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16/03/2013 | The Italian drama

Valeria Giannotta

After the vicissitudes of the last year with the subsequent demission of political and technocratic leaders, a few days before the opening of a new Parliament, the drama of Italy is understood in these numbers: 29.54 percent for the center-left coalition of Pier Luigi Bersani; 29.13 percent for the center-right coalition of Silvio Berlusconi; 10.58 percent for the center coalition of Mario Monti and 25.5 percent for the Five Star Movement (M5S) of Beppe Grillo.


Although the center-right coalition closed the gap after an unexpected recovery to a narrow difference of only 0.23 percent, thanks to the extra parliamentary seats given to the largest party in Italian electoral law -- also known as porcellum, introduced during Berlusconi's government -- Bersani and his Democratic Party (PD) are the numerical winners in the race, with 292 seats in Parliament.

However, in the absence of a clear-cut majority within the country's primary political institutions, the balance of power between political actors is a highly problematic aspect. Under these conditions, not only does no coalition have the numbers for leading the country alone, but the ideological gap also seems too wide to be filled to facilitate a durable compromise.

Two relevant observations related to the incoming political actors emerge at first glance. First is the great success of the newly established M5S, which, running alone as a protest movement under Grillo's leadership, garnered 25.5 percent of national consensus in the Parliament. Second is the substantial failure of the coalition of center parties proposed by pro-European technocratic leader Mario Monti.

Berlusconi's return

On the other hand, there is the surprising tenure of Berlusconi, who after receiving poor results from initial polls has descended upon the electoral campaign in the last 50 days and contributed to the fast recovery of his People of Freedom Party (PDL) party. The former prime minister's support has made conditions favorable for the center-right group to become the second largest coalition in both chambers of the Parliament.

This fragmented framework contains all the deep instabilities of the Italian electoral system: Although turnout for the election (75 percent) confirms again the natural democratic abilities of the Italian people, the fact that it dropped several percentage points from the previous election has to be read as a certain disillusionment with traditional politics, confirmed by the impressive rise of anti-establishment sentiments incorporated into the M5S. Indeed, with his “direct democracy” program, Grillo has been able to capture votes from all other traditional and newly created parties, weakening both the left and right axis of the political spectrum.

As a matter of fact, the change in Italy's electoral preferences is a symptom of the most profound disaffection with past political management. The end of the Second Republic, already proclaimed with the resignation of Mr. Berlusconi, and more recently with the forced end to Monti's technocratic government, is now a reality. The bipolar nature of the Second Republic was shattered by the results of the ballot box, and the need for effective and efficient governance has become urgent.

Despite the aggregated results for seats in Parliament, the political winner is indeed that populist Italy is standing against austerity and moderation by challenging the old and faulty Italian party politics and by advocating an exit from the euro zone as a starting point to restore the national economy.

As an outcome of this turmoil, Milan's Bourse is trembling, affecting stock markets all around Europe. It is a clear sign that Italians have rebelled against the EU's austerity, eluding calls from Berlin for a new government that would consolidate fiscal reforms. And it is Berlin itself -- aligned with a wide segment of international public opinion -- which deems Italy a country lead by clowns rather than realpolitik, a sentiment disappointing to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

To complicate the situation further, there is the upcoming turnover of the presidency, which means today more than ever it is urgent that cohesion and unity of purpose be present to form a government able to elect a replacement for President Napolitano.

These days, one certainty is that Italy remains a country that is suffering and in need of representatives capable of accommodating the anger of their citizens. Issues on the table that can be considered as strictly embedded in the growing expectations of Italians are many. In fact, the main result to be read from the vote count is the arrival of a deep political instability that -- in addition to creeping economic problems -- puts the demand on political actors to make responsible decisions to avoid disappointing the wave of supporters that have put their votes behind them.

In reality, the newly elected groups are showing difficulty in coming to agreements and forming workable coalitions as Parliament prepares to take office on March 15th. PD is seeking an alliance with M5S in vain, as void are the hopes that Berlusconi's circle can join the center-left in creating a government with broad understanding. In other words, in terms of realpolitik, every bandwagon strategy is lately proving to be ineffective.

Although addressing a crisis by entering into a new one appears to be the trend of recent times, it is now time to carefully interpret the message that was sent by Italians from the ballot box and to make courageous decisions that clearly welcome this desire for change, leaving aside personal interests.

In these exciting days of political rearrangement, which leads to reflection that Italy's true needs are the biggest imperative, elected leaders must understand that, as legitimately elected representatives of the people, they are tasked to act with appropriate political and intellectual modesty by putting their primary emphasis on the interest of the nation. Furthermore, in absence of concrete chances for a stable government, returning to the polls -- under an electoral law revised to reflect the new systemic logic -- is a still a valid option.   

After all, politics is the art of the possible.

*Valeria Giannotta is an assistant professor at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University.

Today´s Zaman (Turquia)


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