Checkmate – Italy polls hit deadlock

Bea Priest - International Reporter 4 March 2013

As Italy emerges from Sunday’s elections with no clear winner, Italians wait in uncertainty to see the effects of the country’s first elections since the technocrat Mario Monti was installed by President Napolitano in November 2011 to fix Italy’s economy. The current deadlock notwithstanding, the variety of parties standing represents a significant development in Italian politics – as Enrico Petracca, visiting Economic Theory PhD student at Cambridge from the University of Bologna, told The Cambridge Student, “At least one quarter of the new parliament will be composed of new forces and new people, which has not happened in the last 20 years of political ultra-conservatism.”

Comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo and his Movimento Cinque Stelle (“The Five Star Movement”) are the biggest winners of these elections, receiving the highest number of votes out of any single party in the lower chamber of deputies. Having entered politics in 2007 with his Vaffa-day in Bologna (“F**k You Day”), in his electoral campaign he travelled the length of Italy in a campervan, attracting crowds in public squares with his anti-politics tirades and charisma. Communicating only via blog and live streaming, his success is also a testament to the power of a low-budget electoral campaign carried out over the internet and in person. Speaking exclusively to TCS, Dr Giammario Impullitti, Cambridge University Lecturer in Economics, said, ” is too populist, has a program devoid of content, preaching direct democracy, a referendum for everything, which would end in political paralysis.” Yet, drawing votes from across the population, from lawyers to postmen, Grillo has done better than any of the electoral polls suggested.

The centre-left Partito Democratico (“Democratic Party”, PD) led by Pier Luigi Bersani was predicted to get about 40% of the vote. Tainted by its involvement in the recent Monte dei Paschi bank scandal and having had to compete with the charisma of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, however, PD steadily lost popularity during the campaign. Having risen from the ashes, Berlusconi returned to the centre-right Popolo della Liberta (“The People of Freedom”, PdL) party, allied with the Lega Nord, the Northern League. During his campaign, Berlusconi attracted media attention with sexual double entendre by asking a company saleswoman at a conference “How many times do you come?” And, promising to refund tax on the first property instated by Monti, he sent out a near copy of the tax refund form to the electorate, duping many old people into going to the tax refund office.

PhD student Enrico Petracca told TCS, “Bersani is an honest person, humble and committed. This is no small thing, in Italy,” while also expressing his despair at the 30% of the Italian electorate who voted for Berlusconi. Bersani is currently negotiating with Grillo about forming a coalition government. However, Grillo has firmly stated that he will exclude a formal alliance with any of the ‘failed’ politicians, and if he were to collaborate with the PD, he would consider the merits of each decision on their own terms.

Mario Monti’s centrist Scelta Civica, “Civic Choice” emerges as the biggest loser in the elections with only 10% of the vote. Dr Impullitti said: “Monti is in support of austerity, his polices are not unreasonable, but he is not a politician He has made the mistake of standing in these elections with his own party and making allegiances with the far-right parties. He could have had a political career had he become minister of finance for the PD instead.” Enrico Petracca sees Monti’s failure in a more positive light and as the assertion of Italian people’s desire of self rule: “When Berlusconi relinquished, in favour of Monti, in November 2011, Italy was ‘saved’ not of her own accord, but by an external force, as Monti was perceived.”

Another party which could have made a mark in these elections was, Fermare il Declino (“Stop the Decline”), a group of Italian economists and academics, mainly working in the USA, with a clear programme of reform promoting economic liberalism. However, they have also been tainted by scandal, namely their leader, the journalist Oscar Giannino’s fraudulent claim to have an Italian Law Degree and a University of Chicago Masters in Finance.

At the moment, constitutionally speaking, it would be difficult for elections to be reorganised within the next six months, since they are the semestre bianco (the final six months of President Napolitano’s term). Instead, they would have to be held under a new President.  For now, though, uncertainty prevails.

Bea Priest – International Reporter