15/04/2008 - Results
Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the main opposition party, the People of Freedom Party (PdL) easily won the early general and senatorial elections that took place in Italy on 13th and 14th April. This election followed the resignation by President of the Council Romano Prodi on 24th January after the Senate refused his government their vote of confidence. The opposition leader has therefore won for the third time in parliamentary elections. In addition to his own party his coalition rallies the National Alliance (AN) led by Gianfranco Fini, the Northern League (NL) led by Umberto Bossi and Social Alternative (AS) led by Alessandra, the grand-daughter of the Duce, Benito Mussolini. It won 46.81% of the vote in the general elections (340 seats) and 47.32% in the senatorial election (168 seats).
Walter Veltroni, leader of the Democratic Party (PD), won together with the Radical Party led by Emma Bonino and Marco Panella and Italy of Values (IdV) led by the former anti-corruption judge Antonio Di Pietro, 37.54% of the vote in the general elections (239 seats) and 38.01% in the senatorial elections (130 seats). "It is a mediocre result, Walter Veltroni was hoping for better," said political analyst Stefano Folli. The leftwing leader, who was handicapped by the legacy of the extremely unpopular Romano Prodi government, can however be pleased to have achieved a better result than the Left Democrats (DS) and the Daisy Party in the last elections. With this election, he has also confirmed his position as centre-left leader on the peninsula and has set the tone for the future.
The other major winner in the election is the Northern League which almost doubled its 2006 score rising from 4.6% to 8.3% of the votes in the Chamber of Deputies and 4.5% to 8.06% in the Senate. "Silvio Berlusconi is a friend. We kept our word, he will never be held by the Northern League," said Umberto Bossi reassuringly. However political analyst from the University of Turin Gian Enrico Rusconi thinks the Northern League "will make him pay heavily for his co-operation." "I do not think Silvio Berlusconi's government will be able to undertake the reforms Italy needs because the Northern League is a protectionist party," declared the political analyst. Silvio Berlusconi is said to have promised at least two ministers' posts to Umberto Bossi's party.
The Rainbow Left Party (Sinistra arcobaleno), led by the President of the Chamber of Deputies and Secretary General of Communist Refoundation (RC), Fausto Bertinotti, collapsed winning just 3.08% in the Chamber of Deputies and 3.21% in the Senate. It will not be represented in Parliament.
Turn out was high 80.4%, i.e. slightly lower than the figure recorded during the previous elections on 9th and 10th April 2006 (- 3.1 points).
"The result is clear: the right will govern this country," declared Walter Veltroni. "As is the custom in all western democracies I called the leader of the People of Freedom Party, Silvio Berlusconi to congratulate him on his victory and wished him all the best for the work he will now have to do," he added. He also wanted to say that he was "pleased with the high turn out rate (...) much higher than in many other European countries." Walter Veltroni also said that he would stay as the head of the Democratic Party. "Today Italian reformism counts for between 34 and 35% of the vote. It is an important movement in a parliament that has experienced deep change after our decision to stand alone in these elections," he stressed, saying that "the Democratic Party would form a "constructive opposition". He said he was ready to work with the new majority on the reform of the electoral law and other institutional reforms.
Silvio Berlusconi said that he was "moved by the result and by the confidence that so many citizens have placed in me" and he said that he was "deeply satisfied" about the result won by his coalition. He stressed that he believed his return as head of government to be a "heavy responsibility" and announced that "many difficult months and years" lay ahead of the Italians; he called upon them to "show great courage". During the electoral campaign he had said he was ready to govern "even it will be like carrying a heavy, painful cross."
Stability and the real possibilities available to the future government depend very much on the senatorial election results (in the Chamber of Deputies the coalition which wins the election is guaranteed the majority because it enjoys a bonus). In the Senate the achievement of the majority is made more difficult since any party which wants to win has to take the greatest number of votes within a majority of regions. Article 55 of the Constitution provides both chambers with identical powers; it is therefore vital for any party to win the majority in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate if it wants to be able to govern. The upper chamber was at the origin of the fall of the Romano Prodi government on 24th January.
The 'small parties' seem to have suffered during these elections which might be seen as Italy's first steps towards a dual party system after several years of weak, unstable political coalitions. Whereas 22 political parties were represented in the outgoing Parliament there will now only be five in the next term in office; this is a revolution for the peninsula.
"The Rainbow Left collapsed because its electorate was very disappointed by its over critical attitude towards the Prodi government," analysed Marco Tarchi, political science professor in Florence. Fausto Bertinotti announced his resignation as soon as the results were announced. "I think it would be honest of me and an act of solidarity towards those who voted for us by acknowledging our defeat, to a degree that we could not foresee, and for this reason it is all the more painful to us," he declared.
The Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC) led by Pier Ferdinando Casini is the other major loser in these elections. "We shall be an opposition that invests in the political future, a responsible opposition which will vote in the laws we think useful and we shall oppose the others. But today the sceptre is in the hands of Silvio Berlusconi, so I say Good Luck to him!" said Pier Ferdinando Casini after the announcement of the results.
71 year old Silvio Berlusconi from Milan started his career in 1960 as a building contractor, with Pietro Canali as an associate within the company Cantieri Riuniti Milanesi S.p.a. In 1978, he founded Fininvest, a holding which manages all of his activities in the media. In 1980 Silvio Berlusconi created Canale 5, the leading private TV channel in Italy; he purchased several other TV channels and launched la Cinq in France in 1986, Telefünf in Germany a year later and Telecinco in Spain in 1989. In 1986, he also invested in sport by purchasing the football club Milan AC. Over the years he diversified his activities in finance, insurance, printing, the press and cinema etc ...
He entered politics in 1993 by creating Forza Italia and won the general and senatorial elections in May 1994. As President of the Council he turned over communication and political life in Italy before being forced to resign on 17th January 1995 after the defection of his Northern League allies. In 1999 Silvio Berlusconi was elected MEP before taking over government again after his victory in the elections of June 2001. He then led the longest serving government in the history of the Republic of Italy and was the first President of the Council to complete his five year term in office after the Second World War.
The rightwing leader has had several close shaves with the courts, finding himself prosecuted in nearly 10 corruption cases, together with tax fraud, forgery and even the illegal funding of a political party. He has been condemned several times but then cleared on appeal or he took advantage of prescription. Silvio Berlusconi is at present involved in a corruption case for which he was due to appear as the elections took place – the trial was postponed until a later date. He is under suspicion of tax fraud in the purchase of film royalties by his audiovisual group Mediaset (artificial raising of prices via intermediary companies resident 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.
The man they nickname Cavaliere can savour the fact that he has survived his old enemy, Romano Prodi (who decided to quit the political arena) by winning his third parliamentary victory. Again he has succeeded in rallying the rightwing forces to his name and in establishing his coalition and bringing Italian discontent over to his advantage, unhappiness that made the Romano Prodi government responsible for the decrease in the Italian public's buying power. During the electoral campaign he also led a discourse that favoured State intervention, it might even have been called "protectionist"; this was designed to reassure the Italians about the room he has to manœuvre but which is nevertheless greatly reduced. "Silvio Berlusconi has given expression to matters that run deep in Italian society insisting on freedom and work but also on pleasure and the demonstration of success," stresses Marc Lazar, professor at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris.
The rightwing leader faces a difficult task of governing a country that is experiencing a serious economic crisis and which is running last in terms of growth in the euro area. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) stressed on 9th April last that GDP growth would not rise above 0.3% over the next two years. The next government will therefore be obliged to start severe structural reforms, notably in areas such as the economy, taxation, justice, education, infrastructures etc.
After the announcement of the results Silvio Berlusconi declared that the formation of his government would be quick (this week) and that it would include 12 ministers, 4 of whom would be women. It is highly likely that Giulio Tremonti, former Economy Minister, Gianni Letta, Franco Frattini, present European Commission for Justice and Internal Affairs and Stefania Prestigiacomo former Equal Opportunities Minister, will all be taking part in the next government.
The future President of the Council indicated that he was going to look into the retirement pension issue immediately together with that of the airline Alitalia and the waste crisis in Naples. He said that his government would stay until the end of his five year term in office. Finally he will travel to Israel on his first trip abroad and on the occasion of the Hebrew State's 60th Anniversary.
The new Italian Parliament will hold its first session on 29th April next.
General and Senatorial Election Results 13th and 14th April 2008 in Italy
Turn out: 80.4%
Chamber of Deputies
Source: Italian Home Office
Source: Italian Home Office