by de Gondi
Mon Mar 31st, 2008 at 06:17:47 AM EST
Local and regional elections will be held in Italy on April 13th and 14th. Voters will also have the opportunity to approve 90% of national deputies and senators for the next legislature, all formally chosen by parties on March 10th according to criteria that vary from party to party. The remaining 10% will be chosen by the parties from the March 10th "blocked lists" based on party share ranking.
Due to the arcana of the current electoral law it is difficult to make previsions on the composition of the two Houses. According to "voter" simulations, 30 votes dispersed in key localities can decide the outcome regardless of the gross approval rating of the four main political coalitions. More realistic scenarios based on recent polls offer four possibilities, none of which give a center-left majority.
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It is most likely that the Berlusconi coalition will carry the day. While the present law will give him a comfortable majority in the House of Deputies, the Senate may once again depend on a majority of no more than three Senators in the best of cases. The coalition with the relative majority will be forced to form an alliance with the centrist party, the Union of Democrat Christians, a prospect not at all improbable given that the UDC just broke away from the Berlusconi coalition. While Berlusconi will have no problems with his Senators- chosen exclusively on the basis of top down abject servilism- he will be forced to make concessions to the UDC which may not go down too well with the other major parties in his coalition: Allianza Nazionale, the racist Lega Nord and the Sicilian MPA (Movimento per l'Autonomia). Any other arrangement, such as a Gross Koalition between Veltroni's Democratic Party and Berlusconi's personal political entity, is out of the question. Whatever the prospects in the immediate future, the right wing is seen to gain. Their position remains that either they rule or there is chaos.
Here's some background in an attempt to make things clearer.
A Brief History
In 2000 Berlusconi won the general elections with a large parliamentary majority. Although it brought political stability, the rightwing coalition quickly showed its shortcomings, mostly due to the incapacity of the coalition to effectively administrate and serve the state and its remarkable subservience to the personal interests and obsessions of its leader. In the five years of the XIV (2001-2006) legislature the opposition center-left coalition won all partial elections culminating in the unprecedented regional landslide in 2005. It was unlikely that the rightwing coalition could win against the electoral machine put together by the opposition in the 2006 national elections.
In the winter of 2005, the rightwing passed an 11th hour electoral reform designed to break the opposition's electoral strategy. The law (270/2005) further curtailed popular sovereignty by eliminating voter preference for candidates. Senators and Deputies would be designated by the parties prior to the election in what are known as "blocked lists." The higher in each list, the more likely a "candidate" would be appointed to parliament. Voters were left to decide among party coalitions, their vote indirectly contributing to post-electoral list engineering. In effect, the lists were only blocked for voters. Once over with the electoral ritual, the parties were free to manipulate the candidate lists.
Further, past electoral laws limited the possibility of a candidate to present himself in no more than three districts. The guiding ideology behind the new law abolished this limit. Everyone could be elected everywhere, Berlusconi above all, giving way to the phenomena of "pluri-candidates" and the "pluri-elected." In the end 38 pluri-elected candidates controlled 40% of the House's 617 seats while 20% of the Senate was in the hands of the pluri-elected. The 50 seats of three minor parties of the Prodi coalition were won by only five pluri-elected candidates.
In effect a Member of Parliament has no real territorial constituency to answer to, only the party that chose him. No need to go out and press flesh. Rather ironic since a "candidate's" allowed spending limit was raised from the 1993 90,000 to 1,400,000 with no obligation to name contributors of less than 20,000 (a far cry from the USA's $ 200). In essence the electoral law further codified political unaccountability after the rash of self-referential laws that virtually granted impunity for many white collar crimes and made it difficult, if not futile, to pursue elite criminal activity. It's no wonder politicians are perceived as a caste.
With the electoral law in the air, the center-left coalition had to change its winning strategy. It was thus forced to negotiate unfavourable conditions with minor parties. The final result was a lame bi-polarism combined with political fragmentation, aptly called nanismo (although gigantismo would also be appropriate) because each coalition contained opportunistic mini-parties by necessity in order to compete against the other coalition. This was further aggravated by pre-electoral contracts that bound the major coalition party, l'Ulivo, to cede their own seats to mini-parties with no electoral base to speak of with the inevitable consequences. Minor parties were over-represented within the coalition. Even those parties that had not made it over the 2% threshold had managed to bargain a role in the future government (Mastella's Udeur the most notorious). The Prodi government had the largest number of ministers and undersecretaries in Republican history. It was plagued by infighting and petty protagonism. The priorities of the far left were regularly sabotaged or vetoed by the center parties. It quickly became apparent that the conservative wing of the Prodi government posed the greatest threat to the integrity of the government. It was the only group that could pass over to the opposition. Which is effectively what happened.
Mastella lead the dances by pulling out of the coalition shortly after his resignation as Minister of Justice. However his votes were not enough to bring down the Prodi government. The coup de grace was dealt by Lamberto Dini and his improvised "liberal democrat" party. Mastella has temporarily retired from politics after being shunned by all parties (with the exception of Boselli's micro-Socialist entity). Just as convicts receive a pittance to reinsert themselves in society after serving time, Mastella will receive 300,000 from the state to reinsert himself in civilian society. He recently declared that he should have thought it over ten times before voting against the Prodi government.
Dini was promptly paid the 400,000 "to fund his party" just as the November 2007 investigation into Berlusconi's attempt to bribe Senators had revealed (here, here and here). Senator De Gregorio is currently under investigation for a sum of 700,000 also paid "to fund his party," as well as separate allegations of recycling money for the camorra. De Gregorio asserts that he represents "gli italiani nel mondo," a fairly insulting proposition. Dini, De Gregorio and their kind have been consigned to the House of Deputies by Berlusconi as a cautionary measure. Given their precedents Berlusconi would never trust them in the Senate.
It is a fitting conclusion for Dini's career. Viciously and obsessively smeared by the Berlusconi government throughout the XIV legislature as taking kickbacks in the non-existant Telekom Serbija scandal, Dini has finally relented and returned to the Berlusconi fold, only to be thrown into a basement corner like a broken toy. Just as in the great Stalinist trials he now need only confess his crimes for the glory of berlusconismo and a radiant future for mankind. After all he's immune.
In our next episode we will see how the 2008 elections shaped up, coming soon at your favourite neighbourhood website.