By my calculations, allowing for Easter, Pesach, Liberation Day (25 April) and May Day, the Italian elections should be on 14-15/4 or 21-22/4 or maybe 28-29/4.
If I’m right, then we have nine months before Italians go to the polls to elect a new Parliament and, possibly, a new government. All elections are crucial for someone and they all are hyped as make-or-break-contests. More often than not, the results are banal and change little and there is a serious danger that the 2013 poll will be both make-or-break and change little.
This time, the elections are not just of interest to Italians. Between now and April, Italians and their politicians have a big responsibility on their hands. First of all, the country’s well-being, future growth and social peace depend on what the government does between now and April and how the political parties conduct the campaign; on those two points depend confidence in the euro and its future. Connected by a longer thread is the future shape of the EU itself because if the euro disintegrates, the Union will change shape; if the euro continues, it will mean a new integration and development of the EU.
In the much shorter term, but indirectly, Obama’s re-election depends at least partially on Europe showing signs of a recovery which would enhance an American recovery. Even more indirectly, the emerging economies depend on Europe and North America expanding again.
Most Italian voters do not realise the burden they are carrying (but some do). Much worse, most Italian politicians cannot see beyond the need to get re-elected and maintain their privileges. All important legislation in both the Monti government and before under Berlusconi has been passed as decree laws with votes of confidence. In practice the Houses have been reduced to a school playground where the children can shout and scream for half an hour and then when the whistle blows, they line up for a roll call.
Under Berlusconi, the showtime was extended to television talk shows where representatives of government and opposition would talk (or more usually shout) over each other, neither side listening or answering the other’s points. It was a Colosseum without the blood. Today, in deference to Monti’s “sobriety”, they are much more restrained but seldom any more to the point.
With Berlusconi’s promise or threat to return to active politics, television producers are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of a new series of bouts.
But whatever rules they fight by, their hands are tied. The three big groupings, known until last week by the acronym ABC after the three leaders (now perhaps BBC) are Berlusconi’s PdL on the centre-right (nominally led by Angelino Alfano), Pierferdinando Casini’s centrist UDC and Pierluigi Bersani’s PD. They have to fight a campaign in which they are rivals but are all supporting the same government. This will require considerable restraint and sleight of hand.
The present opposition groups are hardly better off. The Northern League is licking its wounds (caused by internal division and external prosecution for corruption) and the new leader, Roberto Maroni would like to manoevre back into some sort of alliance with the PdL, or at least leave that option open. On the left Di Pietro with his Italia dei Valori, and Nichi Vendola’s SEL (Sinistra, Ecologia e Libertà) are highly critical of the Monti government but they too dream of a possible coalition with the PD, the so-called “Vasto photo” (left) of Bersani, Vendola and Di Pietro smiling together at Di Pietro’s summer conference.
Then on the edge, there is Beppe Grillo, much more than a joker in the pack. The Genoese comedian’s “Five Star Movement” (M5S) is the second party in most opinion polls at the moment with around 20%. A PD leader, Enrico Letta, said yesterday that he preferred Berlusconi to Grillo which brought a storm of criticism from most of the rest of the party. All the parties, nonetheless, are terrified that Grillo might steal their votes and bring out otherwise alienated electors. And be a real force in the next Parliament.
All bets are open. The actual alliances will depend on what sort of electoral system they will use, probably more than the actual policies they propose or which leaders they choose.
At the moment, the PdL or rather Berlusconi wants a French semi-presidential system but there will not be time to pass the necessary constitutional amendment so they are aiming at a premium for the party that polls highest (like the Greek system) with 40% of the candidates in a fixed list (so chosen by the party) and 60% elected with preference votes (voters give a vote to a party and then to one or more candidates on the list, so they chose which candidate is actually elected). The PD would like the premium to go to the winning coalition and want a double ballot system like the French one which gave the Socialists a majority in the National Assembly.
Despite President Napolitano’s admonitions to get moving on electoral reform, there is a good chance that nothing will happen and Italians will again use the much criticised porcellum, the pig’s dinner law, which gives a premium to the winning coalition and has fixed party lists – those elected depend on the party (and its leader) rather than voters.
So over the next nine months I will write an election watch blog every two or three weeks (more often as things get hotter) looking at the electoral system debate, proposed policies, choice of leaders, influence outside of Europe and opinion polls, plus, of course the debate over who will take over as President, one of the first jobs for the new Parliament. Just before or just after Easter, we will host our usual Italian Election conference at the American University of Rome