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The State of Italian Politics After the Ousting of Berlusconi

Heading in a better direction?

As you might know, Silvio Berlusconi has now been expelled from Italy’s senate and thus, from Italy’s parliament. He was stripped of his senate set after being convicted of tax fraud four months ago. What will happen now in the ever tumultuous world of Italian politics?

Here’s an update on the situation and some speculation on what will happen in Italy now.

Despite Berlusconi’s best efforts to bring Italy’s government down and force Italy into general elections this has not happened. Why?

Basically, Berlusconi’s PdL party split into two parts: some of the members of the PdL led by the man once viewed as being Berlusconi’s successor Angelino Alfano, split off from Berlusconi’s party to form a new group, the Nuovo Centrodestra – New Centre Right. The remainder, Berlusconi’s most stalwart supporters and the former members of the PdL, created the Forza Italia – Go Italy – party. Actually, Forza Italia has been resurrected.

Back in the early 1990s Berlusconi formed Forza Italia prior to entering politics in Italy. For reasons not entirely clear, Berlusconi appears to think that the Forza Italia brand is still strong enough to win him votes. The Forza Italia contingent wanted to sink the current government as punishment for ousting Berlusconi, whereas the ex-PdL Nuovo Centrodestra – New Centre Right – group did not think toppling Italy’s government was a good thing to do.

In the event, on the eve of the vote the expel Berlusconi, his new-old Forza Italia party withdrew its support for the Letta coalition government and became an opposition party. However, the Berlusconi faction’s split into two sections appears to have helped save the current government leaving it with a majority in both houses of Italy’s parliament. Or at least it looks as if the re-jigged government has a majority. Not everyone is convinced this is the case.

To ensure that Italy’s government really does have a working majority, Italy’s President Napolitano wants to subject the new centre-right and centre-left alliance to a confidence vote. Should the Letta government lose this vote, Italy may well end up holding national elections. Even this is uncertain though, because much needed reforms to Italy’s electoral laws have not been forthcoming. With the electoral laws the way they are now, if general elections are held, Italy could end up right back in the same situation it is now with one party maybe holding a majority in one house but not in the other. The result could be a government which could not govern and in the midst of the depression Italy now finds itself in, this could spell disaster.

President Napolitano probably won’t let elections be held until the electoral law issue has been resolved.

For now, though, while the ousting of Berlusconi from Italy’s parliament could still spell the end of the current government, it should survive the forthcoming confidence vote and should continue – for now. Well, that is what this Italy observer believes.

Is Berlusconi really out of Italian politics?

While some think he is, others, such as ex-prime minister Massimo D’Alema don’t think this is the case. He is probably right. While the tip of Berlusconi’s parliamentary pyramid has been removed, the rest of the pyramid, though weakened by the defections of some of his camp to the new centre-right group, is still in place.

What is unusual and might raise some suspicions is that some members of the new centre-right group – the defectors – were big fans of Berlusconi and admit that they still are.

Indeed, some of the main players in the new centre-right group such as Angelino Alfano, Roberto Formigoni, Maurizio Lupi, and others, owe their places in Italy’s parliament and political careers to Berlusconi. Formigoni, for example, was probably saved from arrest as a result of being given a place in parliament by Berlusconi. That Formigoni, the former governor of Lombardy, who is under investigation for odd goings in relation to the management of Lombardy’s health system, suddenly decided to jump off the Berlusconi ship is surprising to say the least. One wonders whether the falling out has been engineered in some way.

As the situation stands now, Berlusconi people are able to influence the government and act as opposition. Ingeniously, it looks as if Berlusconi has ended up with his feet on both sides of the fence – despite being expelled from Italy”s parliament.

Berlusconi has said he will continue to lead his Forza Italia party from the outside in the same way as Beppe Grillo, the comic turned political activist who is controlling his Five Star Movement externally. The external approach to leadership Berlusconi says he will adopt is likely to have some effect in the event of elections. What could happen is that if elections are called, the Berlusconi Forza Italia faction may form an alliance with the supposedly deluded New Centre-Right group and other pro-Berlusconi parliamentary groups. This alliance could win enough votes to take control of Italy’s parliament. Should this happen, exactly who would be Berlusconi’s choice of prime minister remains a mystery.

Technically, for 6 years Berlusconi himself can no longer stand for election – another effect of recent legislation introduced by Italy to attempt to reduce corruption in Italian politics. The new laws – which Berlusconi’s own people helped push through Italy’s parliament – were also designed to rebuild the credibility of Italy’s politicians who, at both national and local level, seem to be endlessly caught up in corruption and abuse of power scandals.

Plenty of Italy’s politicians, though not all, have a reputation for being corrupt and they seem to be highly adept at “transferring” public money into their own private bank accounts. Prior to the introduction of the anti-corruption law, the reputation of Italy’s political classes had reached the bottom of the barrel and risked scraping a hole though the very same barrel.  Arguably, there were fears in Italy that had something not been done about political corruption, Italians may have taken to the streets and violence may have erupted.

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Berlusconi is the first major “victim” of Italy’s attempt to clean up politics, though much of the rot still remains.

What are the consequences of Berlusconi’s dethroning for the other parties?

In theory, now that Berlusconi’s influence has been removed, or rather, reduced, Italy’s government should be able to push through the structural reforms Italy desperately needs – reforms which the IMF have identified in a report on the state of Italy. Will it be plain sailing? No.

The problem is Italy’s left leaning Partito Democratico (PD) – Democratic Party. This party, you see, is in the midst of a power struggle – the old guard are attempting to keep hold of the reins whereas the supposed new guard led by one Matteo Renzi want the PD to rejuvenate itself. This needs to be done because as the only party in opposition to Berlusconi, the PD did an appalling job. Indeed, the PD’s performance was so dire, much of its electorate have lost faith in its ability to steer Italy in a positive direction.

It has to be said that the PD party is exceptionally short on substance and just what exactly it would do if it were to end up in power is vague to say the least. Yes, it wants to tackle Italy’s economic issues but exactly how it proposes to do this is not clear, nor is how it will finance its policies.

As things stand now, the PD is not a convincing alternative to Berlusconi and should the old guard retain control, it won’t earn itself may votes in the event elections are held. Those who voted for the PD in the past have either stopped voting or are looking at alternatives such as the party, sorry, movement run by Beppe Grillo – the Five Star Movement.

While many of the members of ever dithering PD party refused to make their position on Berlusconi’s expulsion entirely clear, the Five Star Movement did not hold back and insisted that Berlusconi be removed from Italy’s parliament. Some may regard that without the Five Star Movement, Berlusconi would still be sitting in Italy’s senate.

That the Five Star Movement pushed for Berlusconi’s removal has not gone unnoticed in Italy even if the press, most of which leans towards either the old PD and Berlusconi factions, did not make much of the movement’ss role in the removal of Berlusconi.

The Grillo Way

On Sunday, Beppe Grillo held the third of his V-Day events in his home town of Genoa and to sizeable crowd stated yet again that he wants all the old guard politicians, both those on the left and the right, out of Italy’s parliament. While this stance may well appeal to a large number of Italians, others don’t take Beppe Grillo’s movement seriously.

From a source within the Five Star Movement, I’ve been told that the direction it is taking is not as democratic as it perhaps should be. In other words, the upper echelons of the movement, both those in Italy’s parliament and those running the movement, namely Beppe Grillo and Roberto Casaleggio are up to something. Just what they are up to is not yet entirely clear, but my source appears to be worried that the Five Star Movement may end up becoming as cliquey as the existing parties. Not all of its supporters are aware of the hidden manoeuvrings happening within the Five Star Movement.

Nobody yet knows the direction the Five Star Movement will take, nor whether this direction will help Italy.

What Should Be Happening, but Isn’t

Now that Berlusconi is less of an obstacle to reform, Italy’s government should crack on with the reforms Italy needs, but there are no signs of this happening.

Until the PD sorts itself out, the direction Italy’s government will take won’t be at all clear. This assumes that the government can manage to keep itself in power, yet this too is uncertain. Even if it does manage keep itself in power, not much will happen until the internal wrangles besetting the PD party have ended. These wrangles – which should come to a head in December – could also bring down the current government, or, they could help the government, and thus Italy, head down the road towards reforms.

No, the Italy situation does not look at all certain but for one thing, or rather, one person. That person is Carlo Cottarelli, an ex-IMF man who as been brought in to plan a spending review for Italy.

Although Cottarelli is no longer part of the International Monetary Fund, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he was more or less imposed on Italy by the IMF. A case of either Italy accepts Cottarelli, or it will feel the full force of the IMF. While many in Italy have no idea who Cottarelli is, some have noticed his presence and are wondering whether Italy has been ordered to allow him to do what needs to be done.

Carlo Cottarelli could help point Italy in the right direction, or at least in the direction the IMF believes Italy should be going – as outlined in the report you’ll find if you click on the link.

Which way is post-Berlusconi Italy heading? For now, nobody really knows.

I’d be interesting to hear the thoughts of others on what I’ve written here. Disagreement, as always, is welcome – provided you are polite 😉

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