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The left wins both houses in italian parliamentary elections in a ballot marked by much confusion and division in the country

The left wins both houses in italian parliamentary elections in a ballot marked by much confusion and division in the country

12/04/2006 - Results

Confusion reigned for long hours before the final results could be declared along with the names of the winners of the legislative and senatorial elections that were held on 9th and 10th April. Assured of a majority in the Chamber of Deputies right from Tuesday morning, it was only in the afternoon that the left-wing coalition, Unione, was able to celebrate its victory in the Senate too after the count of expatriate Italian votes.

Although the left comes top in the legislative elections it was only 25,224 votes ahead, from a total of 38,024,668 valid votes cast, i.e. 0.06% of total. Unione won 49.80% of votes and collected 340 seats (in the Chamber of Deputies the coalition that comes top obtains a "majority bonus", granting it automatically 340 of the 630 seats). The right-wing coalition, Casa della Liberta, led by the outgoing Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, received 49.73% of votes and 277 seats. Whilst down 1.7 points compared to the previous legislative elections held on 13th May 2001, Forza Italia (FI), the party of the outgoing Prime Minister, remains nonetheless Italy's leading party with 27.70% of votes and 137 seats. The National Alliance (AN) and the Northern League (LN) made gains, respectively 0.33 and 0.68 points. On the left, Ulivo, which brings together left-wing democrats (DS) and La Margherita, remain stable, whilst the Communist Refoundation (RC) recorded a gain of 0.84 point.

In the Senate, Casa della Liberta won 49.9% of the vote and collected 156 seats. 217,817 votes separate the two coalitions, in favour of the right-wing, with Unione obtaining 49.2% of the vote but 158 seats. In the Senate, national majority is constituted from the addition of regional majorities, which does not therefore necessarily correspond to the greatest number of votes collected at national level. The majority bonus is guaranteed there, so as to ensure that at least 55% of seats go to the coalition coming top in one region. Also, the number of electors differs between the legislative and the senatorial ballot – although eighteen year olds can vote for deputies, no-one under the age of twenty-five can vote for senators. In Italy, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies have equivalent powers and a majority in both Chambers was therefore required in order to be in a position to govern.

The right-wing achieved its best results in Sicily and Venetia; they also won in Piedmont, Lombardy, Latium, Campania, Apulia and Frioul Venetia Julienne. The Unione coalition won a massive victory in Tuscany, in Basilicata and was ahead of Casa della Liberta in Sardinia, Calabria, Trentino-Alto-Adige, Molise, Abruzzi, the Marches, Liguria and Emilia Romagna, Romano Prodi's native region.

Turnout reached 83.6%, i.e. 2.2 points more than during the previous legislative and senatorial elections held on 13th May 2001. Only average numbers of expatriate Italians, called for the first time to vote in a national parliamentary ballot, actually voted. 42.07%, i.e. 1,135,617 people carried out their duty as citizens in the consulates of the States where they now live. It was in South America that turnout was highest (51.81%), compared to 38.44% in Europe, 37.3% in North America and 44.12% in the other three continents (Africa-Asia-Australasia).

The night of the elections was full of turnarounds and all the parties planned were cancelled. On Monday afternoon, after voting stations had closed, left-wing sympathizers were celebrating as exit polls gave them as winners, before the gap between the two coalitions narrowed over the following hours until those close to the right-wing regained confidence and again started to believe that victory was within their grasp. One thing is certain, Silvio Berlusconi succeeded in his challenge of making these elections a referendum on him. The left-wing victory does not therefore stop these elections as being seen as a half-failure for the leader of the opposition forces, Romano Prodi, who was eight points ahead of his rival in all polls only five months ago. On the eve of the elections, Silvio Berlusconi said that he was convinced he would win if turnout was over 80%. The Prime Minister, who was given as loser by all polls over the past two years, undertook an aggressive, hard, populist campaign, one which brought in his voters and persuaded less politically minded and less educated Italians to renew their confidence in him. "When he hits the bosses, when he insults left-wing voters, referring to them as "idiots", Silvio Berlusconi plays to the anti-political feelings amongst many voters", underlines Marc Lazar, Professor at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, "we tend to caricature Silvio Berlusconi a great deal, as was done with George Bush". For his part, Jean-Paul Fitoussi, President of the French Economic Observatory (OFCE), declares that "Silvio Berlusconi merits neither excessive honour nor excessive indignation. The results he has achieved are very often caricatured. Like Italy in fact."

At the age of sixty-nine, in the eyes of many Italians Silvio Berlusconi incarnates the daring manager with the Midas touch. Italy's biggest fortune (estimated at nine billion euro by Forbes magazine) his financial empire, the Fininvest holding, groups activities in the media – he who is referred to as "Sua Emittenza" controls 90% of Italian TV channels -, real estate, insurance, publishing, films and football - Silvio Berlusconi has owned Milan AC football club since 1986. Although fingered several times, particularly for fraud and corruption, the outgoing Prime Minister has never been before the courts, benefiting from acquittals and time-limits. Founder of the Forza Italia party in 1993, Prime Minister for seven months the following year, he was forced to resign following a conflict with the Northern League run by Umberto Bossi. Twelve years ago there were many who were already forecasting that this failure signified the end of the political career of the "Cavaliere", another nickname given to Silvio Berlusconi.

The Prime Minister is supported by a coalition which would appear to be stronger than that of his opponent on the left, although not exempt from internal divisions and crises as has been observed over the past five years. Casa della Liberta groups, amongst others, Forza Italia, the National Alliance (AN), a party led by the Foreign Minister, Gianfranco Fini, the Northern League (LN), the party set up by Umberto Bossi, and the Union of Centre Democrats (UDC), a party led by Lorenzo Cesa. Although Silvio Berlusconi can be proud of the fact that, from 2001 to 2006, he was the first Prime Minister to govern for the five years provided for in legislature, he has had nevertheless to deal with numerous crises, and the resignation of several of his ministers. He describes himself as being the only one in a position "to keep coalition members united" and declared "We don't have to agree, we are already in agreement." His final glorious moment in the electoral campaign was when, on the eve of the election he declared that he had "too much esteem for the intelligence of Italians to believe that there would be enough idiots (coglioni) capable of voting against their own interests."

"We are satisfied with the results of this election, but concerned due to the delicate and difficult situation that we are now in, and aware of our own responsibilities" declared the leader of the left-wing Democrats, Piero Fassino as soon as the final results had been announced. For his part, Romano Prodi, after saluting the victory, stated, "We have an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate. We have no problem of legitimacy or force. We will have a government that will be politically and technically strong for all Italians and welcomed favourably by the financial markets and the international community", and he called on Italians to "turn the Berlusconi page". The leader of the opposition stated that he was going to "get to work immediately to reunite the country, and get Italy moving again, to serve all its citizens".

The Unione leader, Romano Prodi, should therefore get back to the Chigi Palace (seat of the Head of Government) and the job of Prime Minister, a post he has already held for two years, from 1996 to 1998, before his communist allies provoke his downfall. This sixty-six year old practicing Catholic is the antithesis of Silvio Berlusconi. "I'm like a diesel engine: I keep on going", he says of himself. "Seriousness pays" he declared again on the eve of the vote, confident of victory. A graduate from the Catholic university of Milan and the London School of Economics, he taught political science from 1971 to 1999 at Bologna University and Harvard. In 1978 he was, for a year, Minister for Industry in the Christian-Democrat government of Giulio Andreotti. In 1982, he became manager of the largest public holding company, the Institute for Italian Reconstruction (IRI), which he helped to reorganise before entering politics in 1992. At the head of the Ulivo coalition, Romano Prodi won the 1996 legislative and senatorial elections, ahead of Silvio Berlusconi. During his first mandate as Prime Minister (1996-1998), he helped with the recovery of public finances and enabled Italy to enter the Economic and Monetary Union. Then nominated President of the European Commission (1999-2004), he worked on the introduction of the single currency in 2002 and the extension of the European Union in May 2004.

"Il Professore", as he is known, was enthroned at the head of the opposition on 16th October 2005 during the primary elections that had been organised throughout the Peninsula. Open to all citizens on electoral lists, and to foreigners who had been living and working in Italy for over three years, these primary elections brought out 4,311,139 people. Romano Prodi came out the easy winner, with 74.1% of the vote. At the head of the Unione coalition, he groups fourteen political movements, from centre through to extreme left, including, amongst others, the Left-wing Democrats (DS), La Margherita party led by Francesco Rutelli, Communist Refoundation (RC) party led by Fausto Bertinotti, the Green (Verdi), party led by Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, the Social Democrat (SDI) party led by Enrico Boselli, the Communist Party (PdCI), led by Oliviero Diliberto, Italy of Values-Liste di Pietro (IV-LDP) party founded by Antonio di Pietro, a former police commissioner who became a judge and was at the origin, in 1992, of the Mani Pulite operation, the Movement of European Republicans and the Union of Democrats for Europe (Udeur).

At the head of the government, Romano Prodi will have to implement the programme drawn up with his partners in the left-wing coalition, which provides for renewed growth and a clearing up of public finances, with a return to the criteria defined in the stability and growth pact over the next five years. The left-wing parties have committed to reducing social security charges levied on businesses by five points over the next year, to increasing capital income tax (capital gains and share income) and to reintroducing inheritance duty which was removed by Silvio Berlusconi in 2001. According to Francesco Giavazzi, economist at Bocconi University in Milan, the cost of the Unione programme is between 1.4% and 1.7% of GDP (20 to 24 billion euros). Romano Prodi has also highlighted his will to combat the lack of job security and, at international level, to put an end to "Italy's unconditional alignment", with the United States in favour of greater European commitment. He has undertaken to ask Parliament to recall the Italian military from Iraq, according to a withdrawal timetable drawn up with the United States and the United Kingdom.

Romano Prodi, who preaches rigour, will however have to convince Italians of the need for deep structural reforms. "If the message is explained well and if it is a fair message, Italians will accept it", he repeated during the electoral campaign. The future Prime Minister should, however, be quickly confronted with his first difficulties, in view of the low majority he enjoys and divisions between the parties in his coalition. When asked about the reliability of his partners, Romano Prodi replies, "they have signed a programme for government and they are gentlemen". "The only real cement in this alliance can be summarised by "anything but Berlusconi", declares Paolo Franchi, editorialist on the Corriere della Sera. And that risks proving insufficient. Renato Mannheimer, professor at Milan University, has already underlined that the result of the left-wing Democrats, the main party in Unione, which is weaker than forecast, forebodes divisions within the victorious coalition. Also, as James Walston, director of the department of international relations at Rome University points out, it would appear that within the coalition led by Romano Prodi, it is the movements furthest left that have achieved the best results. "It will be difficult to govern and find the road the structural reforms", is the analysis made by Paolo Pizzoli, ING bank analyst, considering that "the lack of any room for manoeuvre within the coalition of left-wing forces makes the task more complicated."

The two newly elected Chambers will not meet before 28th April and will have about a week in which to designate their respective presidents and form parliamentary groups.

The first task of the Parliament will be, before even putting its confidence in the new Prime Minister, to elect the successor to Carlo Azeglio Ciampi as President of the Republic, which must be done before 13th May. Since the latter's mandate comes to an end on 18th May, the Parliamentary Assembly – including the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate and Regional Representatives – will therefore have two weeks in which to elect the new Head of State. Highly respectful of institutions, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, has already declared that he would prefer to leave to his successor the choice of nominating the next Prime Minister.

Some Italians will again be called to vote on 28th and 29th May. Sicily and eight provinces will renew their executives and the inhabitants of 1,267 towns will elect their town councils.

At the head of the government, Romano Prodi will doubtless have to deploy a great deal of energy and imagination to find the means by which to govern a country divided equally between left and right, which must be brought out of an unstable, confused political situation.

Results of the legislative elections held on 9th and 10th April 2006 in Italy

Turnout: 83.6%

Source: Minister of the Interior

Results of senatorial elections held on 9th and 10th April 2006 in Italy

Turnout: 83.6%

Source: Minister of the Interior
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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