04/04/2008 - D-7
The Italians are being called to vote in the general and senatorial elections that are being held early on 13th and 14th April next. This election follows the resignation of the Romano Prodi led government on 24th January after the Senate refused him its confidence (156 votes versus 161). Since the attempts made by Giorgio Napolitano, President of the Italian Republic, to form an interim government to modify the electoral law failed the Head of State was forced to convene early elections.
Local by-elections initially planned for June will take place on the same day as the vote for parliament.
Clemente Mastella (Union of democrats for Europe, Udeur), former Justice Minister, who was the cause of the Romano Prodi government's resignation will be the first victim of the elections on 13th and 14th April. Isolated, his party has given up the race. The choice of the two main parties, the Democratic Party (PD) led by Walter Veltroni and the People of Freedom Party (PdL) led by Silvio Berlusconi to run alone makes the task of the small parties difficult since they have to win at least 4% of the votes cast to be represented in Parliament.
Apart from the two parties (PD and PdL), nearly one hundred parties will be standing on 13th and 14th April next. Amongst them feature:
- On the left, the Left – The Rainbow, (La Sinistra – L'arcobaleno) led by the present chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, Fausto Bertinotti, which rallies four parties: Communist Refoundation (RC), the Party of Italian Communists (PdCI), the Greens and the Democratic Left; there is also the Socialist Party led by Enrico Boselli;
- In the centre, the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC) led by Pier Ferdinando Casini who has refused to stand with Silvio Berlusconi ;
- On the right, The Right led by Daniela Santanche.
As is often the case in Italy many small lists will use the elections to voice their demands. Hence the list "No waste in Campania" would like to highlight the difficult and recurrent problems of waste that has been piling up for months in Naples. There are also some more eccentric candidates such as that of the Holy Roman Catholic and Liberal Empire, the National Movement of Dolphins and the "I do not vote" list.
Another consequence of this nascent renovation of the Italian political arena is that the main parties are putting forward a high number of candidates from civil society together with women. They represent nearly 50% of the PD lists and one third of those of the PdL. Candidates are younger than during the previous elections, the average age being 44.5 in Walter Veltroni's party and 48 in Silvio Berlusconi's party.
Finally another unusual point is that Emmanuel-Philibert, son of Victor-Emmanuel di Savoia, Prince of Naples and son of the last king of Italy, Umberto II will be standing in the general elections on the list "Values and Future" which he qualifies as a "movement of opinion that defends regional values, culture, family and Christian roots." "I usually vote centre-right. If I am elected I will be close to the centre-right representatives whether they win or not." The Italian royal family was banished from Italy by the Republic for 57 years because of King Victor-Emmanuel III's (grandfather of the present prince) support of Benito Mussolini's fascist regime. On 10th November 2002 a vote in Parliament allowed the family's return to its country. The royal family supported Silvio Berlusconi during the elections on 9th and 10th April 2006. "Undoubtedly we shall support Silvio Berlusconi's campaign. He is a man I admire and it is only thanks to his tenacity that my son and I could return to Italy," declared Victor-Emmanuel. Another representative of the nobility to run for a seat in the Senate on the UDC list is the Roman Princess Alessandra Borghese, who is a descendant of one of Italy's oldest families.
The Catholic Church and company heads have protested against the closed list system that has been in force since the electoral reform on 14th December 2005 in the general and senatorial elections; they regret that the voter is no longer allowed to show his preference. According to Giuseppe Betori, secretary general of the Episcopal Conference this system leads to "oligarchic rule de facto" and he is hoping that there will be electoral reform in order to "bring back a bit of democracy" to Italy. The chairman of Confindustria (company heads), Luca di Montezemolo, has expressed a similar opinion. As early as January Italian company heads and the Episcopal Conference were both against the organisation of early elections. According to a survey by the University Luiss in Rome the closed electoral list system favours loyalty to a leader rather than merit, privileges apparatchik and holds up the renewal of the political classes. Hence 130 MPs are already guaranteed to be elected on 13th and 14th April next.
Apparently confident of his victory Silvio Berlusconi is leading a tough campaign even though a certain amount of restraint can be perceived in his discourse. The Cavaliere was quick to speak of "his concern about governing in these conditions," saying that "he was entering government with great humility." The PdL leader has however maintained his incredible talent of addressing the people. To one young woman who asked him how she was supposed to start a family with the low salary that she was receiving and a lack of job security he answered "as a father, I would advise you to marry the son of Silvio Berlusconi or someone similar. With the smile you have you will have no problems." Although a number of observers were shocked by this answer the young woman Perla Pavoncello, was not offended and even said that she would vote for the Cavaliere; afterwards it was discovered that she was running on the PdL list in Rome!
Calling on his supporters to go out and win over voters one by one, Silvio Berlusconi declared: "Go and speak to your priest, your chemist. I have excellent relations myself with chemists and not because I buy Viagra." This kind of comment, although a source of rage for his opponents and some Italians, wins over a significant part of the electorate. "Don't waste your time looking at the Left's programme because when the Left gets in this is what happens to its programme," he said tearing up sheets of paper and throwing the pieces into the wind.
According to Marc Lazar, professor at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris Berlusconi's major strength is talking straight to the public. Two types of electorate are automatically his: SME leaders, notably in the North of the country, liberal professions, shopkeepers and craftsmen to whom he is promising a tax reduction and the freedom to do business; they also appreciate the values of individualism, money and work – which he highlights. The second group includes those who have been left out by society; the elderly, the unqualified, those with no political opinion to whom he promises security and protection.
Asked about the presence of Giuseppe Ciarrapio, a 74 year old who speaks proudly of his fascist past, on his list Berlusconi answered "he counts for nothing, he is just a candidate like any other." "In parliament there are 30 people who really work, all of the others just need to be there and be loyal," he maintains unhesitatingly.
The present president of the Chamber of Deputies and former Economy Minister (1995-1996 and 2001-2004), Giulio Tremonti, published a book entitled "Fear and Hope" that surprised political analysts because of his condemnation of liberalism, a trend of thought of which he had been a most fervent defender until now. In this book he sees in the present economic and financial crisis the result of the excesses of globalisation. "The markets, the totalitarian ideology invented to govern the 21st century have diabolised the State and nearly everything that was public or linked to the community; the market has been placed in a sovereign position of domination over everything else. Now we can no longer say that it was the right direction, the only one," he writes.
For his part former Defence Minister (2001-2006), Antonio Martino, admirer of the American foreign policy said that he wanted to send Italian troops to Iraq (they left the country two years ago) and reduce Italy's role in the Lebanon (the country is the leader of the peace mission leader there). "I shall reduce drastically our presence in the Lebanon, I may even cancel it altogether and I shall send troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, there where they are needed," he stressed hoping to recover his post as Defence Minister; however contrary to Giulio Tremonti, whom the Cavaliere has declared potential Economy Minister, Mr Martino has not been given this guarantee.
The Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Security and Justice, Franco Frattini, former Foreign Minister (2002-2004), took leave from the Commission on 7th March in order to take part in the electoral campaign. He may well be appointed head of Italian diplomacy again if the PdL wins.
On 1st April Silvio Berlusconi and Walter Veltroni met for a televised duel on the RAI. The Cavaliere gave an awesome review of the Romano Prodi government's activities: the lowest GDP growth in Europe, the highest inflation rate since 1996, high tax pressure – in all a country that had broken down. He said that he would not give any tax reprieve as he had done during his Presidency of the Council (2001-2006), and that he would grant freedom in the fight against tax fraud; finally he promised to abolish local taxes.
Gianfranco Fini, an ally of Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the National Alliance (AN) speaks of Walter Veltroni as the successor to Romano Prodi. "Walter Veltroni suffers from amnesia. He speaks as if he was in the opposition and he does it because he is aware of the centre-left government's failure." He accuses the Democratic Party of not having been able to rise to the main issues that Italy has to face. "The Democratic Party does not have the necessary tools that we require to manage the issue of immigration or the fight against drugs. Our political opponents say that immigrants who come from other European Union countries are a resource for our country but no one can believe that our borders should remain open any longer. Those who have work should be allowed to come to Italy but not those who are looking for work," he maintains.
At the end of March the corruption trial in which Silvio Berlusconi has been summoned to appear was postponed to a later date after the elections. The former President of the Council is under suspicion of tax fraud with regard to the purchase of film rights by his audiovisual group Mediaset (the artificial increase of tariffs via intermediary companies that were based in tax havens). The court in Milan suspects the British business lawyer David Mills, former husband to the British Secretary of State Tessa Jowell, of having been involved in the creation of offshore companies and the opening of bank accounts in tax havens for Fininvest, Silvio Berlusconi's holding, and of having received more than 500,000 euros from Fininvest in 1997 in exchange for bearing false witness in support of Silvio Berlusconi during two trials at the end of the 1990's. David Mills, who has been ordered by the British tax authorities to justify the source of this sum of money that is said to have helped the couple pay off a mortgage that they had contracted, said that this was a "present" in exchange for his benevolent declarations – he later denied this. David Mills and Silvio Berlusconi both say that this sum did not come from Fininvest.
Walter Veltroni is continuing his tour of Italy aboard a bus. He is due to cover 12,000 kilometres and visit 110 of the country's provinces. Every evening he stops over with a family. Film director Ettore Scola who worked with the Left leader's father, Vittorio Veltroni on the radio and has known him since he was born is making a documentary about this tour of Italy.
Walter Veltroni has commented ironically on Silvio Berlusconi's motto "The Left has brought Italy to its knees, Italy stand up". "People don't need politicians to tell them to get up. They get up every day to work to take care of their children. Italy is on its feet," he declared. The Democratic leader whose slogans are inspired by those of Barack Obama, the Democrat candidate in the USA: "Yes, we can do it", seems confident of his victory. "Two things are certain. Even if Silvio Berlusconi wins he is already a loser. Even if I lose I am a winner," he said. His rejection of any alliance with the far left, unusual in Italy, is the first step toward the renewal of the political arena on the peninsula. "We must fight poverty, not wealth," declares the person who believes that the class war is "outmoded" and who hopes to forge a real place in the political arena. "I don't know which party I shall find at the finishing post but what I am sure of is that it will be party I have dreamed of," he maintained. Another original feature particular to the democratic leader is that he never takes a stance with regard to his adversary Silvio Berlusconi whom he carefully avoids mentioning although anti-Berlusconi-ism has been a link that has rallied the Italian left for a long time.
Walter Veltroni promises that if he wins he will take care first and foremost of citizens living in precarious situations. He describes Italian society as being rich with talented entrepreneurs and courageous workers but who have been trapped for many years by its political system. "We have an intrusive government that interferes in all areas of the economy. Italy's decline bears witness to this problem," he declared. During a televised "debate" on April 1st the Democratic Party leader declared that he wanted to dedicate four billion euro to help families. He has put forward a project to revalue retirement pensions. This is planned to take place on July 1st if the PD wins, with a tax rebate of 400 euro for the retired who receive up to 25,000 euro income per year and 250 euro for those who earn sums that vary between 25,000 and 55,000 euro. He then suggested linking the increase in pensions to the new index established by the Italian Statistics Institute, Istat, which is now being completed and puts forward a system that will be used as a base for wage revaluations if the unions agree to this. Walter Veltroni's project has been estimated at 2.5 billion euro in the first year and 1.5 billion in the second.
Walter Veltroni has compared Silvio Berlusconi to Achille Lauro, the former mayor of Naples who was particularly corrupt. He accuses him of being responsible for the problems that Sicily is suffering from, a region won by the Cavaliere and where politicians are very close to the Mafia. Two of Silvio Berlusconi's allies, Salvator Cuffaro (UDC), former governor of the region (condemned on 26th January to five years in prison for having revealed to Mafia leaders that they were being spied upon as part of a legal inquiry) and Marcello Dell'Utri, co-founder of Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi's former party and leader of Publitalia, an advertising company that belongs to the Cavaliere, are running for a seat in the Senate.
The PdL is still ahead of the PD in the polls. The latest poll by DemosII, published in the daily, La Repubblica, grants Silvio Berlusconi's coalition (PdL-National Alliance and the Northern League) with 45.7% of the vote in comparison with 39.1% for Walter Veltroni. The Left – The Rainbow (La Sinistra – L'arcobaleno) is due to win 6% of the vote, the UDC 5.8% and the Right 2.5%.
Although just one week before the election the Cavaliere's party seems to be set to win the majority in the Chamber of Deputies and therefore to win the extra that will guarantee him the greatest number of seats, matters are not so certain with regard to the Senate where winning the majority has been made much more difficult. Indeed in the Upper Chamber any party has to win the greatest number of votes in a majority of regions in order to win through. However Renato Mannheimer, professor of sociology at the University of Bicocca in Milan stressed in an article published on 28th March last in the Corriere della Sera that no clear majority would be won in 5 of the 20 Italian regions. According to article 55 of the Constitution both Chambers enjoy identical powers and Italy has a perfectly equal bicameral system; it is therefore vital for any party to win the majority in both Chambers in order to govern.
Several times Silvio Berlusconi has called on his supporters to "vote strategically". "Voting for the small parties means that you are supporting Walter Veltroni," he repeats. For his part Walter Veltroni stressed "Whoever wins, even if it is by one vote, has to govern." The UDC might very well play an important role in the senatorial elections. Pier Ferdinando Casini's party which won 21 seats in 2006 is aiming for 15 senators. "Fifteen years ago the UDC was wiped out but today it might assert itself by being the kingmaker," declared social science profession at the University Luiss in Rome, Dario Antiseri. The UDC hopes to attract a large number of Catholics, who have been somewhat disoriented since the disappearance of Christian Democratic Party. Pier Ferdinando Casini is trying to recover the rightwing Catholic vote who have been shocked by the fascist allegiance of some of Berlusconi's allies. He declared that "the Cavaliere has got worse" that he "was not developing but regressing" and his victory would make Italy lose five years. He also hopes for the support of the leftwing Catholics who do not appreciate the Communist, anti-clerical past of those close to Veltroni.
A poll by DemosII, published in La Reppublica shows that 45% of Catholics are about to vote for Silvio Berlusconi's PdL and 38% for the PD led by Walter Veltroni. Three voters in ten (30%) say they still have not made their choice.