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No Ordinary Election for Italy

An Election Poster in Italy

Next weekend Italy votes. This is no ordinary election, and even if many Italians may not realize it, nor care, many from beyond Italy’s borders will be waiting with baited breath for the outcome.

The shadow of Berlusconi looms large, but there are newcomers too, such as Beppe Grillo and his 5 Star Movement, and then there is Oscar Giannino’s FARE party. Also in the running is Italy’s current technocrat leader Mario Monti who may earn enough votes to form an alliance with the PD party which seems to think it is going to win the day.

UPDATE: 19 February, 2013. It’s looking as if Oscar Giannino may be out of the running after it was discovered he falsely claimed to possess a master from the Chicago Booth business school. Sadly, the Giannino case may mean that the FARE party won’t do as well as it could have done in the upcoming elections.

There’s more, for Italian readers, on the Giannino story on the La Repubblica website. Update end.

There are others, lots of others, for Italy’s voters to choose from.

A Baffling Choice

Italians in Lombardy will have 24 parties to choose from when electing members of Italy’s lower chamber of deputies house. Choosing the members of Italy’s upper house, the Senate, will not be much easier, seeing as there are 20 lists vying for votes in Lombardy.

Gaining support and worrying many is the apparently populist Beppe Grillo. Berlusconi, among many other criticisms, simply does not have a good track record. Oscar Giannino, on the other hand, is as unproven as Beppe Grillo, but is more down to earth and his entry onto Italy’s political scene could herald the beginning of a new, more socially responsible, right leaning political party.

An Election Poster in Italy
An Election Poster in Italy showing all the parties in the race

The big danger is that in choosing outsiders like Giannino and Grillo, or even opting for Monti, the position of Berlusconi may be strengthened, possibly to the detriment of Italy’s center-left PD party.

If too many Italians chose to vote for the likes of Grillo and Giannino, Italy risks ending up with an unstable government which will be unable to do much, if anything, to put Italy back on track.

Other Italians will, of course, vote for Mario Monti, but in this case too, there is a risk that at the end of the day, no one party will end up with enough votes to establish a convincing presence in Italy’s parliament.

While many Italians may well choose the center-left PD party, others remain unconvinced that it will live up to its promises. Italy’s center-left, a little like Berlusconi’s pseudo right PdL party cannot boast a good track record. Unlike Berlusconi’s party, center-left alliances tend to be prone to bickering. There is also the belief that Italy’s two main parties, the PdL and the PD are too self-serving for Italy’s good and both are part of the detested ‘casta’, which has a kind of unholy, unwritten alliance dedicated to little more than self-preservation and the maintenance of high pay levels and perks for politicians.

Italy’s center-left does not appear to have any concrete proposals regarding the creation of jobs or for making Italy more business friendly. What is being proposed will cost money, lots of it, but Italy has no cash.

The World’s Choice – Mario Monti

Mario Monti appears to be the preferred choice of leaders of other nations in Europe and beyond, whereas Italians are not too sure Monti is a wise choice in view of the austerity pain he inflicted on them. Italians appear to have forgotten that Berlusconi is the reason why Monti adopted austerity measures. If Berlusconi had done a better job, Mario Monti would never have appeared on the scene.

Why is the world bothered what happens in Italy? Well, if Italy does not end up with a half decent government, there is a risk that the Eurozone will come crashing down. If this happens, the ensuing economic and, possibly, social chaos may spread to other economies around the world. The global economic crisis is far from over and Italy could be the straw which breaks the proverbial camel’s back, especially if the Boot falls back into the hands of Silvio Berlusconi.

Silvio “The Phoenix” Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi who, despite having been pushed out because his government was unable to manage the southern European sovereign debt crisis, has risen, like a kind of phoenix from the ashes, to prominence one more.

To say that confidence in Berlusconi’s ability had reached a record low point around the time he was ousted in favor of Mario Monti would be something of an understatement. It must also be remembered that at the time Berlusconi handed over Italy’s reins to Mario Monti, his government had a wafer thin majority and was on the point of crumbling anyway. This is something Berlusconi has not been reminding his fans of during his showy election campaign and multiple media appearances.

Publicly, Berlusconi initially claimed he graciously stepped aside to save Italy, although he later changed this to some story that he was forced out by a group of pan European conspirators led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a woman Berlusconi loves to hate.

Berlusconi’s political future looked grim at the start of 2012, but slowly and surely, he regained ground.

Technically Berlusconi is not standing for election as prime minister this time round. His PdL party has not nominated an official prime ministerial candidate, but if his party does actually manage to win, you can be just about certain Berlusconi would be offered the role. He would, of course, graciously accept and Italy would once again fall into the hands of a tanned media magnate who is up to his neck in legal wrangles and conflicts of interest and that is not to mention the less than sparking track record of his government.

The man who thinks corruption is normal business practice wants Italy to gamble its way out of its grim economic state.

Italy’s economy was in a pickle before Berlusconi came to power and remained so throughout Berlusconi’s reign.

Still, there is a chance Berlusconi will end up running Italy once more.

The PD Scenario

What is more likely though, is that Italy’s center left PD party will end up with enough votes to become the strongest force in Italy’s parliament. The PD, however,  is unlikely to earn enough votes to allow it to form a government on its own, so it will have to form a coalition. Potential coalition partners are Nichi Vendola’s left-left party, or Mario Monti’s own centre right party, even if Vendola has made it clear he wants nothing to do with the right leaning Mr Monti.

Mario Monti has been hinting that he may be prepared to form an alliance with the PD, but won’t accept policies he regards as being to left wing.

Regardless of the ideological differences, it is possible that a last minute alliance may be formed to keep Berlusconi at bay, but this is Italy and anything could happen. However, it does seem to be universally accepted by Italy’s anti-Berlusconi parties that Berlusconi and his mob must be kept at a distance, so some kind of alliance will inevitably materialize.

Berlusconi = Instability

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Another worry is that Berlusconi, his Lega Nord and other allies might earn enough votes to cause problems in Italy’s upper house – the senate. If this does happen, Italy may well end up with a government that is unable to govern and it will be election time again.

Yes, the situation is very messy, and adding to the confusion is Beppe Grillo.

The Grillo Factor

Beppe Grillo has been campaigning hard via his Tsunami tour – a whistle stop tour of public meetings in piazzas all over Italy. Grillo’s campaign speeches have been attracting thousands, many thousands.

Observers, both Italian and otherwise, regard Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement as being even more overtly populist than Silvio Berlusconi.

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been claiming that the members of Grillo’s movement all come from the extreme left, though this is not true. The Grillisti are said to be neither left nor right, they simply want a government that does what is right and want to see an end to Italy’s parliament being controlled by those who serve their own interests and not those of the people.

Berlusconi is becoming rather worried that Beppe Grillo’s movement may receive more votes than his own PdL party. This is why he’s started to throw around accusations that Grillo’s people are a bunch of left-leaners.

Unlike a number of Berlusconi’s candidates, Grillo’s people do not face accusations of fraud, corruption and worse, such as sleeping with an underage prostitute. Grillo and his movement want to cut the rot out of Italy’s parliament. Berlusconi does not think there is any rot in Italy’s parliament.

Italy’s Media is Not Rooting for Grillo

Italy’s media has not been taking Grillo too seriously and some papers have been either limiting coverage of his campaigning or highlighting anything which might place Grillo in a bad light, such as when it was reported Beppe Grillo was fascist-friendly.

In actual fact, Beppe Grillo has made it very clear that his movement has no intention of forming alliances with any other political faction in Italy’s parliament.

In light of his movement’s treatment at the hands of Italy’s mainstream media, it is no wonder that Beppe Grillo himself believes the vast majority of Italy’s media is in the hands of those who are friendly to Italy’s traditional political parties. Indeed, with regard to Berlusconi, this is most probably true. There have been cases of Berlusconi using his media muscle to distort the news to show himself in a better light.

Italians will vote for Beppe Grillo, or rather, not for the comedian activist himself, but for his candidates. Many of those who will chose the Five Star Movement on election day will be doing so because they are utterly sick of Italy’s mainstream political class – la casta – the caste.

Votes for Beppe Grillo will be a protest. If nothing else, having a few Five Star Movement politicians in Italy’s parliament may serve to ensure the rest behave themselves – if, that is, Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star people can prevent themselves from being caught up in Italy’s highly lucrative power games.

FARE – the Alternative to Beppe Grillo

Italians who regard Beppe Grillo skeptically, and others who consider the traditional parties as being next to useless, may well elect to place a cross next to the FARE symbol on election day, if, that is, they know anything about the new political party.

Led by journalist Oscar Giannino, who may now take a back seat after he claimed to have a qualification he did not, the FARE party literally wants to stop Italy’s decline.

The FARE party’s manifesto is clear, and seems to be sensible too, even if it is not too clear on how it is going to help Italy create jobs.

FARE policies would promote anti-corruption, merit, faster justice, improved education and training for all, as well as working to bring Italy’s huge national debt under control and keeping costs down. The FARE party would also put tax evaders in prison.

Arguably, such policies would lead to an increase in the number of jobs, albeit indirectly.

Predictions?

Hard to say really. At a guess, Italy’s next government will be a kind of unholy alliance between the center-left PD party and Mario Monti and the factions which are allied to him.

Beppe Grillo’s people will establish a presence in Italy’s parliament and its members will only vote for the legislation it wants, as well as proposing it own reforms, such as only allowing Italy’s politicians two terms of office.

Oscar Giannino’s party may be there, but not with enough seats to make a difference. The FARE party may end up supporting the PD/Monti alliance and putting forward ideas for constructive reforms.

Berlusconi is also likely to be present and will do all he can to block as much as possible and force Italy into another round of elections as soon as he can.

The world will probably be happy to see Italy’s center-left being moderated by Mario Monti and hope that much needed reforms do actually materialize.

Really, though, anything could happen, and probably will. Last minute revelations, such as the Giannino qualifications affair, may swing Italy’s voters one way or another.

Italian voters who have not made up their minds who to vote for may be using the Voi Siete Qui system to understand which parties more likely to represent their interests.

 

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