Saturday, February 23, 2013

Uncertain Italian Elections

The last few elections in Italy have been fairly easy to predict – not always the details but the big picture. There were two blocs and one was going to win; the only doubt was by how much and whether the winner in the lower house would have a working majority in the Senate.

With six players on the field, the geometry and the tactics become very complicated.

The first unknown is the weather. It is snowing in much of central Italy and more is expected tomorrow in the centre and the north. It is raining here in Rome and heavy rain and some storms are forecast for tomorrow for the south. This means that those who are politically less committed or physically less able might not make the effort to go and vote which will weigh more heavily on Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) whose voters tend to be both older and until December certainly, were more fed up than others. It will give an edge to Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) whose supporters are extremely fired up and are younger.

Campaigning stopped at midnight last night, the idea being that voters should have a “day of reflection” today and go and vote tomorrow and Monday morning but there is plenty of comment on the web and in all the media.

The last day was marked by M5S filling piazza S. Giovanni in Rome. The crowd was thin at the beginning as candidates and councillors paraded across the stage telling the crowd what they had done or what they would do when elected, a sort of oral tweet which certainly did not allow any of them to show depth but did show how young most of them are and how little experience they had of the political game, qualities which the movement emphasises.

By the time Grillo appeared the crowd had swelled to fill the whole square; the organisers claimed 800,000 people, certainly it was a lot of people and full of adulation. They are talking of polling more than 20% and it is certainly extraodinary the sort of unlikely people who say they will vote for Grillo.The majority are indeed younger disillusioned left wing voters but there are a good number of older ex-Berlusconi people.

Once again, Italy has invented a new form of politics…

The other two closing rallies were damp squibs in comparison. Pierluigi Bersani held his in a medium sized Roman theatre with the only novelty being Nanni Moretti’s endorsement. Ten years Moretti had been the establishment left’s sternest critic when he publicly lambasted the then leaders Walter Veltroni and Massimo D’Alema. His presence was useful for Bersani but hardly an election-clincher.

Berlusconi didn’t even turn up to the PdL’s final rally in Naples pleading conjunctivitis.

The likely result is still that the PD and its allies will win the relative majority in the Chamber which with the electoral system’s premium will give them an automatic 55% of the seats (340/630) and will take the relative majority in Senate which will not translate in a majority of the seats because the premium is give on a regional basis. The bigger choice means that an absolute majority is much more difficult today compared to 2006 or 2008 as Roberto D’Alimonte explained yesterday. He shows that the PdL cannot win a majority in the Senate (they would have to win the “red” regions of the centre which is impossible) but that a PD or even a PD-Monti alliance would not necessarily guarantee a working majority.

The uncertainty and potential instablity are the product of the electoral system and some campaign bricks dropped.

Two days ago Mario Monti declared that Chancellor Merkel would not be happy with a PD victory. She leads a centre-right party and has an election later this year so it is probable that she would prefer not to have another centre-left government among the top European players… but she is not going to say so and indeed her spokesman corrected Monti saying, not surprisingly, that the Chancellor does not take sides in other countries. Monti was left with egg on his face or worse because if there is one thing that Italians (and the rest of Europe) cannot stand, it is being told that the Germans are running the show. Today Basil Fawlty would say “don’t mention the spread” or the Deutschmark… I mean the Euro. Monti’s share of the poll was already declining, the remark has pushed it down further but it is not clear who might gain: Bersani, Berlusconi, even Grillo, or more likely, the abstentions.

Another own goal came from the only real free market economic liberal, Oscar Giannino who was forced to admit that he had lied about an MA from Chicago and indeed about his Italian laurea. It should be obvious that someone who campaigns on a platform of honesty and transparency shouldn’t fake his curriculum… but apparently not.

The electoral system sets thresholds for entry into the two houses: in the Chamber it is 4% for a single party, 10% for a coalition of two or more. This means that Giannino is very unlikely to make it (and was fairly unlikely even before his lies were published). Rivoluzione Civica, led by Sicilian prosecutor, Antonio Ingroia, also risks not making the 4% minimum. Both are trying to persuade their potential voters that supporting them is not a wasted votes while the PD and PdL argue the opposite. Berlusconi has even tried to convince wavering centre and centre-right voters that Monti’s coalition will not make 10% so that too would be a wasted vote.

In the Senate, the thresholds are doubled which means that only the four bigger parties have any serious chance of winning seats. In both houses there is plenty of scope for tactical voting with a large number of voters still undecided. There will be a lot of reflection in Italy today.

The different scenarios have been well laid by The Guardian. And La Repubblica lays out its 10 alternatives.

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


Anonymous said...

International press and media ignore (have to ignore?) the fact that Italy is a Cleptocracy until 20 years or more.
And that Italians are really exausted /angry for this.

Anonymous said...

International press and media ignore (have to ignore?) the fact that Italy is a Cleptocracy until 20 years or more.
And that Italians are really exausted /angry for this.