09/03/2006 - Analysis
On 9th and 10th April next the Italians are being called to ballot to renew the entire bicameral Parliament i.e. 630 members of the Chamber of Representatives and 315 members of Senate. The leftwing forces, forecast as easy winners for months, now in all opinion polls have however suffered a setback just a month before the election. The gap between the opposition coalition led by Romano Prodi (L'Unione) and that of Casa delle Libertà led by the President of the Council Silvio Berlusconi is diminishing as the election day draws closer. The latest polls grant a lead of around four points to the left; Romano Prodi's coalition is credited with 51% of the vote versus 46.5% for Silvio Berlusconi. The President of the Council, who is determined to personalise the electoral debate as much as possible, is undertaking a better campaign than his rival – at least this is what the Italians say when interviewed by the pollsters. "Il Professore" (Romano Prodi's nickname) refuses to "perform" in the ilk of his adversary whom he qualifies as "the showman" and sometimes finds it difficult to assert himself in the face of the "Il Cavaliere" (Silvio Berlusconi's nickname), who is extremely charismatic, trying to transform these general elections into a personal referendum. Advised by Karl Rove, the power behind American President George W Bush, Silvio Berlusconi has chosen to base his campaign on incessant attack and a negative strategy of the opposition proposals that he presents as dangerous for Italy.
The Political System
The Parliament comprises two Chambers: the Chamber of Representatives (Camera dei Deputati) and the Senate (Senato della Repubblica).
Since 1994 and until 2001 three quarters of representatives were elected by a majority vote and the remaining quarter by proportional vote. Each voter had two votes, one enabling him to vote for a candidate and the other for a list. Proportional distribution was undertaken between the lists having won at least 4% of the votes cast. For all of these years the majority system enabled a stability of government alliances and allowed for alternation between two major coalitions, one on the left and the other on the right. Supporters of this type of election tried several times to abolish the quota of 25% of MP's elected proportionally – in vain however. On 18th April 1999, although 91.5% of the voters approved abolition the minimum quorum of a 50% participation rate was not achieved (49.6% of voters turned out to ballot) and the referendum was invalidated. On 21st May 2000, 82.4% of voters approved the abolition of the proportional system again in the general elections but the participation rate only rose to 32.5% invalidating this second consultation.
On 14th December last, four months before the election, Silvio Berlusconi did not hesitate in reforming the electoral system with the upcoming elections on the horizon. Now MP's will all be elected by proportional vote, with the winning coalition achieving the "majority prize". The law also includes a ceiling of 340 in terms of numbers of seats going to the winning coalition. This reform voted in by the MP's from the majority only – those on the opposition benches boycotted the last round of voting – makes the political parties the central players in the political arena. Romano Prodi, a member of La Margherita does not lead a political party. The reform obliges him therefore to stand on the list of one of the parties comprising the Unione, a situation that he would like to avoid since he would like to be the representative of the entire left and be above the parties. In addition to this the Unione rallies a number of parties that rarely achieve 4% of the votes cast (Greens, di Pietro List for example). Votes going to these parties and which, according to analysts, represent around 10% of the electorate, would therefore be lost for the leftwing coalition l'Unione, which in fine would benefit Casa delle libertà, a coalition which is less dispersed. In defence of his reform Silvio Berlusconi recalls that "in 1996 Romano Prodi won the elections whilst nationally we had won 350,000 votes more than him". The President of the Council repeats that his party, Forza Italia, "is blocked at 20-22% of the electorate" whilst with proportional representation he is convinced that this level "rises to 30%". In addition to this, Silvio Berlusconi has always denounced the "permanent electoral blackmail" inflicted on him by the Union of Centre Democrats (UDC) that represents around 5% of the electorate. But the most fervent supporters of the new electoral law are precisely the members of the UDC who dream of joining up with La Margherita to create a Christian Democrat force in the ilk of that which has governed Italy on several occasions since the Second World War. "Our friends from La Margherita put a strain on their political nature by remaining allied to the left; for our part we have paid too high a price to the alliance with Silvio Berlusconi", declared former UDC leader Marco Follini. Political analysts fear however that this reform will create political instability and increase the fragility of the parliamentary majorities. Romano Prodi qualified this new law as "a return to the reign of parties with its instable and conflicting coalitions that make the country ungovernable. This electoral law has been made so that the person who wins, wins badly and governs even more badly", he declared concluding "by wanting to affect us they have inflicted a mortal wound on Italy".
President of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, also criticised this return to a proportional system.
Sixteen political parties are represented in Parliament (Chamber of Representatives and Senate):
- Forza Italia (FI), the main government coalition party created in 1994 and led by the present President of the Council, Silvio Berlusconi;
- The National Alliance (AN), the second biggest party in the government coalition, led by the present Foreign Minister, Gianfranco Fini; formed after the transformation and refocusing of the Italian Social Movement in 1994 (MSI) ;
- The Northern League (LN), an anti-European, xenophobic party created in 1991 by Umberto Bossi;
- The Union of Centre Democrats (UDC), a party led by Lorenzo Cesa created in 2002 after the merger of parties from the Christian Democrats, a political force that governed Italy for most of the 1st Republic (founded in 1948);
- The Left Democrats (DS), a party led by Piero Fassino that resulted from the Democratic Left Party (PDS) founded in 1991; the PDS is a result of the Communist Party (PCI) ;
- La Margherita, a party created in 2002, led by the former Mayor of Rome Franceso Rutelli;
- Communist Renewal (RC), a party born in 1991 from a division in the Communist Party (PCI) and led by Fausto Bertinotti ;
- The Greens (Verdi), an ecologist party led by Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio that lies on the left of the political scale;
- The Social Democrats (SDI), a party born in 1998 and led by Enrico Boselli; they form a political alliance with the Greens called the Sunflower Alliance;
- The New Socialist Party (NPSI), a party created in 2001 resulting from the Socialist League (LS) and the Socialist Party (PS) ;
- The Communist Party (PdCI), created in 1998 after scission from Communist Renewal (PRC), led by Oliviero Diliberto ;
- South Tyrol People's Party (SVP), a regionalist party;
- The Valdotain Union (UV), a regionalist party;
- Italy of Values – di Pietro's List (IV-LDP), founded by Antonio di Pietro, former police commissioner turned judge and at the origin of the Mani Pulite operation (Clean Hands) in 1992, a widespread legal operation against corruption in the political community that led to the disappearance of the Christian Democrats and the Socialist Party;
- The Lombard Alliance (AL-A), a regionalist party;
- European Democrats (DE), a party that has now ceased to exist.
The results of five years of rule by Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi can quite rightly be proud of having led the longest lasting government in the history of the Republic of Italy and the first to have completed a five year term in office. "We have achieved a miracle. I have fulfilled by contract", he likes to repeat. "Five years ago we inherited an extremely difficult situation. It did not prevent me from fulfilling my contract with the Italians". In terms of the economy he recalls that he has reduced taxes. "Two and a half million Italians were not due to pay tax in 2001. There are now twelve and a half million. As for the other 80% they pay less tax than before". He points to the fact that he has helped families. "Fiscal pressure reached 47% under Romano Prodi. It has been reduced to 40.7%". He says he has made the country safer (decrease in crime, establishment of local police forces, arrest of criminals) and that he has lowered unemployment, "more than 1.8 million jobs have been created in five years and some 636,000 immigrants have settled their situations". In addition to this and according to the Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development (OCED), "the marginal probability of transition to a permanent contract by employees on a temporary contract in Italy is the highest within the Economic and Monetary Union". Silvio Berlusconi also recalls that under his government the minimum pension rose from 516 to 551 euro monthly and announces that if he wins on 9th and 10th April he will raise this sum to 800 euro monthly within thirteen months. The President of the Council says that he is proud of having reformed education and of having made Italy a Federal Republic. The constitutional reform that was adopted last year increases the powers of the President of the Council who will now be called Prime Minister; it limits that of the Chamber of Representatives whose number drops from 630 to 618 and makes Senate a federal assembly, the Regional Chamber of Local Autonomies that will have 252 members, will represent the regions nationally and will legislate in specific areas. The reform grants the regions new competence in terms of healthcare, local security and education. Given the leftwing opposition to this reform it will most certainly be submitted to referendum in the months to come or during 2007 at the latest.
Hoping for a second term in office Silvio Berlusconi maintains, "I believe I deserve it". He describes himself as the only one able to "hold all of the coalition members together". The President of the Council has already undertaken a tour of Italy to explain to voters "what we have achieved, what we could not do and why but above all what we still intend to do".
His economic results are however somewhat challenged by some analysts and business leaders. Hence on 27th December the President of Confindustria, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, published a column in the daily Il Sole 24 ore, severely criticising the policy adopted by Silvio Berlusconi as the head of Italy for the last five years accusing him of not having undertaken the reforms he had promised. "For too long now hooligans who have ignored the laws, who have not paid their taxes, who have built without permits, who have falsified results have been given amnesty and recompensed whilst those who do work, produce and try to export are treated as a burden or as good to exploit". Denouncing the previous promises made by the President of the Council who said that a "new economic miracle would occur" he observes that a "new year of zero growth, loss of competitiveness, difficulties in controlling public spending and financial scandals", is coming to an end. "A gulf has formed between those who work and those who speculate and go in for trafficking".
In effect Italy has the lowest growth rate in the Euro Zone and indeed of all the industrialised countries (0% in 2005, versus 1.3% in the Euro Zone); its public debt is rising (107% of the GDP). At the beginning of January the Central Bank of Italy estimated that the country's loss of competitiveness since 2000 had reached 25%. Finally 102,000 work units (full time) were lost in 2005. The industrial structure typified by small and medium sized companies (representing 60% of the turnover in the secondary sector, 38% of the GDP and 2.7 million jobs) and by a specialisation in its research and development (1.2% of the GDP) of improving existing products rather than in technological innovation has been seriously challenged by competition on the part of international markets notably those from Asia. Some good news however – public deficit represented 4% of the GDP in 2005, a figure that is far too high according to the criteria of the Stability Pact but inferior to economists' forecasts.
The Electoral Campaign
From the start of autumn on Romano Prodi started a tour of Italy on board a sixteen-metre-long lorry in which he established his campaign HQ. After the regional elections between 2nd-3rd and 17th -18th April 2005 that witnessed the victory of the leftwing, "Il Professore" has been trying to federate the opposition forces into a single party. But this hope failed before the decision of the Left Democrats and La Margherita to present separate lists in the next general elections. The divisions between the two parties are numerous. "The construction of a democratic political party is a process that cannot be improvised. It demands a sequence of steps and is consolidated gradually", repeated the leader of the Left Democrats, Piero Fassino. Often La Margherita has denounced the Left Democrats' hegemony, which according to his president Francesco Rutelli, "employs Communist methods". Hence the second round of the local elections in Venice brought the former mayor Massimo Cacciari (Margherita) against the Left Democrat candidate Felice Casson. Massimo Cacciari was elected with a lead of 1,340 votes. Both parties disagree on several subjects such as the presence of Italian soldiers in Iraq or the abolition of laws voted in by the Berlusconi government.
In order to appoint the leader of the leftwing forces in the elections on 9th and 10th April Romano Prodi therefore imposed the organisation of primary elections, a first in Italy and also in Europe. These elections took place on 16th October last; they were open to all citizens registered on the electoral lists as well as foreigners (registered on electoral lists) living and working in Italy for over three years. Voters were invited to sign a political proposal by the l'Unione and to pay a minimum contribution of one euro. The primary elections were a true success rallying more people than any of the parties had originally forecast since 4,311,139 individuals voted (the leftwing parties had expected between 500,000 and 600,000) and the 9,731 polling stations had to extend their closing time from 22:00 to 23:00 in order to receive all of the voters. Romano Prodi easily won the election with 74.1% of the vote versus 14,6% for Fausto Bertinotti (RC). The other candidates -Clemente Mastella (Union of Democrats for Europe, Udeur), Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio (Greens) and Antonio di Pietro (Values- di Pietro List)- won less than 4% of the vote.
The leftwing forces revealed their political programme in Rome on 11th February last agreed upon after long negotiations between the various parties in the coalition. "We shall not disappoint you. Our dream is your project. The time has come for Italy to make an important decision. The country has the vital energy for overcome the crisis but slight adjustments will not be enough, we must have radical reform", declared Romano Prodi during the presentation of his programme after which an actress read a text sealing the promise of the seven leftwing parties which is to "remain united for the entire duration of the term in office". The 291 page programme gives priority to boosting growth and balancing public spending by a return to the criteria of the Stability Pact within the next five years. "Nothing is more important for Italy than taking up with growth again. This is the priority of priorities. Over the last five years all indicators have turned to red and the most obvious proof of the decline is the drop in productivity", stresses Romano Prodi. The programme establishes seven priorities: growth, environment (the programme does not mention the Lyon-Turin high-speed railway line about which there is major discord between the various parties), employment, research and education, the taxation of profits, family policy and finally Europe of the defence and the European Constitution. The Left is also committed to reducing social contributions on the part of companies by five points within a year, a proposal that will cost 10 billion euro (40 billion according to Silvio Berlusconi), i.e. 0.9 points of the GDP. The programme announces a rise in capital income tax (profits and incomes on shares), the re-introduction of inheritance duties that were abolished by Silvio Berlusconi in 2001 and greater tax exemption for families.
Romano Prodi has also promoted his desire to fight against insecurity in the workplace. "The cost of a permanent work contract can no longer go on costing more than temporary work", he declared. Flexibility is at the heart of the employment policy. In 1997 Prodi's government voted in the Treu law relaxing the conditions of employment and reducing the security and social protection of workers. In 2003, the Biagi law made work contracts more flexible by establishing specific qualification contracts for young people. The number of unemployed in Italy dropped from 9.5% of the working population in 2001, the year of Silvio Berlusconi's victory to 7.7% in 2005.
Internationally the Leftwing programme plans for an end to "Italy's unconditional alignment" with the USA to the benefit of greater European commitment. It is committed to requesting Parliament for the recall of Italian soldiers engaged in Iraq according to a withdrawal timetable agreed upon with the USA and the UK.
Under the banner of "Innovation and liberalisation, this is the way that Italy must take", Romano Prodi would like to convince voters of the need to undertake thorough structural reform and preaches rigour. He says that he is confident that "if the message is explained well and if it is a fair message, the Italians will accept it" and repeats that Berlusconi's government "only defends specific interests, those of the President of the Council and his friends". Fausto Bertinotti (RC) stressed that this programme "was a success far beyond the most optimistic forecasts" and admitted that it "corresponded with a political, economic and social change that we had been asking for before the break away in 1998", (this party was at the origin of the fall of the Prodi led government in 1998) whilst Clemente Mastella (Udeur) declared to "agree 99% with a text that owes much to the skilful and intelligent mediation of Romano Prodi". For their part the Greens welcomed a "serious programme that included important choices with regard to energy". However two small parties, the Movement of European Republicans and the Movement of the former European Commissioner Emma Bonino left the leftwing coalition refusing to sign a programme which did not mention homosexual marriage nor the abolition of the financing of private infants' schools.
The opposition forces, who would like to appear spotless in terms of morality, have to face a politico-financial scandal that points fingers at the Left Democrats (DS). The affair started with the publication in Il Giornale, Paolo Berlusconi's – brother of the President of the Council – newspaper of an article detailing a conversation between Piero Fassino, Secretary General of the DS and Giovanni Consorte, President of Unipol whose telephone conversations were being tapped by the Financial Brigade. This exchange took place on the day that Unipol announced a takeover bid of the Banca nazionale del lavoro (BNL). Unipol, which is controlled by 46 major co-operatives is the third biggest insurance company in Italy and is historically linked to the former Communist Party (PCI) now the DS. Hence the co-operatives contributed a total of 637 million euro to the leftwing campaign in the regional and local elections between 2nd -3rd and 17th and 18th April 2005. Unipol is accused of being at the source of illegal financial movements within the takeover bid of the BNL. Giovanni Consorte and Ivano Sacchetti, Vice-Presidents of Unipol, have been accused of tampering with stock exchange information, embezzlement and criminal conspiracy. There is an ongoing inquiry into the links between Giovanni Consorte and Gianpiero Fiorani, CEO of the Banca popolare italiana (BPI), who is at present in prison for criminal conspiracy after the takeover bid by his company of the Banca Antonveneta.
"But are we heads of a bank? But in the end you are the heads of one bank", declared Piero Fassino to Giovanni Consorte during the telephone conversation published by Il Giornale. Although there is nothing illegal about this declaration it bears witness to the link existing between the political community and the business world. Massimo d'Alema and Piero Fassino, President and Secretary General of the DS, admitted to having committed "some errors" in supporting the management of Unipol and its manoeuvres to ensure the control of a loans giant such as the BNL. This affair comes at a particularly bad time for Massimo d'Alema who has already been the target of much criticism for having offered himself – along with two friends - a yacht valued at 800,000 euro thanks to a loan (of 8,068 euro monthly instalments) from the Banca popolare italiana (BPI), an establishment that initiated a trading of favours after its takeover bid of the Banca Antonveneta. Opposition leader, Romano Prodi, called for the establishment of "new rules enabling politics to regain its balance", whilst denouncing the "the aggressive campaign and slander undertaken by the right".
Knowing that he is his party's best advantage Silvio Berlusconi chose to take care of the media in his electoral campaign. Between 1st and 20th January the President of the Council was on air for seven hours and 37 minutes in comparison with one hour and nine minutes on the part of Romano Prodi. The President of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi deemed it necessary to send a letter to the Commission for the Monitoring of State Television, the RAI to remind it that it had to "guarantee the principle of equity and substantial parity of access to television for all political parties independent of the date of the dissolution of Parliament". Indeed this date marks the beginning of the official electoral campaign. Silvio Berlusconi delayed the date by two weeks, referring to the need to approve texts that were still being debated by the two Chambers. In effect the President of the Council wanted a series of measures requested by his government allies to be approved, this included the Gaetano Pecorella law, named after his lawyer who is also president of the Justice Committee of the Chamber of Representatives, limiting the powers of the public prosecutor's office by prohibiting the Public Ministry from appealing if a case is acquitted or dismissed by a court after a first appearance. Parliament was dissolved on 11th February and the electoral campaign finally started.
"Elections are primarily won on TV", repeats Silvio Berlusconi whose intense activity in the media seems to have been effective since according to political expert Renato Manheimer, "it has enabled a reduction in the gap between the two coalitions which has dropped from 7-8% to 4-5% even the left is still winning". The President of the Council is undertaking a campaign where he puts his own persona to the fore and finds no equal in presenting himself as the victim of the judges or the Communists; he even compares himself to Napoleon, Churchill and even Jesus Christ. "I am the Jesus Christ of politics, I put up with everything, and sacrifice myself for everyone", he maintained boldly on 12th February during an electoral meeting in Ancona, adding "Only Napoleon did better than me. But I am greater than he; there is no doubt of that".
Silvio Berlusconi signed numerous political agreements with the elections on 9th and 10th April in view notably with several extreme rightwing movements such as the Social Tricolour Flame Movement. On 17th February last he also allied himself with the Alternative Social Movement (AS) founded in 2004 by Alessandra Mussolini, the grand-daughter of the Duce, who broke from her party, National Alliance, after declarations by its leader, Gianfranco Fini who condemned fascism as the "absolute evil" and qualified the Social Republic created by Benito Mussolini in 1943 as a "shameful page" in Italy's history. Some of the President of the Council's allies have expressed their embarrassment at this alliance and have recalled that certain members of the Social Alternative Movement "could not possibly stand" in the general elections. In particular they were targeting Adriano Tilgher, leader of the National Social Front, an anti-capitalist, anti-American formation; the former was arrested in 1975 for trying to start up a fascist party – there is also Robert Fiore, a member of Forza Nuova, who was sentenced to five years in prison for subversive association and belonging to an armed gang involved in extreme rightwing attacks in the 1970's notably that in 1980 in Bologna Station when 85 people died. These members of the Social Alternative Movement have decided not to feature personally on the electoral lists.
Silvio Berlusconi can also be pleased with the support of Victor-Emmanuel of Savoy, Prince of Naples son of the last King of Italy, Umberto II. "We shall definitely support the campaign of Silvio Berlusconi. He is a man I hold in esteem: he is brilliant, perspicacious, and well prepared. He has succeeded in providing the art of politics with new impetus. It is due only to his tenacity that my son Emanuele Filiberto and I have been able to return to Italy", declared Victor-Emmanuel at the beginning of February. The royal family had been banned from Italy by the Republic for 57 years due to the support given by King Victor-Emmanuel III (grandfather of the Prince of Naples) to the Benito Mussolini's fascist regime. On 10th November 2002 a Parliamentary vote enabled them to return to their country.
On 24th February last the President of the Council presented the programme to his coalition. This is a 20 page document recalling the 36 reforms undertaken by the present government and which focuses on ten points. It announces the reduction in the cost of labour of "one point per year", a housing plan, tax relief, and the continuation of major work on the infrastructure and security measures. This programme is to be financed by the sale of major shares in the state patrimony and by a 30% reduction in tax evasion. ";The credibility that we are announcing in our programme is based on promises held, whilst the opposition's programme is made up of vague commitments", stresses Silvio Berlusconi.
One hundred and twelve political parties have officially been registered for the elections on 9th and 10th April. This will be followed by local by-elections and almost probably by a referendum on the constitutional reform transforming Italy into a Federal Republic. In addition to this the Parliament elected in April will appoint the Carlo Azeglio Ciampi's successor to the Presidency of the Republic in May.
Reminder of the General Election Results on 13th May 2001.
Participation rate: 81.2%
Source: Italian Home Ministry
Reminder of the Senatorial Elections 13th May 2001
Participation rate: 81,2%
Source: Italian Home Ministry