Friday, February 22, 2013

Italian elections… some possible outcomes

A pessimistic reader, Jurassic Dark, (one who knows Italy well) sent me these questions after my last Electionwatch blog. The last few days have not changed their relevance, if anything, they have increased the worries:
The three scary questions are the following:

1. Is a scenario of the Italian Papandreou sitting in Chigi and the Troika sitting in the Via Veneto hotels (instead of The Grande Bretagne on Syntagma square) “straight jacketing the country into submission”... a likely possibility? and if not, why not?
2. What exactly is the red line that Monti and Vendola have drawn themselves for (not) getting into bed together?
3. Is the MPS v. Finmeccanica judicial inquiry the harbinger of a demolition derby between the Right and the Left fighting for the last bastions of liquidity for their campaign costs? What’s left after the smoking ruins?
If you dare answer, I will be reading!

They are indeed scary questions but the answers, I think are a little more reassuring though as election day draws near, my optimism is waning slightly. Still, there are cultural and structural reasons to think that the Greek Tragedy is not a model for an Italian one.

Despite the theatre of Italian politics (Berlusconi and Grillo are expert performers), much of it is just that, theatre. Berlusconi presumably does not take off his pancake makeup even when he goes to bed; Grillo doesn’t make up even when he’s on stage but stays in character on and off the stump. The others though are much more pragmatic and Bersani has said explicitly that he will mediate between Monti and Vendola.

To answer Jurassic’s question, the red line is “reform” on Monti’s side and “growth and job security” on Vendola’s, aims which are not incompatible and can be fudged. The threat of that EU troika holding court in Via Veneto will be enough to persuade both of them to come to terms. The troika itself (if it ever reached via Veneto) has far fewer reasons to “straight jacket the country into submission” as the debt is under control now just because Monti has already applied a straitjacket and Monte dei Paschi notwithstanding, the banks are still sound. This could change, though, if Berlusconi were to win or if no one were to win.

The most serious worry is not so much a red line imposed either by Monti or Vendola but one created by the numbers themselves. Monti’s share is definitely declining – Berlusconi tries to make out that he is in free fall, I doubt it but he is certainly closer to 10% than 15%. A Berlusconi victory was never a serious threat and now seems to be receding with some of the bootleg polls suggesting that he might even come third after Grillo. Certainly his rhetoric is directed more at Grillo that the others and my own very unscientific observations suggest that a lot of very unlikely people are considering voting for Grillo.

So the troika will not be on the first plane on Tuesday morning but a lot of European capitals are concerned for the moment.

The MPS and Finmecanica scandals are not closely and exclusively enough linked to single parties to make an all out war useful. MPS is on the centre-left in Siena but has connections with the PdL and other parties at the Tuscan and national levels. There are allegations that the PdL’s former coordinator, Denis Verdini was part of the power play over the bank and the bribe charges against the Finmecanica boss are also not well focussed politically. So there is unlikely to be slogging match between PD and PdL over the two organisations but there will certainly be major manoeuvres on party financing after the elections especially if there over 100 Grillo parliamentarians.

As in previous election years, the American University of Rome will be hosting a one day conference covering election issues, parties, policies and personalities, with analyses from scholars, journalists and politicians. This year it will be on 8 March 2013 originally a month before the likely date of the elections, now two weeks after the 24-25 Feb elections. The keynote speeches will be given by Paul Ginsborg and Gianfranco Pasquino.

Follow me on Twitter: @walstonjames

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