The hazy, crazy world of Italian politics just got a little hazier and crazier. After making a wave of new appointments to positions in his government, more of which a little later, Silvio Berlusconi was trumpeting the fact that his PdL party’s formerly fragile majority had acquired new strength and would now be able to forge ahead with reforms.
Any celebrations Berlusconi had planned for this weekend will probably have to be put on hold while Italy’s leader tries to extricate himself from a tangle the creation of this new majority has landed him in.
To cut a long story short, Italy’s President Napolitano has questioned the validity of what amounts to a new Berlusconi led government created from a coalition which did not exist when Berlusconi became Italy’s prime minister for the third time (technically, the fourth time) back in May 2008. Only this time round, no general elections were held, so it could be argued that Italy’s current government does not have the mandate of the people.
For the moment though, President Napolitano is merely asking Berlusconi to subject his re-formed government to a confidence vote, the result of which will allow, or not, the rehashed coalition to continue to run Italy.
How Did this Come About?
Back in 2010, after a public fall out, former Berlusconi ally Gianfranco Fini left the Berlusconi government and created a new political group which was to become a political party known as the FLI – Future and Freedom for Italy party. This breakaway group left the Berlusconi-led coalition government, and left the government with a much weakened majority in Italy’s lower house.
On top of the bickering within Berlusconi’s party which had been taking place throughout 2010, the RubyGate bunga bunga scandal which led to Berlusconi being investigated for allegedly aiding and abetting under-age prostitution and abuse of office, weakened Italy’s government even further.
In view of the weakened majority, scandals et al, Fini and other parties opposing the Berlusconi government called for a vote of confidence which was then held on the 14th December 2010.
Berlusconi won this vote by a very slim 3 vote margin. The win was controversial and was proceeded by widespread allegations that Berlusconi’s party had been ‘buying’ support to ensure the government would win the vote. These allegations were denied by the PdL party.
After winning the December confidence vote, Berlusconi set about strengthening his knife-edge majority and managed to persuade politicians from Fini’s FLI splinter group and other corners to jump back on board his government boat. Once again, rumours floated around that horse-trading had been going on.
In 2011, Berlusconi’s majority in Italy’s lower house has gone from fragile to ever more secure as more and more wavering politicians decided to return to the Berlusconi fold. We shall never know what power games have been going on behind the scenes, but nobody does anything for nothing, at least not in the murky world of Italian politics.
It transpired that the ‘prize’ for supporting Berlusconi was a series of cushy jobs as under-secretaries within the current government.
On May 5, in a form of political rewards ceremony, nine new government positions were handed out to those who had apparently offered to help Berlusconi ensure that his majority remained sound.
One of those rewarded with a new position was the honourable Massimo Calearo, a former member of the opposition PD – Democratic Party turned member of the so-called ‘Responsibles’ – a group which aligned itself with the Berlusconi government.
These nine new appointments were only to be the beginning, as Berlusconi stated he wished to appoint another batch of ten friendly politicians to his government’s ranks.
Then the bombshell dropped.
After quietly letting Berlusconi swear in the initial nine new under-secretaries, Italy’s President Napolitano issued a note stating that both Italy’s prime minister and the speakers of Italy’s lower and upper houses (The lower house speaker is Berlusconi’s arch-rival Gianfranco Fini) needed to give some thought to the fact that the nine people who had become part of the government coalition were not the same as those who had been elected to power when Berlusconi formed his government in May 2008. In other words, what Berlusconi had done was not exactly democratic.
Stop reading, start speaking
Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.
What President Napolitano hinted at, in a diplomatic kind of way, was that to legitimise the ‘new’ Berlusconi-led government, a vote of confidence was required.
Presumably, if another ten new under-secretaries are created, as planned, then another confidence vote will be required – if, that is, these extra ten positions ever come to be.
The opposition, who would like to sink the Berlusconi ship, are quite happy with Napolitano’s request.
As one might imagine, Berlusconi’s crew are not overly content that a vote of confidence will have to be called yet again and are resisting the President’s hint. Indeed, the message from the Berlusconi camp is that Berlusconi can appoint who he likes and that no further confirmation of the legitimacy of the Berlusconi government, as demonstrated after the December 14th confidence vote, is necessary.
In an editorial on Berlusconi family newspaper Il Giornale, it is pointed out that previous Italian prime ministers have created under-secretaries and ministers to help glue their governments in place.
And Berlusconi? Nothing so far – but one can be certain that a form of ‘war cabinet’ will be being held as I write this.
I’ll write about the Berlusconi reaction once it becomes public.
Saturday 7 May: Berlusconi reacts
According to the Italian newspaper Il Corriere Della Sera, upon hearing President Napolitano’s note, Berlusconi exploded!
He was not at all happy by all accounts and retorted that he had acted within his power in appointing new people to his government.
A clash of the institutions appears to be on the cards in Italy.
I’ll try to catch a ‘televised’ reaction.
I think I’ve pretty much got the story straight, but corrections are welcome – as are comments and reactions.
Photograph of President Giorgio Napolitano copyright the Presidency of the Italian Republic