13/04/2008 - Analysis
Around 50 million Italians are being called to ballot on 13th and 14th April next to renew the two Chambers of their Parliament. Local by-elections, initially planned for June will take place at the same time. However the popular initiative referendum planned for the repeal of the electoral law that was to take place in the spring has been postponed for a year and will take place in 2009.
The previous general and senatorial elections of 9th and 10th April 2006 were the closest in all of Italy's history. The "Union" coalition, led by Romano Prodi won the majority in the Chamber of Deputies with only 24,755 votes more than their rivals of the "House of Freedoms" coalition (CdL) led by Silvio Berlusconi. In the senatorial elections the "Union" won less votes but clinched a 2 seat majority in the Senate.
The latest polls forecast a protest vote against the ruling majority which has been in office for nearly two years; victory is forecast for the opposition in the election on 13th and 14th April next but the gap between left and right continues to tighten as the weeks go by.
Political Crisis and the Resignation of Romano Prodi's Government
Justice Minister, Clemente Mastella's (Union of Democrats for Europe, Udeur) resignation on 16th January set off the political crisis that led to the fall of Romano Prodi's government eight days later. The Justice Minister resigned in protest against a series of allegations that have been made against him and for the lack of government solidarity. "I am claiming back my independence as a politician and as a citizen," he said. He and his wife, Sandra Leonardo, who is also president of the Campania region, are under suspicion of corruption, misappropriation of public funds and trading favours in Naples. 23 UDEUR members have been arrested or put under house arrest in this affair. The Justice Minister, who is under suspicion of having demanded and obtained from the region's governor, Antonio Bassolino, the appointment of a friend to a position of responsibility, discovered just a few days before his resignation that his telephone line and those of his entire family had been tapped. The irony of the matter is that, Clemente Mastella already caused the fall of Silvio Berlusconi's government in 1994.
Although the Chamber of Deputies renewed its confidence (326 votes in favour and 275 against) in Romano Prodi on 24th January last the President of the Council who pleaded in favour of continuing the government's work lost the confidence of the Senate (156 votes in favour 161 against) and was forced to resign. Prodi's government lasted 650 days and was the second shortest in the history of the Italian Republic. This is also the eighth government that has not served a full term in office. The Italians will elect their 62nd government in 63 years on 13th and 14th April. In 2007 the government already experienced a serious crisis when members of the far left were against the dispatch of troops to Afghanistan. The President of the Council then handed in his resignation before finally rallying back the majority. This time Romano Prodi has decided to withdraw from politics. "I am leaving politics. My future will be calm. The world is full of opportunities," he declared on 9th March last adding "I have decided not to stand in order to open the way to a change in generation which is vital. Someone has to provide the example."
Romano Prodi's government comprised 102 members from 10 political parties, a record for the country and in the European Union (ranging from communists to Catholic centrists). During his 21 months in power the President of the Council had to bargain on a continuous basis to maintain his majority and often had to rely on the support of life senators. He did however have to give up on some of his electoral pledges such as the establishment of civil union for homosexual couples.
Given the crisis the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano tried to form an intermediary government, which after having modified the electoral law in force (blamed for supporting "small parties" and making it difficult to govern the country) would have organised elections. The negotiations undertaken by the Head of State failed however and Mr Napolitano was forced to admit that the convening of early elections was the only way to solve the problem. "Early elections are an anomaly, which influences our ability to govern the country," he stressed.
According to the polls two Italians in three are in favour of the early elections. However Italian employers like the Episcopal conference and many representatives of civil society were against them. "The Italian economy needs stability and effective policies. We need stability to guarantee growth which is below that of all other European countries," declared Luca di Montezemolo, chairperson of Confindustria (Italian employers). "The provisional government would be useless and would represent a loss of precious time," maintained Silvio Berlusconi who said he is convinced that "the electoral law (of which he was the creator) provided good results and that the best solution to face the country's serious problems is to give Italy a legitimate government that is operational immediately via popular elections." For his part the Mayor of Rome and Democratic Party leader (PD), Walter Veltroni is in favour of a prior modification of the electoral law, "a law that makes it impossible to govern the country." "It is a fair decision to return to the ballot box because there is no sound majority and in the end we cannot take any decisions. This government could do no more with such an uneven majority," maintained Infrastructure Minister of the outgoing government, Antonio Di Pietro (Italy of Values – Di Pietro List, IV-LDP).
The elections have to be organised between 40 and 70 days after the dissolution of parliament.
The Italian Political System
Parliament is bicameral and comprises the Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) with 630 members and the Senate (Senato della Repubblica), 315. According to article 55 of the Constitution both Chambers enjoy identical power hence Italy has an equal two chamber system.
MPs are elected by a proportional system within 26 constituencies. Since 2001 Italians living abroad elect 12 MPs within a special constituency. Electoral coalitions have to rally at least 10% of the votes cast to be represented in the Chamber of Deputies. A majority bonus that cannot rise above 340 seats is granted to the coalition that wins the election. Candidates have to be at least 25 years old.
Senators are elected within regional constituencies. The list that wins the election takes 55% of the seats and the remaining seats are distributed amongst the other lists on a proportional basis. The Senate also comprises, apart from its elected members, some life senators: former Presidents of the Republic (Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, 1999-2006, Francesco Cossiga, 1985-1992, and Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, 1992-1999) and citizens who have contributed to the honour of Italy (for example neurologist Rita Levi-Montalcini and designer and businessman, Sergio Pininfarina). However the number of life senators has been limited to 5.
Any candidate standing for a position as a Senator must be at least 40 years old and only voters aged over 25 elect members of the Senate.
It has come to light that the electoral law of 14th December 2005 which makes the political parties the main players in the political arena has been the source of political instability and it has increased the fragility of the parliamentary majority. "This electoral law has been made so that the winner wins badly and governs even worse," said Romano Prodi just before the elections on 9th and 10th April 2006.
Italy has 155 political parties and movements, 22 were represented in Parliament and 10 in the outgoing government. The main ones are as follows:
- Democrats of the Left (DS), led by Piero Fassino, a party that emerged from Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) founded in 1999, itself a product of the Communist Party (PCI);
- The Daisy Party (La Margherita) was created in 2002 and is led by former mayor of Rome Francesco Rutelli. This party and the Democrats of the Left merged giving rise to the Democratic Party (PD) led by Walter Veltroni;
- Communist Refoundation Party (RC), a party born in 1991 after it split from the Communist Party (PCI); it is led by Fausto Bertinotti;
- The Greens (Verdi), led by Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio; they lie to the left of the political scale;
- The Party of Italian Communists (PdCI), a party created in 1998 after it split from Communist Refoundation Party (RC) led by Oliviero Diliberto;
- Italy of Values-Di Pietro List (IV-LDP), founded by Antonio di Pietro, a former police commissioner, who became a judge and who started the "Mani pulite" operation (Clean Hands) in 1992; this involved a far-reaching legal operation against corruption in the political world that ended in the disappearance of Christian Democracy and the Socialist Party;
- Forza Italia (FI), the main opposition party created in 1994 and led by former President of the Council (1994-1995 and 2001-2006) Silvio Berlusconi;
- National Alliance (AN), led by former Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini; a party that emerged after the re-founding of the Italian Social Movement (MSI) in 1994;
- The Northern League (LN), an anti-European, xenophobic party created in 1991 by Umberto Bossi. The Northern League, National Alliance and Forza Italia joined forces in a coalition called the People of Freedom (PDL) led by Silvio Berlusconi;
- The Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC) led by Pier Ferdinando Casini was created in 2002 after the merger of parties from Christian Democracy (DC), a party that governed Italy for the greater part of the 1st Republic (founded in 1948).
The Return of Silvio Berlusconi?
"Italy, rise up," exclaimed Silvio Berlusconi, former President of the Council on 10th as he launched his electoral campaign, presenting himself as a new man in these elections, although he is running for the fifth time. In 1994 he revolutionised the Italian communications industry and political life. In 2001 he became President of the Council after having led the longest lasting government in Italian history being the first to have finished his five year term in office. Shall we witness the birth of a 3rd Silvio Berlusconi in 2008?
On 12th December last he created the Centre-Right People of Freedom Coalition (PDL) replacing Forza Italia (FI) and which includes the National Alliance (AN) led by Gianfranco Fini, who announced on 16th February last that his party would be dissolved during the congress in the autumn; the coalition also includes the Northern League (LN) led by Umberto Bossi, a party that will run under its own banner in the north of the country in these elections. 12th December was not a date chosen by chance; it corresponds with the first anniversary of the major mobilisation of opposition forces against Romano Prodi's government.
Silvio Berlusconi, nicknamed Cavaliere, has been forced to adopt a different stance because of Walter Veltroni who one year ago established the Democratic Party and decided to stand alone in the election; this has led to a revival in the Italian political arena that has been dominated until now by extremely large political coalitions. Hence Silvio Berlusconi says he wants to rally "all liberal and moderate Italian citizens who do not identify with the left to his cause". Alessandra Mussolini (Social Alternative, AS), the grand-daughter of the Duce Benito Mussolini has said that AS will join forces with the PDL. The opposition leader has now called for moderation and has even said that he may form a grand coalition with the Democratic Party and plans for dialogue with the opposition after the elections. "This will depend on how great their victory and how great their defeat," said former Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti (FI).
The Cavaliere has had to contend with the withdrawal of the UDC. "After 14 years of working together I simply want to say to Silvio Berlusconi: not everyone is for sale in Italy," said Pier Ferdinando Casini, announcing that he would stand alone before the electorate. "Why should I launch into battle with a man in whom I no longer believe? he added. Pier Ferdinando Casini, whose party achieves its best scores in the south of Italy, wants to adopt a position between left and right. Although Silvio Berlusconi says he is sure that UDC supporters will not follow their leader, Pier Ferdinando's Casini's withdrawal does indeed take Mr Berlusconi's coalition more to the right of the political scale just as his main rival Walter Veltroni has adopted a more central position.
On 9th February Silvio Berlusconi declared what he wanted from Walter Veltroni's party, the Democratic Party – in whom he does not see an enemy – and said that he would like to witness the foundation of "a Republic based on two pillars that foster grand projects."
Many political analysts say that Silvio Berlusconi would like to become President of the Republic. To do this the former President of the Council has every interest in showing that he is open to dialogue with the left. Hence he is said to have suggested to Franco Marini (Daisy Party) that he remains president of the Senate if the PDL wins on 13th and 14th April next. Whatever the outcome the Cavaliere has already had a taste of victory: surviving his old enemy, Romano Prodi, who has decided to quit the political arena.
Walter Veltroni, the revival of Italian political life?
On 21st and 22nd April 2007, Walter Veltroni founded the Democratic Party (PD) – using the Left Democrats (DS) and the Daisy Party as a base – with the aim of rallying over one third of the electorate and to become the country's main political movement. DS and the Daisy Party both fear the same thing: witnessing the rise of an autonomous centre from the ashes of old elements of Christian Democracy (DC). Some members of the most leftwing part of DS led by Higher Education Minister, Fabio Mussi, which represents around 15% of the party's followers, have split from the group accusing the PD of sliding towards the centre. The Daisy Party has not suffered scission.
The Democratic Party symbolises "the final chapter in the experiment that started in 1921 in Livorno," with the birth of the Communist Party (PCI) when it split from the Socialist Party (PSI). The Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) was created in 1991 which then became the Democrats of the Left (DS) in 1998. During the primaries in mid-October 2007 Walter Veltroni won 3 million votes and was elected leader of the new party.
By going it alone Walter Veltroni is attempting to provide the PD with greater profile and to win through as an element of unification in a political landscape that is particularly bipolar. "We have unilaterally decided to run alone, but above all we shall be free not to give up on what we really believe. Two years ago there would have been 12 party leaders running with me. We have lived under the dictatorship of the minorities. By running alone we can finally write what we want in our programme and I have been talking of a democratic, post-ideological party for the last fifteen years," he said on 10th February as he launched his electoral campaign. He hopes to win over as wide an electorate as possible without having his hands tied by the far left. "We are a major centre left movement. The far left is about the class struggle, we are working towards a pact between the management and the workers. What we are trying to do has never been achieved in Italy. When a citizen votes for the Democratic Party he will know exactly what its position is and there will be no need for mediation via other small parties," he repeated.
The PD says it is ready to receive all of those who share its programme. The Radical Party led by Emma Bonino and Marco Panella have joined it. If she wins on 14th April Emma Bonino may be given a ministerial seat. Walter Veltroni recalled that "she was an excellent Foreign Trade Minister who helped in increasing exports, which all businessmen acknowledge." Some Catholics have said they are concerned about the alliance with the Radical Party since the latter defends the right to abortion and divorce. "The idea that Catholics and atheists cannot live together in the same coalition is unacceptable in a modern country," answered Walter Veltroni.
Several personalities will be candidates on the Democratic Party lists in the elections on 13th and 14th April next: Alessandro Benetton, the heir of the dynasty bearing the same name, Matteo Colaninno, chairman of the syndicate for young company managers, a general who is in charge of the Italian armed forces in Afghanistan and in Kosovo, the chairman of the Steel Industry Managers' Federation and the anti-mafia Prefect, Luigi de Sena.
Walter Veltroni refuses to diabolise Silvio Berlusconi whose name he carefully avoids mentioning. "It is the end of an era of dispute and hate," he stressed. At the end of 2007 he tried to talk to the opposition leader about the modification of the electoral law. Some then accused him of providing the Cavaliere with renewed legitimacy that his centre-right allies challenged; others accused him of having tried to bring down Romano Prodi's government for his own personal advantage.
Walter Veltroni's work, otherwise known as "Super Walter" in the media, targets the long term. If we consider that the electoral law grants a majority bonus to the party or the coalition that wins the elections then running alone may prove to be dangerous. However he wants to break from old habits. And the wager may also pay off in the end. "The Democratic Party is a great innovation comparable to the entry of Silvio Berlusconi's debut in 1994," declares Renato Mannheimer, professor of sociology at the University of Bicocca in Milan who adds "in electoral terms, not making an alliance with the far left is a fortunate discovery that may provide the Democratic Party win 5 to 7% more votes in the election." "Walter Veltroni does not want to win these elections but the next ones," maintains Franco Pavoncello, professor of Political Science at the John Cabot University in Rome. "He would like to find his position in the national arena as an opposition leader and move away from the far left."
For his part editorial writer, Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica stressed that "the clarification of the political landscape is a major step forwards towards an incomplete bipolarisation that will finally bring out country in line with other western democracies." Finally, Marc Lazar, professor at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris says that "he will stand as a man who will provide renaissance against Silvio Berlusconi whom he describes as someone who has disappointed the Italians." He adds, "Walter Veltroni shows that he is different from Romano Prodi and as a skilful communicator he overshadows Silvio Berlusconi and even makes him look outmoded. However to take the tension out of public life he rejects the idea of founding the Democratic Party's identity on a campaign against Berlusconi." The Democratic Party leader plays on his age (53) to show that his rival – aged 71 – is outdated.
Walter Veltroni started his campaign on 10th February giving a speech "for Italy". Three days later he resigned from position as mayor of Rome, since the electoral law stipulates that mayors of towns with over 20,000 inhabitants cannot stand in the general election (around 150 mayors are also due to withdraw from office). Walter Veltroni was re-elected in Rome on 29th May 2006 in the first round of the local elections, winning the best result ever achieved by a candidate in Rome: 61.4% of the vote in comparison with 37.1% for his rival, former Agriculture Minister, Gianni Alemanno (NA).
The other forces running
The elections on 13th and 14th April are typified by a significant reduction in the number of parties running. Apart from the PD and the PDL there is the Left - the Rainbow (La Sinistra – l'Arcobaleno) led by the present president of the Chamber of Deputies and Secretary of Communist Refoundation (RC), Fausto Bertinotti, which rallies four parties: RC, the Party of Italian Communists, the Greens and the Democratic Left (comprising former members of the Democrats of the Left who refused to join forces with the Daisy Party). "The Left – the Rainbow would like to represent the quest for change which is not offered by the other two parties. The far left now has to move into a phase of creative, influential opposition," said Fausto Bertinotti. "This is about resisting against the creation of a grand coalition," maintains the Green leader, Antonio Pecoraro Scanio. The party has set the objective of winning over 10% of the vote.
In addition to this Pier Ferdinando Casini (UDC) announced that he was going to run in the election and Clemente Mastella (UDEUR) is also planning to run the election alone.
The Candidates' Programmes
Italy's economy that has been surpassed by that of Spain in terms of income per capita has run into troubled waters. GDP growth is lower than 1% (0.7% planned for this year in comparison with 5.8% in the 1960's, 3.8% in the 1970's and 1.6% in the 1990's). Inflation is at its highest rate in ten years and the country is undermined by vote-catching, corruption, an ineffective public system and tax evasion. Outgoing President of the Council, Romano Prodi does however boast his economic results with a reduction in the debt and public deficit (down from 4.4% to 2%) and a decrease in unemployment to 6%.
Walter Veltroni is putting forward a 12 point programme to "change Italy". He will increase growth and reduce taxes as from 2009 (according to the polls a rise in taxes is one of the main reasons why Romano Prodi's government was unpopular). "Less taxes for all" maintains one of the Democratic Party's slogans. "It is possible to reduce taxes and increase salaries because our fight against tax evasion and for finances has produced extraordinary results," stressed Walter Veltroni. Outgoing Economic Development Minister Pierluigi Bersani, says that the Prodi government results will now enable to lift pressure on wages. "Less bureaucracy, less conservatism. More growth, more freedom, these are the guidelines in our programme," declared Walter Veltroni. He is planning to reduce public spending by 0.5% of the budget in the first year of his mandate and by 1% in the second and third years. The Democratic Party leader whose lists will comprise nearly one third women is suggesting the establishment of a 2,500 euro loan per new born child, a tax credit for companies who employ women, the extension of nursery opening hours and the adoption of a male/female equality law with regard to the labour market. He hopes to succeed in establishing real parity within company management boards. These proposals have been relatively well received by economists who appreciated that fact that they were all set down in figures.
Silvio Berlusconi is also promising a reduction in taxes but only if the economic situation allows for it. "No one can ignore the fact that we are in a deep world economic crisis," he said, speaking of "sacrifices" and maintaining that he is not Superman. "We are not promising to perform miracles," reads the PDL's electoral platform. The opposition leader would like to make overtime tax free and reduce property tax which would cost the State of around 2 billion euros. He hopes to reduce obligatory payments by three points (which represent 43% of the GDP at present). Finally the Cavaliere is promising major reforms to modernise infrastructures.
Romano Prodi's continued residence in the Chigi Palace (the seat of the President of the Council) is turning into godsend for Silvio Berlusconi who is quick to recall that "the Democratic Party is the party of the outgoing President of the Council and it has supported Romano Prodi's government which has increased taxes and opened the doors to illegal immigrants, thereby decreasing citizens' security and increasing criminality." "Romano Prodi has failed," he repeats.
He has said that he will appoint Giulio Tremonti, the present vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies as Economy Minister if the PDL wins the elections. Giulio Tremonti already occupied this position between 1995-1996 and 2001-2004. "The government will not comprise more than 15 ministers. It will also include new faces and at least four women," he said. The present European Commissioner for Justice and Internal Affairs Franco Frattini, may very well be appointed Foreign Minister (a position he occupied between 2002-2004) and Gianni Letta, Home Minister and Roberto Formigoni, president of the region of Lombardy may become Education Minister.
Although according to the most recent polls by ISPO Walter Veltroni is still the most popular politician in Italy winning a 55% good opinion rate in comparison with 42% for Silvio Berlusconi, the PDL continues to lead in the polls. The PDL is still ahead of the PD by around 5 points (38% and 32% respectively); however this lead has decreased by half over the last month.
"It might be a repeat of 2006 and the lack of a clear majority in the Senate will lead to instability. There is a real danger of finding a parliament in which a party holds the majority in the Chamber of Deputies and another in the Senate, which will make it impossible to govern the country, both for Silvio Berlusconi or Walter Veltroni," maintains Franco Pavoncello. Indeed since both Chambers enjoy equal powers it is vital for any political party to win the majority both in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate to be able to govern. If this is not the case, Silvio Berlusconi or Walter Veltroni may form an intermediary government that would undertake to modify the electoral law. "Has the election outcome already been decided upon? No, and that is why it is a novel situation. Italy may be starting a period of settlement after a decade of transition," stresses Marc Lazar. One thing is sure: the battle between Walter Veltroni and Silvio Berlusconi will be a hard one and the result of the election is extremely uncertain.
Reminder of the General and Senatorial Election Results on 9th and 10th April in Italy
Turn out: 83.6%
Chamber of Deputies
Source: Italian Home Office
Turn out: 83.5%
Source: Italian Home Office