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Italy: New Government, Old Party-Politics

The re-election of Giorgio Napolitano and the formation of a new government seem to have broken Italy’s political deadlock, yet stability remains a distant mirage

One of the greatest American politicians of all times, Franklin D. Roosevelt, came to power in 1933 during the Great Depression, a time when US economy was on its knees and unemployment rampant. An architect of important socially-oriented pieces of legislation, Roosevelt is often referred to as a “sane radical”, one who believed that in order to avoid revolutions and unrest countries “must become fairly radical for at least one generation”. A vision best summarized by his famous maxim: “Reform, if you would preserve”.

Today, Italy is faced with its own Great Depression, but unfortunately for us there is no Roosevelt counterpart able to bring about a radical change. Our politicians feel too safe and protected by their numerous privileges to be worried about revolution and social unrest, and the only thing they want to preserve is their lucrative seats in Italy’s parliament. “Preserve, before others reform” seems to be the maxim they live by, an attitude that could be described as “insane immobilism”.

The Fall of Bersani

Italian politics is a relentless tug of war between parties that perceive it as a zero-sum game. In Italy’s political arena there always has to be a supreme winner that imposes his preeminence over adversaries, even if the people are then the losers. This tendency makes the formation of an effective and stable broad coalition a rather difficult task.

This has never become so evident as in the past two weeks. After two months of deadlock following the uncertain result of February’s election, the political forces were not only unable to form a governing majority, they also, incredibly, failed to reach an agreement on the election of a new President of the Republic to replace the outgoing Giorgio Napolitano.

The supposedly election winning left-leaning PD’s internal fractures contributed greatly to both failures, but while the impossibility of a ruling coalition was also a consequence of Grillo’s 5 Star Movements obstinate unwillingness to coalesce with traditional parties, the incapacity to elect Napolitano’s successor was a fiasco for which the PD bears full responsibility.

After failing to elect Franco Marini – the PD’s first candidate for the presidency – PD leader Pierluigi Bersani proposed the name of Romano Prodi, receiving a standing ovation from his party comrades. However, despite their affectionate show of appreciation, more than 100 PD party members did not vote for Prodi, de facto forcing Bersani to step down as the PD leader and leading Napolitano to accept an usual second term in office at nearly 88 years of age.

Missed Opportunity

Notwithstanding his habitual tirades against the PD, during the President’s elections the Beppe Grillo led 5 Star Movement indicated Stefano Rodotà as president – a left-wing respected and esteemed law professor – openly encouraging Bersani to support him as a first step of political cooperation. Many in the PD welcomed the proposal, but Bersani stubbornly opted for Prodi, in a move that sadly placed personal pride above national interest, with disastrous effects.

As a commentator in Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore rightly noted, accepting the name of Rodotà as President of the Republic “would have meant for the PD to come out as loser of the battle”. Many see in the rejection of Rodotà, and the consequent reelection of Napolitano, the evident sign of the PD’s willingness to compromise with Berlusconi’s PDL against the danger of Grillo’s anti-establishment rhetoric.

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As the newly reelected president, Napolitano moved quickly to form a broad government coalition nominating the young Enrico Letta as Prime Minister. The 46 year old moderate PD politician is seen by many as the man with the right capacities to keep together what is expected to be a uneasy coalition with the PDL, owing also to his kinship with Berlusconi’s right hand man Gianni Letta.

New government saluted with gunfire

On Saturday 27th April, Enrico Letta presented a new government made up of PD and PDL candidates, among which Berlusconi’s political heir Angelino Alfano was made Minister of the Interior and Vice Prime Minister, Fabrizio Saccomanni, a banker, as Minister of economics, and internationally renowned and former leader of Italy’s radical party Emma Bonino as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Among some positive surprises such as a rather low average age compared to past executives and the presence of seven female ministers, the new government’s team also shows a total lack of recognition for 5 Star Movement (M5S) representatives who have been practically banned from any institutional position.

Beppe Grillo lamented above all the exclusion of the M5S from the committee of vigilance on national broadcast television (RAI) and the COPASIR (the parliamentary committee for the control of the Republic’s security) which should be proportionally represented by all the political forces.

The compromise sealed behind closed doors between Bersani and Berlusconi is regarded by Grillo as a humiliation towards the citizens who don’t feel represented and harbor a growing anger at politicians, as shown by last week’s gathering of protesters in front of Italy’s parliament.

On Sunday 28th April, Grillo’s words became prophetic as a 49 year old unemployed man opened fire with a pistol injuring two policemen stationed in front of one of Italy’s parliament buildings, Palazzo Chigi, where Enrico Letta was being sworn in as Prime Minister. After being caught and questioned the man declared he to “want to target politicians”.

Was this really the action of a “lunatic”, as the political forces quickly and irresponsibly labeled it? Or is it an evident sign of growing despair and delusion in the country that we would be better off not to underestimate? Whatever the truth is, Letta’s government was certainly not born under positive auspices.

By Stefano Salustri

Stefano Salustri
Stefano Salustri

Stefano is from L’Aquila, Italy but has worked and studied for years in different European countries before temporarily returning to his home town.

After earning an M.A. from the University of Bath in 2011, he currently writes for various magazines on international politics and energy issues.

Stefano joined Italy Chronicles in December 2012 and contributes articles on Italian news, politics and food.

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