles on the elections in Italian may be found at the federalismi site. A study on all electoral polls worth reading (always in Italian) is still available as a cache pdf file.
A very interesting data base of the words used by the principal protagonists in the 2008 elections is on-line at the University of Foreigners in Perugia. The site is run by Stefania Spina based on a program by Jean Véronis of the Université de Provence.
For studies on the much needed institutional reforms, unfortunately in Italian only, I suggest ASTRID.
Studies on the Italian elections of 2006:
Proporzionale ma non solo edited by Roberto D'Alimonte
Dov'è la vittoria? by ITANES, the Italian National Election Studies
An interesting study (well worth a diary) on the psychological roots of political differences is Sinistra e destra Le radici psicologiche della differenza politica by ITANES.