Category Archives: Italy

EU 2014: Italy

ep2014

The European Parliament elections were held in Italy on May 25, 2014. Alongside them, the first round of municipal elections in nearly half of all communes and regional elections in two regions were held.

Italy is famous in Europe for its convoluted, complicated, arcane, peculiar and often very theatrical politics – in short, a political system which may often confound general explanations of European politics. The past five years, in particular the last two or so of them, have been extremely rich in momentous and consequential events which have fundamentally changed the way Italian politics had operated since 1994. Perhaps less dramatic and rapidly than in Greece, it would certainly appear that Italy is undergoing a major political realignment whose final outcome is still very uncertain and whose evolution has continued to defied all predictions. The ongoing changes in the party system and upcoming changes to the electoral system and constitutional structure of Italy may augur the creation of a ‘Third Republic’ to replace the Second Republic (1994-?). The EP elections added to the increasingly open-ended and unpredictable nature of contemporary Italian politics: Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s governing centre-left Democratic Party (PD) won an unexpectedly massive victory at the polls.

Electoral system

Italy elected 73 MEPs to the European Parliament, one more than in the 2009 election (under the Nice apportionment rules) – but Italy had received its 73rd seat in 2011, following ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. The Italian electoral law for the EP was adopted in 1979, for the first EP elections, making it the oldest electoral law in Italy. Under the current version of the law, members are elected by semi-open party-list proportional representation with a 4% threshold (adopted in 2009) in five multi-member constituencies: Northeast Italy (Aosta Valley, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy – 20 MEPs), Northwest Italy (Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Emilia-Romagna – 14 MEPs), Central Italy (Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Lazio/Latium – 14 MEPs), Southern Italy (Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria – 17 MEPs), Insular Italy (Sicily and Sardinia – 8 MEPs).

Unlike in France, the threshold is applied nationally rather than regionally, and the parties’ seats are then distributed to the individual constituencies based on the lists’ results therein (Hare-Niemeyer method, highest remainders). Italian voters may cast up to three preferential votes for candidates on a party list, but under a recent amendment, a voters’ preferences will be ignored if they are not distributed between candidates of different genders. Lists must therefore obtain 4% nationally to win seats, but there is an exception for linguistic minority parties (French, German and Slovenian) who may ally themselves with a national party, pooling their votes together and receiving a seat if the minority party wins over 50,000 votes nationally.

In Italy, candidates may run in more than one constituency, something which is extremely rare in other EU member-states. In 2009, for example, then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was the lead candidate of his party, the People of Freedom (PdL) in every constituency and was elected to the EP from every constituency. That same year, the then-leader of the Lega Nord, Umberto Bossi, was also the Lega’s top candidate in every EP constituency.

Turnout in Italian elections – at all levels – have traditionally been extremely high, especially given that voting is not mandatory. There has, however, been a very obvious downwards trend in turnout in all elections in the past decades, with turnout in national elections falling from over 90% in the 1970s and 88% in 1983-7 to historic lows of 78.1% in 2008 and 72.3% in the last election in 2013. In EP elections, although Italy remains one of the few EU countries without mandatory voting where turnout has remained over 50%, turnout has declined quasi-consistently (with the exception of an increase in 2004) from 86% in 1979 to 66.5% in 2009 and a new low of 57.2% this year.

Like everything in Italian politics, the history of EP elections since 1979 is marked by a pre-1994 and post-1994 difference, between the First Republic (1979, 1984 and 1989 EP elections) and Second Republic (1994, 1999, 2004, 2009 EP elections) elections. Under the First Republic, in line with the general tradition of that era of the partitocrazia, the EP elections did not see major differences from the results in national elections or wild swings from one election to the next. Nevertheless, the 1984 EP elections were the first and only national elections in which the Italian Communist Party (PCI) surpassed the natural governing party, the Christian Democracy (DC), due to the recent death of popular PCI leader Enrico Berlinguer (though even in that case, the differences between EP election and 1983 national elections were minor). Since 1994, EP elections have seen – in line with the political culture of the Second Republic – wilder swings and an exploded and unstable party system. The 1994 EP elections, right in the aftermath of Silvio Berlusconi’s victory in the 1994 elections, saw Berlusconi’s party win its best national result ever (30.6%). The 1999 EP elections, held during a centre-left government, saw Berlusconi’s party – in opposition – win the most votes (25.2%) and set the stage for his return to power in 2001. However, in 2004, held when Berlusconi’s three-year old government was at its lowest point in popularity, the centre-left coalition (L’Ulivo) swept the board with 31.1% against 20.9% for Berlusconi.

Background

In the 2009 EP elections, then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – the histrionic business magnate at the centre of Italian politics since 1994, won yet another convincing electoral victory over the left, one year after Berlusconi was elected to a third term in power (Berlusconi won the 1994, 2001 and 2008 elections and served thrice as Prime Minister, from 1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2011). Berlusconi is a highly controversial but also highly interesting and unique political figure in contemporary Western Europe. A prominent businessman, Berlusconi made his fortune in the 1980s with Fininvest, a financial holding company which still controls a football club (AC Milan) and a powerful private media empire (Mediaset, which controls about 35% of the TV market in Italy).

In 1994, the ‘First Republic’ collapsed, opening a major void on the right of the political spectrum which was up for grabs. The First Republic a fairly stable (the heavy turnover in cabinets obscured constants in the partisan makeup of said cabinets and electoral trends) but also very corrupt fossilized political system structured around the catch-all Christian Democracy (DC) party and its minor allies (Socialists, Liberals, Republicans and Democratic Socialists) and united by the very potent threat posed by the Italian Communist Party (PCI), one of Western Europe’s strongest and most influential communist parties during the Cold War. Since 1991, the First Republic collapsed first as the Cold War ended and huge corruption scandals and investigations which revealed that the governing parties, led by the DC, were rotten to the core. The DC and Socialists scuttled themselves altogether, the PCI responded to the fall of communism by transforming itself into a modern social democratic party (the PDS), the old neo-fascist/far-right Italian Social Movement (MSI) rebranded itself as the post-fascist and moderated National Alliance (AN) under Gianfranco Fini and new parties emerged forcefully – most notably, the regionalist/separatist populist Lega Nord in northern Italy. The DC’s collapse opened up a big void on the right and centre, one which would not vote for the ex-PCI under any circumstances (thanks to decades of instinctive anti-communism), but which was left homeless by the collapse of the DC and other parties. Berlusconi, a very shrewd and talented political operator, understood the opportunity which existed (and realized the consequences that the likely left-wing victory in the 1994 elections would have on his personal business empire, built up in good part due to his ties to prominent politicians in the old system) and decided to ‘enter the field’ with a new party, Forza Italia, founded just months before the 1994 elections. In regionally-differentiated coalitions with the Lega Nord and the AN (and small centre-right remnants of the DC), Berlusconi won the 1994 elections but his government quickly collapsed due to conflicts with the Lega. In 2001, Berlusconi, who had reconstructed a right-wing coalition with the AN, Lega and the ex-DC centre-right (what is now the Union of the Centre, UDC) since his 1996 defeat, won a large victory over the left. Despite many coalition crises and his growing unpopularity, Berlusconi accomplished a rare feat – remaining Prime Minister throughout the term of Parliament (until 2006) – but was defeated by a hair in 2006. In 2008, Berlusconi roared back like the proverbial phoenix and merged his Forza Italia with Fini’s AN in a new party, The People of Freedom (PdL).

Forza Italia, especially at the outset, was much more of a marketing product than traditional party (academic literature has described it as a ‘media-mediated personality party’, ‘patrimonial party’ or a ‘business firm model party’) – hierarchical, limited membership, a heavy personalist focus on the media-savvy personality of the leader and political strategies imported from the private sector (focus groups, marketing techniques, reliance on polling). Ideologically, Berlusconi’s parties, although nowadays affiliated with the EPP, have been populist more than traditionally conservative – despite being in power regularly since 1994, Berlusconi’s anti-system and anti-establishment rhetoric (in which Berlusconi presented himself as the businessman who challenged a corrupt party system and promised to apply his ‘entrepreneurial success’ to politics) continued to prove electorally successful. While Berlusconi has used neoliberal language of low taxes and small government since 1994, in practice he has mostly sought to adapt his politics to pre-existing socioeconomic contexts and he has a deft ability to switch positions according to context and region (appealing to both anti-tax and anti-government northerners and state-dependent southerners). Despite countless corruption scandals and a fairly mediocre – at best – record while in government (indeed, he basically spent most of his last term as Prime Minister fighting his own judicial battles and staying out of jail), Berlusconi’s political survival through countless tests since 1994 has been nothing short of remarkable. Although he has been defeated in three legislative elections, two of them were unexpectedly close and the last one (1996) was largely due to the division of his original 1994 coalition. Each time, Berlusconi has made good use of his domineering media personality to shift the focus on him in every election and seize the spotlight through various carefully-staged media events or rhetorical flourishes (his 1994 ‘entrance into the field’, his constant anti-communist rhetoric, the constant use of the myth of the ‘creative entrepreneur’ fighting a vast leftist conspiracy, a ‘persecution syndrome’, his Manichean outlook of good and evil, his 2001 Contratto con gli Italiani, his 2006 and 2013 promises to abolish – and, in 2013, refund – a property tax on primary residences).

The left – with weak leadership, deep divisions between its countless parties and factions defined largely in opposition to Berlusconi and its inability to challenge Berlusconi’s control of the media campaign – failed to measure up to Berlusconi, especially in 2001 and 2008, but the left’s narrow victories in 2006 and 2013 when they should have won by a mile were also quasi-defeats. The Italian left since the 1990s has been a very complex web of alliances, parties and factions – ideologically, it runs the gamut from old-style communists (usually outside the mainstream left and irrelevant since 2008) to ex-DC moderate centrists and liberals. The main ideological groupings traditionally being social democrats (most with PCI roots and former members of the PDS/DS) and moderate centre-left Christian democrats (most with DC/PPI roots and former members of the Daisy party) – but in all cases, the participation of groups to the left (communists, socialists, ecosocialists) and right (conservatives, libertarians) of these main factions have complicated governance (notably in the days of The Olive Tree coalitions) and election strategies. Since the creation of the PD in 2007, the traditional ideological lines have remained important, but there has been a growing divide between an ‘old guard’ of the party – mostly traditionalist social democrats with centrists and younger leftist allies (Young Turks) – and a ‘modernizing’ and reformist wing – traditionally liberals and centrists, with some social democrats. The ‘old guard’, whose most famous name is former Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema, suffers from an increasingly negative image because of its association with backroom politics, underhanded political maneuvers, stale leadership and inability to successfully take on Berlusconi.

Berlusconi’s charm and political power worn off beginning in 2010. That year, Berlusconi’s parliamentary majority was severely reduced with the defection of Gianfranco Fini, the former AN leader and Berlusconi’s one-time heir apparent, and his colleagues. Berlusconi’s undoing, however, came with the worsening of Italy’s economic situation in 2011. Since the 1980s, Italy’s economy has generally been struggling largely due to weak governments unable or unwilling to reform Italy’s economy, tackle ingrained corruption or challenge established economic and political structures, but also to its lack of competitiveness (unit labour costs in Italy since the birth of the euro in 1999 have risen must faster than in other EU countries and productivity declined). In 2011, Italy’s debt-to-GDP ratio was actually the second largest in the EU behind Greece (121% of GDP), although because most of Italy’s debt is domestically-owned and Italians have a high level of savings and low household debt, the impact hasn’t been as catastrophic as in Greece. However, in 2011, because of weak growth (Italy was in recession in 2008-2009 and only grew by 0.4% in 2011), budget deficits and debt levels over EU limits, the risk of ‘contagion’ and Berlusconi’s poor economic stewardship (preoccupied with his own financial and sexual scandals), Italy’s economy teetered on the cliff and was said to be on the verge of default. In November 2011, Berlusconi finally lost his majority in the Chamber of Deputies and resigned after the Parliament passed a final austerity package. Berlusconi’s own political failures since 2008 and doubts over Berlusconi’s leadership and personal behaviour were widely blamed for fueling market and EU anxieties about Italy’s precarious economic condition. Berlusconi maintains that he was forced out of office by a conspiracy led by his EU partners (indeed, EU leaders such as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy had grown exasperated with him and lost faith in his abilities, and contributed to the pressure which led to his ouster). At home, after remaining popular in 2009 and 2010, Berlusconi was quickly becoming very unpopular – the PdL suffered some stunning defeats, including in Berlusconi’s Milanese heartland, in the May 2011 local elections and the government was defeated on ‘abrogative referendums’ in the summer.

The ceremonial President, Giorgio Napolitano, got the main parties – including the left and right – to agree to a technocratic (or ‘technical’) government led by Mario Monti, a former European Commissioner and a respected economist. The new government’s immediate task was to ‘save’ the Italian economy from collapse through urgent reforms. Monti immediately set to work on passing an emergency austerity package which significantly raised taxes and cut pensions. His government also undertook several other major reforms aimed at liberalizing and reforming the Italian economy. His government passed measures aimed at introducing more competition in monopolized and noncompetitive sectors (taxis, pharmacies); a pension reform which pushed the retirement age to 66 and attacked ‘special retirement plans’; a labour market reform along the lines of Denmark’s flexicurity model which reduced guarantees for employees; and got serious on targetting the very high rates of tax evasion in Italy. Monti managed to save Italy from default and he took the first steps in righting the ship before it sank. His reformist policies won him the plaudits of investors, foreign markets and his European partners and he reduced the deficit to 3% of GDP in 2012. However, Monti, while still respected by most Italians, lost in popularity because his policies contributed to increased unemployment (from 9.3% when he took office to 11.9% in February 2013 and 12.6% today) and a severe recession in 2012 and 2013 (-2.4% and -1.9% respectively).

Monti resigned in December 2012 after the PdL withdrew its support from his government, and called for elections in February 2013 after Parliament approved the 2013 budget. The 2013 election should have been a cakewalk for the centre-left coalition: Berlusconi and the PdL were both badly weakened in 2012, Berlusconi’s own uncertainty about his candidacy in 2013 (he originally announced he would not run in October, but changed his mind two months later and the Lega – which had been a powerful and influential junior ally in Berlusconi’s last government – saw its high support evaporate after the Lega’s longtime leader Umberto Bossi was implicated in damaging corruption scandals. However, the centre-left coalition’s candidate – elected in an open primary in late 2012 – was Pier Luigi Bersani, a competent administrator but a very bland, unexciting and dull campaigner. The centre-left was victorious, but with a majority of less than 1% over Berlusconi’s PdL-Lega coalition (29.5% to 29.1% in the Chamber election), whose strong performance – despite major loses from 2008 – was one of the main surprises of the election. Although Berlusconi didn’t work for everybody, his populist anti-austerity and soft Eurosceptic message allowed him to roar back with a strong result and another near-win. The other momentous event from the polls was the remarkable result won by the Five Star Movement (M5S), a radical anti-system/anti-establishment populist party led by Genoan comedian Beppe Grillo, who won 25.5% in its first election. Mario Monti’s centre-right, liberal and pro-austerity alliance (with the UDC and Fini’s FLI) did poorly (10.5%).

Beppe Grillo’s M5S (founded in 2009) is often lumped with other populist and Eurosceptic parties in Europe, but the M5S is an extremely peculiar party which is quite unlike the traditional right-wing populist party or the radical left (SYRIZA types). The movement – it refuses the pejorative ‘party’ label – was born from and remains centered on Beppe Grillo’s very popular website/blog, and the M5S places a large amount of emphasis on ‘internet direct democracy’ – it often asks its loyal activists to vote on major issues (policy, strategy, candidates, party discipline) online and the M5S’ leaders have used social media to reach out to their supporters and organize Grillo’s large public meetings. With the internet forming the M5S’ backbone and considering the importance it plays in organizing and mobilizing its dedicated online activists, the M5S has some similarities with the Pirate movement in the rest of Europe. Ideologically, the M5S is primarily a populist anti-establishment movement – a rather radical one at that. Grillo grew in popularity for his foul-mouthed tirades against Italy’s corrupt ‘parasitic’ political ‘caste’ (la casta, which enjoys famously generous benefits and conditions) and calls for the destruction of the ‘rotten’ political system and its replacement by vaguely-defined direct democracy. Grillo strongly opposes the public financing of parties (the M5S itself has refused its public funding and its parliamentarians have restituted parts of their wages to help pay off the debt or promote small businesses). Like Berlusconi, Grillo enjoys provocative statements – he said that politicians were worse than the mafia and issued a tongue-in-cheek call on terrorists to blow up Parliament – and theatrical politics – he swam across the Strait of Messina to Sicily during the campaign for the Sicilian regional elections in October 2012. Grillo was successful because, in times of hardship, his radical anti-system message resonated well: most Italians do perceive their politicians (and oftentimes rightly so) as corrupt, selfish, self-absorbed, incompetent or stale hacks and careerists.

Given the centrality of the populist rhetoric, it is hard to define the M5S ideologically. Originally, the M5S was on the left or far-left: the party’s “five stars” refer to public water, public transportation, development, connectivity (internet freedom) and the environment. The M5S supports ‘degrowth’, a radical green and anti-consumerist ideology who argue for lower production and consumption because overconsumption has caused environmental issues and social inequality. As a result, the M5S has been hostile to large infrastructure projects (the Strait of Messina bridge and the Lyon-Turin high speed rail in the Val di Susa) and strongly supportive of clean energies and public transportation. The movement has also taken more left-wing stances on same-sex marriage, internet accessibility, public services. On the other hand, Grillo himself has adopted tough stances on immigration: he opposes jus soli and in October 2013, he attacked the efforts of two M5S parliamentarians to repeal the Bossi-Fini law which criminalized illegal immigration; however, in early 2014, Grillo was defeated by his own supporters on the issue – in an online vote, M5S activists voted in favour of efforts to repeal the law (which has since been repealed with the left’s support). On economic matters, the M5S does not fit traditional ideologies: it is against monopolies and anti-tax, but also anti-austerity and generally opposed to the power of big businesses and corporations (private or public). Grillo opposes the Euro and has lamented the ‘lovely old days’ of the lira when Italy could devalue its currency by 40-50%. (you can download the M5S’ platform in English here)

Grillo is a highly controversial figure. To his critics, Grillo is an irresponsible and dangerous demagogue who runs his party with an iron-fist (to many, direct democracy is but a façade and Grillo and his éminence grise/guru Roberto Casaleggio run the show). Indeed, since the party gained prominence in the 2012 local elections, several M5S members and elected officials have been expelled from the party (after being pilloried by Grillo on his blog) for going against the party line on various issues (for example, appearing on TV shows when Grillo strictly prohibited M5S members from doing so).

Because of Italy’s notoriously horrible (former) electoral law, Bersani’s coalition won an absolute majority in the lower house – the Chamber of Deputies – by virtue of having won the most votes nationally and being entitled to a majority bonus granting the largest coalition an absolute majority. But since the Senate has such bonuses apply only regionally, Bersani’s coalition fell short of an absolute majority in the upper house – with 123 seats to Berlusconi’s 117 and Grillo’s 54. Under Italian ‘perfect bicameralism’, a government requires the confidence of both houses; but from the results, it was clear that Bersani would not be able to govern (even in coalition with Monti’s amenable centrist coalition) unless he allied himself with Berlusconi (which would defeat the left’s entire raison-d’etre since 1994) or convincing some Grillists to support him. Bersani unsuccessfully tried to convince the M5S or parts thereof to back him in a stopgap coalition committed to constitutional, electoral and political reform. Grillo and Casaleggio, neither of whom are elected, strongly opposed Bersani’s overtures and blocked the M5S from allying with Bersani.

In April 2013, when it came time for Parliament and delegates from regional councils to elect Italy’s ceremonial President, the political crisis and infighting on the left boiled over to create utter chaos. The PD unwisely allied itself with Berlusconi and the centre on a common presidential candidate, but this alliance (and the candidate – Franco Marini, an 80-year old former trade unionist and technocrat) incensed the PD’s ally to the left (Nichi Vendola’s Left Ecology Freedom or SEL) and Bersani’s rival within the PD, Florence mayor Matteo Renzi. The alliance failed to elect Marini due to defections on the left. On a fourth ballot, the PD and the SEL supported Romano Prodi, a former centre-left Prime Minister and respected senior politician, but Prodi fell far short of the required votes because his candidacy was likely an underhanded ploy by Massimo D’Alema (and perhaps Renzi) to scuttle Bersani. An unprecedented last-ditch exit route was found prior to the six ballot: the left, right and centre convinced incumbent President Giorgio Napolitano, due to retire like all his predecessors before him, to run for reelection (and win) as a solution to the crisis. In return, Napolitano compelled the left and the right to form a grand coalition led by Enrico Letta, a 47-year old centrist from the PD.

Letta formed a coalition with Berlusconi’s PdL Mario Monti’s Civic Choice (SC) party, the PD and independents. Angelino Alfano, then seen as Berlusconi’s dauphin, became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior and the PdL had four other ministers (Infrastructure and Transports; Health; Agriculture, Food and Forestry; Constitutional Reforms). The opposition was led by the fiery M5S, the Lega Nord and the SEL. Letta’s government quickly found itself undermined by both the PD and the PdL. The former was setting up for a leadership crisis after Bersani’s resignation in the wake of the presidential election chaos, and Matteo Renzi – hardly enamoured by Letta – was the favourite to win the PD’s leadership in December 2013. Berlusconi understood that he held the government hostage, and would grudgingly tolerate it as long as it served his own interest. For example, he managed to get Letta’s government to scrap the IMU, the property tax on primary residences which Berlusconi had successfully campaigned against in February. Later, in May-July, Alfano got into hot water when the wife of an exiled Kazakh political dissident was unceremoniously arrested by Italian authorities and deported to Kazakhstan. Alfano was widely suspected of having intervened in the operation (because Berlusconi is a good friend of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Italy’s main oil firm (ENI) has an 17% stake in a Kazakh oil field). Berlusconi stepped in to prevent Alfano from getting into any sort of trouble, and it worked: the PD (minus a few Renzi allies) voted against a M5S-SEL motion of no-confidence in Alfano.

Economically, Letta’s government main priority was to restore investor confidence in Italy and reorient economic and fiscal policies in a ‘pro-growth’ and ‘pro-jobs’ direction in the midst of prolonged recession and rising unemployment. The government promised to cut employers’ welfare contributions, tax breaks for energy-saving home improvements, expand a guarantee fund for small and medium enterprises and it said it would consider benefits for families and children. Once in office, the government sped up payments of €40 billion in public administration debts, approved tax incentives for employers to employ young workers and began working on a privatization program. For some, Letta’s government has been insufficiently bold in tackling vested interests and promoting competition, largely because both the PdL and PD are tied to special interests and have little interest in disturbing that.

In the meantime, attention turned to Berlusconi’s judicial travails. Il cavaliere‘s innumerable run-ins with the law is nothing new; the business magnate has been indicted on charges of tax fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion, bribery, false accounting, violation of antitrust laws, libel, defamation and under-age prostitution. However, until August 2013, Berlusconi had never been convicted of anything – he was acquitted, cases dragged on exceeding the statute of limitations, aptly passed amnesty laws to save himself or changed the law to legalize the alleged offences. In October 2012, an appeals court in Milan confirmed a lower court judgement in late 2012 which had found Berlusconi guilty in the ‘Mediaset’ case, where he and his media giant company (Mediaset) were accused of tax evasion and tax fraud for illicit trade (and false accounting) of movie rights between Mediaset and secret fictive foreign companies in tax havens. The appeals court sentenced him to four years in prison and a five-year ban from holding public office. Berlusconi appealed the case to the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest appeals court. Much to Berlusconi’s chagrin, the Court of Cassation proved exceptionally quick at issuing a decision on the case – on August 1 2013. The court confirmed the lower courts’ verdict, with a four year prison sentence but asked the Milanese appeals court to review the length of the ban from public office. A 2006 amnesty law, ironically voted by the left to reduce prison overcrowding, automatically commuted Berlusconi’s jail sentence to one year and since he is over 70 and not a repeat offender, he will not serve any jail time: he was given a choice between house arrest or community service, opting for the former. The Legge Severino, adopted in December 2012 by the Monti government, bans any politician convicted to over two years’ imprisonment from holding or running for public office for six years and supersedes the October 2013 judgement of the Milanese appeals court, which shortened Berlusconi’s ban from public office to two years

On June 24, a penal court in Milan had found Berlusconi guilty of child prostitution and abuse of power in the world-famous Rubygate case, where Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, who was a minor at the time (in 2010) and abusing his powers to have her released from police detention in 2010 (on the pretext that she was Hosni Mubarak’s niece). The court sentenced Berlusconi to seven years in prison and a lifetime ban from public office, but he will appeal the decision. The Appeals Court is set to rule in July 2014. Berlusconi is still involved in three other ongoing cases. A trial on the bribery of a centre-left senator in 2006 to topple Prodi’s government will open next year; in March 2013, he was sentenced to a year in jail in the ‘Unipol’ case (confidential wiretaps by Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by Berlusconi’s brother, on conversations between a former Governor of the Bank of Italy and a centre-left politician); the Constitutional Court is set to rule on a defamation case concerning Antonio Di Pietro, a former magistrate (famous for his corruption-busting work during the 1990s Mani Pulite operations) and the former leader of the Italia dei Valori (IdV) party. Berlusconi, in 2008, had accused Di Pietro of obtaining his degree only with the complicity of the secret services. In 2010, a court in Viterbo acquitted Berlusconi because parliamentary immunity bans any prosecution against words spoken in the exercise of a parliamentary mandate; however, a higher court overturned the decision in 2012.

Berlusconi now faced the threat of expulsion from the Senate. A defense organization sprung up around the embattled leader, who argued – again – that he was the target of a political witch-hunt by ‘red’ judges and complained that the ordeal was taking a toll on him (unable to sleep, lost 11kg and that he was psychologically tormented). Berlusconi’s closest allies pleaded that he be granted agibilità politica (political freedom) through a pardon by President Napolitano or Letta’s intervention. The PD knew that Berlusconi would condition his support for the government to his agibilità politica, but it also knew that intervening in Berlusconi’s favour would be the last straw for the left’s supporters. Meanwhile, Berlusconi announced that the PdL would be disbanding and that Forza Italia would return. Posters in major Italian cities announced that il cavaliere was ancora in campo per l’Italia (‘still in the field for Italy’).

However, the Berlusconian right began showing public cracks in September 2013. That month, while a Senate committee began debating Berlusconi’s expulsion (decadenza), Berlusconi huffed and puffed and, on September 28, ordered the PdL’s ministers to resign from Letta’s cabinet. The pretext was the government’s decision to raise the VAT by 1%, but nearly everybody saw through that – the real reason was that Berlusconi was threatening to pull the plug on Letta over his judicial travails and upcoming expulsion vote. Letta called for a confidence vote on October 2, in the run-up to which Berlusconi continued breathing fire and attacking the government. However, when the vote came, Berlusconi did a double-face and the PdL joined the left and centre in voting for Letta, who won the Senate’s confidence easily 235 to 70. It appears that Berlusconi twisted and turned in agonizing indecision, facing an extremely rare internal revolt. Indeed, all but one of the PdL ministers – who obeyed Berlusconi’s original order – shortly thereafter said it was perhaps a bad decision. One of them was Alfano, who led the doves (colombe) in the PdL – moderates (ex-DC and ex-Socialists) and ministers who placed political stability over Berlusconi’s personal interests. The doves faced the hawks (falchi) and loyalists (lealisti), hardline supporters of Berlusconi who came from the party’s right-wing liberals (Giancarlo Galan, Daniele Capezzone), hard-right (Daniela Santanchè) or camarilla (Raffaele Fitto, Mara Carfagna, Renata Polverini). The hawks-loyalists lost, the doves won and Berlusconi, to save face at the last minute, went with them. It was a shocking twist from Alfano, a Sicilian Christian democrat who had been a subservient justice minister between 2008 and 2011 (passing laws to save his boss from prosecution) and been groomed as Berlusconi’s loyal successor and political ‘son’ (despite Berlusconi publicly insulting him).

On October 4, the Senate committee voted to recommend Berlusconi’s expulsion, sending the matter to the Senate as a whole, and at the end of the month the rules committee called for it to be a public vote (in a private vote, Berlusconi may have tried to bribe PD lawmakers as he had in the past).

Still undeterred, Berlusconi pressed on with the transformation of the PdL into Forza Italia. On November 16, Berlusconi dissolved the PdL into a new Forza Italia. However, one day prior, the ‘doves’ led by Angelino Alfano announced that they would not dissolve into Forza Italia and formed their own party, the New Centre-Right (Nuovo Centrodestra, NCD). The NCD includes all five centre-right ministers in the Letta government, the former Lombardian regional president Roberto Formigoni and his allies, members of the Catholic lay movement Comunione e Liberazione, former members of the DC who joined the centre-right from various post-DC Christian democratic parties (Carlo Giovannardi, in the UDC until 2008), former members of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), Renato Schifani – the former President of the Senate and architect of an unconstitutional immunity law in 2004 and the incumbent regional president of Calabria Giuseppe Scopelliti. Today, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia has 69 deputies and 58 senators against 28 deputies and 33 senators for the NCD.

On November 26, as the government was preparing to pass the 2014 budget, Forza Italia withdrew its support from the government and, the next day, voted against the budget which nevertheless passed the Senate 162 to 115, with the NCD’s support. That same day, the Senate finally voted on Berlusconi’sdecadenza under the Legge Severino by public ballot. Berlusconi’s supporters, symbolically dressed in black in the Senate or rallied in front of Berlusconi’s Roman residence, desperately tried to delay the vote or have it held by secret ballot. Berlusconi warned the PD and M5S senators from voting against him, so that they were not later “ashamed in front of their children”, he also insisted on a re-trial, claiming new evidence and witnesses. All to no avail, as the Senate voted 192 to 113 to expel Berlusconi from their ranks. The PD, M5S, SEL, SC, UDC and two small centre-left groups voted in favour, while Forza Italia, the Lega Nord, the NCD and a centre-right autonomist group voted against. The NCD in doing so signaled that their split was not as much against Berlusconi himself as against Berlusconi’s political strategy, which makes the Alfano dissidence different from Gianfranco Fini’s very public split with his former ally in 2010. Indeed, Alfano said that he was still Berlusconian – but “in a different way”.

On December 8, the PD held its long-awaited leadership election. Matteo Renzi, the 39-year old mayor of Florence, who had lost the 2012 centre-left primaries to Bersani, was the favourite. Unlike Bersani, Renzi comes from a PPI (one of the DC’s successor parties) background and joined the PD from the centrist Daisy. Renzi made in name in politics, as president of the province of Florence between 2005 and 2009 and as mayor of Florence since 2009, as a ‘scrapper’ (rottamatore) who took on the political elites (within his own party) and reducing waste, mismanagement and the size of the local public administrations. Despite being only in his first time as mayor and fairly new to politics, he made a name for himself largely by being a competent municipal administrator and his populist/anti-establishment persona which is popular in Italy. Ideologically, Renzi is on the party’s right and challenges the traditional ‘dogma’ of the centre-left (which is nevertheless very moderate in practice). In 2012, Renzi proposed tax cuts for employees, a €100 increase in employees’ net salary paid for by a 15% cut in the costs of public administration, financial support and credit for SMEs, labour market flexibility (flexicurity) along the Scandinavian/Danish model, financial incentives for foreign investors, cracking down on tax evasion and civil unions for homosexual couples. A ‘straight-talker’, he also took strong stances against corruption – abolishing public subsidies to parties (abolished recently by Letta, responding to a M5S demand), reducing the number of parliamentarians, greater accountability of public officials to their constituent (he favours a French electoral system) and constitutional reform to reduce the Senate’s powers. He is often compared to (and accepts such comparisons himself) to Tony Blair and his New Labour.

In 2012, Renzi’s anti-establishment and reformist ‘Third Way’ policy proposals  worried some left-wing voters and he won only 39.1% in the second round of the primary against Bersani, the PD’s leader and candidate of the traditional ‘old guard’ and PD establishment. However, after the 2013 election debacle, the PD was ready for a shake-up with Renzi. In the open primaries which attracted 2.8 million voters, Renzi won 67.6% against 18.2% for Gianni Cuperlo (the oldest establishment candidate, with a PCI background and backed by Bersani/D’Alema and the ‘Young Turks’ on the left) and 14.2% for Pippo Civati (a young anti-establishment candidate from the left, who supported an alliance with the SEL and M5S and had opposed Letta’s government).

The day before, incidentally, the Lega Nord held a leadership election of its own. The historic leader of the party, Umberto Bossi, had been forced to resign from his leadership positions in April 2012 following a crazy scandal in which Bossi and his ‘magic circle’ were accused of embezzling the party’s public financing funds and using the money to pay Bossi’s son. The scandal badly hurt the party, which suffered major loses in the February election, and led to Bossi’s replacement by his rival and one-time deputy, Roberto Maroni. Although the Lega still allied (reluctantly and in return for juicy concessions) with Berlusconi in the last election, Maroni and his followers have tended to be far less supportive of the Lega’s traditional ties to the centre-right (Bossi strongly supported the alliance with Berlusconi in the last few years). The leadership battle opposed Umberto Bossi to Matteo Salvini, a MEP. Salvini was supported by Maroni. Salvini won in a landslide, 81.7% to Bossi’s mere 18.3%. His election signaled a return to fundamentals for the Lega Nord: more independence from the centre-right, hardened ‘Padanian’ nationalism/separatism, strong anti-immigration stances and Euroscepticism (Salvini once decried the euro as a crime against humanity).

On December 4, the Constitutional Court two key parts of the electoral law were unconstitutional. The Italian electoral law (known as the Legge Calderoli, or unofficially the legge porcellum - piglet law – or porcata literally ‘shit’, as described by its own sponsor, Roberto Calderoli) was passed by Berlusconi’s government in 2005 in an unsuccessful attempt to save the right in the 2006 elections. The law, whose effects we witnessed in the February election, guarantee an absolute majority in the Chamber to whichever coalition wins the most votes nationally by granting them 340 seats (55%), even if said coalition wins only 29% as in 2013! In the Senate, however, the majority bonus is applied regionally (but three regions have no majority bonus) so there is no guarantee that the winning coalition will have an absolute majority in the Senate. This means that the winning coalition either lacks a majority in the Senate (2013), has so tenuous of a majority that it makes it vulnerable to any dissent within the often-fractious coalitions (2006) or the majority is strong but still vulnerable to large blocs of dissent within the coalition (in a landslide election like 2008). The Court declared that the majority bonuses in both houses were unconstitutional and also ruled against the closed party lists, which prevent voters from indicating preferences for candidates on a party list.

In January, Renzi wasted no time and negotiated an agreement over a new electoral law with Berlusconi – the two men agreed to adopt a new electoral system which would guarantee strong governing majorities, abolish perfect bicameralism and reduce the cost of politics. Renzi’s alliance with Berlusconi on the electoral law and his announcement of two other priorities (civil unions and a new immigration law) signaled his energy and stamina, but it also made some in the PD uncomfortable about the moral implications of allying with somebody sentenced by a court and created troubles with the PD’s governing partners – the NCD and the centrists – who feared what an agreement between the two major parties over the electoral system would mean for them. The new electoral law, adopted by the Chamber of Deputies in March 2014, will only apply for the Chamber (a constitutional reform to significantly reduce the Senate’s powers and perhaps turn it into a much less powerful regional chamber like the Bundesrat) and is known as the Italicum. It does not make the electoral system any less convoluted: under the new law, closed lists with 3-6 candidates will run in about 120 multi-member constituencies in Italy – either individually or in coalition. A coalition will need to pass a 12% national threshold, individual parties a 8% national threshold and parties within a coalition will need 4.5% nationally. If a coalition/party obtains 37% of the vote nationally, it wins a 15% majority bonus meaning that it may win up to a maximum of 340 seats (there is no majority bonus if a list wins over 340 seats). If no coalition or party wins 37%, a runoff between the top two lists is organized, in which the winning list receives 321 seats with remaining seats attributed to other lists who met the thresholds in the ‘first round’ (as I understand it). The Chamber of Deputies has produced research files simulating the new system on the last three elections, including a runoff in 2013. It also has, in Italian, some handy infographics which clarify things somewhat. The Chamber rejected amendments to alternate men and women on party lists to ensure gender parity.

By February 2014, Letta was increasingly isolated and facing rumours that Renzi was pressuring him to resign in his favour. Letta’s government was criticized, notably by Renzi, for the slow pace of reforms. By February 11-12, Letta pressed Renzi to publicly detail his intentions and tried to appear tough, but unlike in October 2013, he found himself beaten by Renzi. On February 13, the PD executive voted 136-16 in favour of Renzi’s proposal for a new government for a new phase and to speed up reforms. Despite his very public displeasure with what had transpired, Letta had no choice but to hand his government’s regination to Napolitano the next day. On February 17, Renzi was officially tasked with forming a new government, which was sworn in on the 22nd. The Renzi government includes only 16 full ministers (one of the lowest), half of which are women (but if junior ministers and secretaries of state are included, the government remains overwhelmingly male) and has the lowest average age (47) of any Italian government. The government’s junior allies – the NCD, UDC, SC and minor centrist parties – remained in government, and there was little turnover of their ministers – Angelino Alfano remains Minister of the Interior, although he is no longer Deputy Prime Minister. There was significant turnover of PD ministers, with younger pro-Renzi members filling portfolios and women taking some important portfolios (foreign affairs, defense, constitutional reform). The economy portfolio was retained by an independent technocrat.

The very rapid (and, to casual followers of Italian politics, unexpected) succession of events which led to Renzi’s accession to power was received negatively by most Italians, including PD voters with an otherwise good opinion of Renzi. PD supporters felt that Renzi was making an enormous mistake, because of the optics of the situation (making him look like a backstabber, and the very traditional First Republic backroom replacements of governments without elections) and the potential that actually leading government would tarnish Renzi’s star profile. Few predicted that the government will be able to last until the end of the legislature’s term in 2018, as Renzi wishes.

Renzi unveiled his proposal for pro-growth stimulus reforms in March. His landmark initiative is a proposal to cut income taxes on lower income taxpayers, giving them a tax credit of about €80 per month for an overall cost of €10 billion to the state, to be financed by some deficit spending (but Italy has pledged to respect its European commitments), cuts in unproductive spending and administrative reforms, a raise in capital gains taxation and savings from lower interest rates. The government also plans to cut taxes on work, speed up the payment of the debt and a labour reform which would include universal unemployment benefits. These measures are ambitious and greeted with cautious optimism from voters, but the government will need to work with a difficult economic situation: although Italy’s economy should grow in 2014 (+0.6%), the debt is at over 135% of GDP and unemployment remains frustratingly high at 12.6% (far higher for youths).

EP election

The EP election was fairly important, as it was the first nationwide test of public opinion since 2013 (there have been local elections and several regional elections since, though) and the first electoral test for Renzi. EP elections in Italy, like in other countries (notably France), are an opportunity for smaller parties to test their strengths running individually. It was unclear where public opinion really stood, although most polls indicated that the centre-left had a narrow lead over the Berlusconian right coalition and the M5S was moving closer to its 2013 results after dropping off a bit after the election.

The PD renewed its ranks somewhat, once again promoting younger women to top spots on the party’s lists (but in the open-list system, their election is not guaranteed even with a top placement on the list). The PD’s campaign was pro-European and emphasized that ‘Italy was changing course’ and that Europe should follow suit. The party promoted a pro-growth agenda to reduce youth unemployment, grow the economy and build a ‘social Europe’. The PD was associated with the the South Tyrolean People’s Party (SVP), the dominant centre-right party in the German-speaking province of Bolzano (Südtirol/South Tyrol) whose sole MEP (elected thanks to the threshold exception for linguistic minority parties) sits with the EPP group (the PD sits with the S&D group). The SVP itself was allied with an autonomist party in the neighboring province of the Trentino (the PATT) and the party representing the Slovenian minority (SSK) in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

The M5S has been uncompromising in its opposition to the government, and Grillo, leading his movement from outside Parliament, has remained controversial and abrasive. However, the M5S has struggled somewhat since February 2013 (even if it retains solid support). A new party in Parliament, with a caucus heavily made up of first-time, inexperienced novice politicians drawn from different social horizons and drawing on different political traditions and ideologies, it has had a tough time adapting to Parliament – especially how their leadership and many of the parliamentarians themselves consider the Parliament to be a corrupt and illegitimate institution which should, in a perfect world, be abolished and replaced by internet-based direct democracy. Beppe Grillo is an autocratic leader, who is rather intolerant of any dissent or criticism, and doesn’t hesitate to insult any critics – internal or external, politicians or journalists – with crude ad hominem attacks. Grillo just recently allowed his followers to go on TV, which he had until then boycotted. His angry followers often enthusiastically join Grillo’s countless attacks on his ‘enemies’ launched from his blogs. By now, several deputies and even more senators have been expelled or voluntarily left the M5S – from 109 deputies and 54 senators, the M5S is down to 104 and 40 respectively. Most recently, in February 2014, four M5S senators were expelled following an internet vote (in the unique Grillist tradition, expulsions are voted on by M5S’ online activists) for criticizing Grillo’s behaviour during a consultation with Renzi, which Grillo had been forced (by his members) to attend.

The M5S’ European campaign focused on seven points: a referendum on Euro membership, abolition of the Fiscal Compact, adoption of Eurobonds, alliance of Mediterranean countries for a common currency (Euro 2), investments in innovation to be excluded from 3% deficit limit calculations, financing for domestic agricultural activities and abolition of the balanced budget requirements.

Forza Italia – Berlusconi’s party, now centered around the pro-Berlusconi hawks (falchi), loyalists (lealisti) and mediators (moderates) – has remained a significant force, despite Berlusconi’s expulsion from the Senate in November 2013. Berlusconi is still facing pending trials, most significantly in the Rubygate prostitution case, and is also forbidden from leaving the Italian territory without a judge’s permission (his passport has been seized). Berlusconi announced his intention to run for the EP in May 2014, despite being barred from holding or running for public office. In March 2014, the Court of Cassation confirmed the judicial two-year ban from holding public office, effectively barring Berlusconi from running for the EP. In early May 2014, Berlusconi began serving his one-year community service at a home care centre for elderly dementia patients, where he must work for four hours a week. Some of Berlusconi’s closest allies have also felt the pressure of the judiciary: Marcello Dell’Utri, one of Berlusconi’s oldest allies, was sentenced by the Supreme Court to seven years in jail in 2014 for tax fraud, false accounting and complicity in conspiracy with the Sicilian Mafia. Dell’Utri had fled to Lebanon before the sentence fell, but he has since been arrested by Lebanese authorities and is awaiting extradition to Italy.

There is increasing speculation that Berlusconi is preparing a dynastic succession. Marina Berlusconi, his eldest daughter (at 47) and president of the Fininvest holding company, is often cited by the media and Berlusconians alike as the preferred heir, but she does not appear interested. Her younger brother, Pier Silvio, vice-president of Mediaset, is more discrete and denies any political ambition even if he is said to be brilliant. Barbara Berlusconi, the eldest (29) of three children with his ex-wife Veronica Lario, now has a position on the board of AC Milan but is not usually seen as a future politician.

Forza Italia ran a populist, Eurosceptic and anti-German campaign. Berlusconi, his usual self, said that “for Germans, the concentration camps never existed” and continued babbling about the President (who didn’t pardon him) and the judges (who took a political decision). The party ran in coalition with smaller parties: whatever is left of UDEUR (the party of venal and corrupt incumbent MEP Clemente Mastella who was formerly allied with the centre-left until he pulled the plug on Prodi’s cabinet in 2008), the Grande Sud (a southern ‘regionalist’ party made up of three regional parties in Sicily, Campania and Apulia largely made up of PdL or MPA dissidents) and The Populars of Italy Tomorrow (an empty shell of pro-Berlusconi UDC dissidents in the south).

Under Matteo Salvini, the Lega Nord has regained some lost support and the party has been reoriented on a more anti-EU and anti-immigration platform. For example, under Salvini, the Lega, whose MEPs sat with the UKIP’s EFD group in the last EP, allied himself with Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Heinz-Christian Strache in the EAF; for the EP elections, the Lega Nord dropped the traditional word ‘Padania’ at the bottom of the logo in favour of the slogan ‘Basta €uro’ or ‘enough Euro’. The Lega ran in coalition with Die Freiheitlichen, a right-wing populist German party which is the second-largest party in the German-speaking province of Bolzano (Südtirol/South Tyrol) and the Movement for Autonomies (MPA), the Sicilian-based party of former regional president Raffaele Lombardo. Matteo Salvini was the party’s top candidate in every region, something which is legal and somewhat commonplace in Italy (in 2009, Berlusconi was the PdL’s top candidate in all EP constituencies despite being the sitting Prime Minister, and Umberto Bossi also topped all the Lega’s lists that year).

On the right, the new Brothers of Italy (FdI), a national conservative party founded by PdL members in December 2012, ran independently. The FdI emerged in late 2012, largely founded by ex-AN members of the PdL who had come from the AN’s moderate pro-Berlusconi ‘liberal conservative’ faction. Although they were somewhat critical of Berlusconi, the FdI received Berlusconi’s blessing as he hoped that it would create an outlet for right-wing and nationalist voters who were a bit queasy with him but could nevertheless be brought to still support him indirectly. The party joined the centre-right coalition in the 2013 election, but opposed the Letta government. Under the leadership of Giorgia Meloni, the FdI has shifted towards the right, making a clear bid to reclaim the identity of the former AN (whose members are divided between Forza Italia, the FdI and various small hard-right parties) but also informally associating with Marine Le Pen at the pan-EU level (although there is no formal alliance, unlike in the case of the Lega). The former mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, a former fascist who was defeated for reelection in 2013, has since endorsed the party. The FdI successfully won the right to rename itself ‘Brothers of Italy-National Alliance’ and use the logo of the old AN in its logo. The FdI’s appropriation of the AN identity has irked smaller parties with roots in the old party, notably Francesco Storace’s La Destra, a hard-right splinter of the AN (from 2007) now allied with Berlusconi. Giorgia Meloni was the FdI’s top candidate in every constituency.

Angelino Alfano’s NCD, for its first election, ran in alliance with Pier Ferdinando Casini’s Christian democratic Union of the Centre (UDC), which had found itself obliterated in the 2013 election (1.8%) when it ran in coalition with Mario Monti. The alliance is unsurprising: the NCD and UDC are both likely too weak to win more than 4% on their own, both are junior allies in the Renzi government, the UDC has been looking (unsuccessfully) to build a new centre-right/centrist coalition (often seen as a neo-DC) with Berlusconian dissidents (first Fini, now Alfano) and both the NCD and UDC are ideologically very similar (most of the NCD’s members are ex-DC southerners, and the NCD is effectively a Christian democratic/social conservative party similar to the UDC). Both Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the NDC-UDC are part of the EPP, but given Berlusconi’s new anti-EU (and anti-Merkel) populist campaigns, the NCD-UDC fits in much more nicely in the EPP mainstream while Berlusconi is a bit of an Orbán in the EPP. Two NCD cabinet ministers were top candidates: Maurizio Lupi (transports) in the Northwest and Beatrice Lorenzin (health) in the Centre.

Mario Monti’s hastily assembled and fractious party for the 2013 elections, the Civic Choice (SC), had managed to win 8.3% of the vote in the 2013 election (in the process, decimating Casini’s UDC and killing Fini’s FLI) but the SC has since collapsed. Monti lost control over his party, and in response to the growing tensions between him and other SC members, decided to resign as the SC’s president in October 2013. The party then split between the pro-Monti liberals, who supported a centrist strategy (anti-Berlusconi but also anti-UDC) and were liberal reformists and the Christian democrats, including Mario Mauro, who were open to alliances with Berlusconi and close to the UDC. The party was pretty equally divided between both wings, but the liberals took control of the SC and have since aligned it even closer to the PD-led centre-left alliance and the Renzi cabinet. The Christian democrats split off and created Populars for Italy (PpI), which formed a common group with the UDC in Parliament (Per l’Italia). The PpI-UDC group has 10 senators (7 for the SC) and 18 deputies (27 for the SC).

The SC participated in a common liberal list for the EP elections, European Choice (SE) with the smaller Democratic Centre (CD), the neoliberal/libertarian Act to Stop the Decline and other tiny parties. The SE affiliated with the ALDE at the pan-European level (although one MEP who supported the SE, ex-AN member Cristiana Muscardini, sat with the ECR) and was endorsed by ALDE presidential candidate Guy Verhofstadt and former Italian Prime Minister and President of the EU Commission Romano Prodi.

On the left, several communists and ecosocialist/radical left parties in opposition to the government formed a common alliance, L’Altra Europa con Tsipras, to support the GUE/NGL presidential candidacy of Greek SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras. Although launched by independent left-wing intellectuals, the partisan base of the alliance was formed by Nichi Vendola’s Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) – the only party of the radical left with seats in Parliament (3% in 2013 in alliance with the PD), the moribund Communist Refoundation Party (PRC), Antonio Ingroia’s anti-corruption movement (Ingroia, a leftist magistrate, was the top candidate of the leftist Civil Revolution alliance in 2013 with the PRC, Greens, Italian Communists and IdV, but won only 2.3% and has since collapsed), the Italian Pirates (seemingly a very tiny party) and the South Tyrolean Greens (already allied with the SEL in 2013). The SEL, which did fairly poorly in 2013, saw its support increase somewhat in the early days of the Letta government but it has since struggled. Nichi Vendola is less active in national politics and the SEL has been hurt by internal divisions, as a few parliamentarians have left the caucus to cautiously support Renzi (encouraged by his tax policies) while the SEL leadership remains firmly in the opposition. The Other Europe with Tsipras led an anti-austerity but pro-European leftist campaign and hovered around the 4% threshold for most of the campaign.

The weak and irrelevant Italian Greens ran a separate list, Greens Italy-European Greens – an alliance of the old moribund Federation of the Greens and the new Greens Italy, a party founded in 2013 by environmentalists from leftist and rightist parties (PD, MSI-AN, PdL, FLI, Radicals) and led by prominent Italian Green leader and former MEP Monica Frassoni.

Italy of Values (IdV), an anti-corruption party formerly led by famous Milanese magistrate Antonio Di Pietro (who is Berlusconi’s bête noire), won 8% in the 2009 EP elections at the peak of the IdV’s success as part of the centre-left coalition with the PD. Since 2009, however, the IdV has collapsed due to significant infighting between Di Pietro’s centrist/moderate leadership and the far-left direction supported by Luigi de Magistris, a former prosecutor and mayor of Naples. de Magistris’s supporters left the party, but IdV was left badly beaten and further worn out by corruption allegations and the M5S’ growth as a more forceful and radical anti-establishment protest option. Di Pietro has since left the party’s leadership and the IdV appears to be quasi-defunct. The IdV’s MEP sat with the ALDE, although the IdV was an Italian oddity with its anti-corruption populist politics and hardly your usual EU liberal party.

Results

Turnout: 57.22% (-7.83%)
MEPs: 73 (+1)
Electoral system: Limited preferential list PR (up to 3 preferences), 4% national threshold (50,000 vote threshold for linguistic minority parties allied with a national party), five constituencies (Northeast Italy, Northwest Italy, Central Italy, Southern Italy, Insular Italy)

PD (S&D) 40.81% (+14.69%) winning 31 seats (+10)
M5S (EFD) 21.15% (+21.15%) winning 17 seats (+17)
Forza Italia (EPP) 16.81% (-18.45%) winning 13 seats (-16)
Lega Nord (EAF) 6.15% (-4.06%) winning 5 seats (-4)
NCD-UDC (EPP) 4.38% (-2.13%) winning 3 seats (-2)
L’Altra Europa con Tsipras (GUE/NGL) 4.03% (-2.49%) winning 3 seats (+3)
Fratelli d’Italia-AN 3.66% (+3.66%) winning 0 seats (±0)
European Greens-Green Italy (G-EFA) 0.91% (+0.91%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Scelta Europea (ALDE) 0.72% (+0.72%) winning 0 seats (±0)
IdV (ALDE) 0.66% (-7.34%) winning 0 seats (-7)
SVP (EPP) 0.5% (+0.03%) winning 1 seat (±0)
Io Cambio-MAIE 0.18% (-0.05%) winning 0 seats (±0)

Italy 2014 - EP

In the EP elections, Matteo Renzi’s PD won an unexpectedly massive victory with 40.81% of the vote, the largest percentage share of the vote for an Italian party nationally since 1958 and the PD’s best result in any national election. Despite significantly lower turnout (-18%), the PD also won more votes (11.2 million votes) than in the 2013 general election (8.6 million votes in the Chamber). Electing 31 MEPs to Brussels, the PD is now the largest single national party in the EP and in the S&D group (ahead of the German SPD). The PD’s landslide was totally unexpected: the last public polls before the legal polling blackout during the last two weeks of the campaign showed the PD leading the M5S by about 6-10 points (the PD beat the M5S by nearly 20, and all polls showed the PD at 30-33%) and there were apparently well-founded rumours during the blackout that the M5S was polling closer to the PD in the final stretch (Grillo notably attracted a much larger crowd at his big rally in the Piazza San Giovanni in Rome than Renzi did a few minutes away at the Piazza del Popolo). Many were taken aback by the PD’s success, notably Grillo who had been characteristically virulent and hyperbolic in the days preceding the vote (saying that if the M5S won, ‘the system would fall’). For Renzi, the PD’s victory is not just pleasing information – it provides him with much-needed democratic legitimacy from the Italian electorate. Grillo and Berlusconi never failed to remind their listeners that Renzi took office without any popular mandate and therefore lacked democratic legitimacy. In a major boost for Renzi’s standing as Prime Minister, he can now fall back on the PD’s landslide victory to strengthen his leadership.

Gains and loses (raw votes) since 2013 election (own work)

Gains and loses (raw votes) since 2013 election (own work)

He has already used his new weight in the PD to his own advantage: a PD senator who was proving a thorn in the side in a Senate committee was turfed from the committee and chose to ‘auto-exclude’ himself from the PD.

The M5S did poorly, with only 21.2% of the vote and suffering major loses from the party’s record 2013 result, falling from 8.7 million votes and 25.6% to only 5.8 million votes. It was a very poor performance for Grillo, who had made the EP election about Renzi and forcing Renzi to enter the fray personally to defend the PD – Grillo attacked Renzi’s tax measures (his ‘€80 charity’) and was certain that the M5S’ tremendous activist base and mobilizing capacity in the piazze would certainly translate into strong support. Immediately after the election, Grillo tried to spin the M5S’ poor performance by noting that it was Italy’s second largest party and attacked retirees (the M5S’ weakest demographic, by far) for ‘not wanting change and not preoccupying themselves with the faith of their grandkids’. He promised that while the M5S did not vinciamo noi (we win [now]) it will vinciamo poi (win [later]). However, the M5S and Grillo proved more pragmatic and reasonable as the immediate furor died down. An internal party document leaked by the media blamed a ‘destructive energy’, a ‘disturbing message, unreassuring and unrealiable’ campaign and lamented the M5S’ decision to ignore TV shows in a country where 15-20 million inform themselves through television. Grillo, on June 15, said that his party was ‘serious’ and open to talking to the government over the electoral reform (for which the M5S has published its alternative to the Renzi-Berlusconi Italicum, with preferential PR in a single round).

Which group the M5S would fit in in the new EP was always a major mystery, because of the M5S’ ideological peculiarity compared to other parties in the EU, even ‘fellow’ populist movements. Although some assumed that given the little obvious links with existing groups, Grillo would prefer to have his MEPs sit as non-inscrits, it would seem that the advantages which accrue to MEPs aligned with a EP group convinced Grillo to push for the M5S’ membership in a parliamentary group. By virtue of the M5S’ rather leftist views on many issues, many presumed that the Greens-EFA or even GUE/NGL groups would be the most likely candidates, but Grillo instead decided to meet with UKIP leader Nigel Farage although the M5S still opened talks with the G-EFA as well. It soon became clear that Grillo’s sympathies leaned strongly towards Farage and the UKIP’s EFD group, which led the G-EFA to reject M5S’ advances in early June. ALDE also rejected working with the M5S, although I doubt that ever was a serious possibility. On June 12, the M5S finally held an online referendum for its members to decide on the M5S’ group membership in the new EP – the choices were between EFD, the ECR and non-inscrit status, although the cards were heavily stacked in favour of EFD. In a low turnout vote, 78% of M5S supporters voted for the EFD – the anti-EU, Eurosceptic, anti-establishment rhetoric of Farage and his colleagues and the EFD’s status as a fairly ‘loose’ group likely heavily pushed the M5S’ supporters towards them (over a ECR group which is far more ‘establishment’, as Farage pointed out in a video recorded for M5S supporters). Likely as a result of the entrance of the 17 new Grillist MEPs, the EFD group renamed itself ‘Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy’ or EFDD.

Berlusconi did even worse: with only 16.8%, it is an absolute disaster for Forza Italia – its 4.6 million votes on May 25 a far cry from the 7.3 million won by the PdL in 2013. It is worth pointing out that Berlusconi was not a candidate (he still has an ability to draw out additional votes which his party itself is unable to get out in local or regional elections) and the party likely put less effort into these elections than it would in a general election (and it was a bit sidelined in the media with a focus on a Renzi-Grillo battle), but it’s still a very poor result for the party given that Berlusconi still took centre-stage in the Forza Italia campaign. Berlusconi downplayed the results by blaming the low turnout – 57.2% is very high turnout for a EP election in a country where voting is not mandatory, but it is quite low compared to past EP elections in Italy and all other types of elections in a country with a high-turnout tradition. He regretted not winning over 20%, but, of course, there’s no questions asked about his leadership. Berlusconi remains a major political player and a force to be reckoned with in Italian politics, to the displeasure of many EU countries and Italians.

The Lega Nord won 6.2%, a small but significant improvement from the Lega’s disastrous 2013 results (4.1%) and a gain in raw votes as well (up to 1.68 million). However, it is down from the Lega’s record-high performance in the last EP election, when it had won over 3 million votes and 10.2% (electing 9 MEPs). Matteo Salvini has managed to slowly lift the Lega’s fortunes after the 2012-2013 disaster, although it’s still a tough spell for the party. The Lega scored minor gains outside of ‘Padania’ with its primarily anti-immigration/Eurosceptic creed, but it remains – obviously – a northern regionalist party in terms of support.

On the centre-right, the NCD-UDC alliance won 4.4%, down 2.1% on the UDC’s performance alone in 2009 and still a fairly weak showing for Alfano’s new party (and another terrible result for a UDC which appears in terminal condition since 2013). As with past Berlusconian splinters – Fini’s FLI in 2010-2013 (reminder: for all the talk of Fini replacing Berlusconi as the leader of the right, the FLI ended with 0 seats in Parliament and less than 0.5% in 2013) – the Italian right-wing electorate still prefers Berlusconi to any ‘polished’ or ‘moderate’ dissident. Berlusconi is a polarizing figure, with a majority of Italian voters having no time for him but who still commands the often quite motivated support of millions of Italians through his charisma and stamina after 20 years in the political arena. Unsurprisingly, it looks quite unlikely that Alfano will succeed in his goal of preparing the field for Berlusconi’s retirement/death and the realignment of the right which will naturally ensue – in a general election with the new electoral law, a NCD-UDC coalition which wins 4% will not have any seats! The only thing which Alfano could say to spin the poor result was that he remained one of the main pillars of the government – a silent call for Renzi not to get carried away and forget about his increasingly minor allies?

Fratelli d’Italia-AN was the largest party below the threshold, at 3.7% and just over 1 million votes. It is far from recreating the old AN, but the FdI is up from just below 2% and 666k votes in 2013.

The radical left Tsipras list landed just above the threshold, with 4% and 1.1 million votes; up marginally from the SEL’s 3.2% in 2013 but actually down from the combined result of the parliamentary SEL+extraparliamentary RC in 2013 and the combined result of the proto-SEL coalition and a communist list in the 2009 EP election (3.1% and 3.4% respectively for a total of 6.5% in what was hardly a good year for the Italian radical left). The IdV collapsed to only 0.7% of the vote, as expected.

The other list ‘supporting’ a EC presidential candidate – the pro-Verhofstadt SE, did far worse than expected with only 0.7% of the vote – actually landing behind the Greens list, which won 0.9% (not too shabby considering the miserable state of the green movement in the country). This confirms that, come the next general election, the SC will be the latest short-lived Italian fad party to join the long list of such parties since 1994.

Analysis

The PD’s large victory is the result of a few different factors. Firstly, there was a clear Renzi effect which saw a direct transfer of votes from voters who had backed other parties in 2013 to the PD in 2014 (despite the lower turnout). The effect is the result of significant albeit cautious optimism in Renzi’s new government and his leadership – his energy, youthfulness, frenetic activism and his ability to do something concrete for once (electoral law, tax reform, gender parity). This article (in Italian) by the Centro Italiano Studi Elettorali shows that the PD was rated as the most credible party, far ahead of the M5S and FI, on nearly all issues – most notably on the economy and employment, although it does seem important to note that on nearly all top issues, a larger number of voters found no party whatsoever to be credible. Nevertheless, the PD had a significant advantage over the M5S and FI on issues which mattered, while FI lacked a single ‘niche issue’ (besides taxes) and the M5S was limited to expertise in its ‘niche issues’ of fighting la casta and the costs of politics. The article also found that voters’ assessments of party credibility mattered most to PD and M5S supporters, while Forza Italia’s supporters voted for Berlusconi’s party for ideological reasons rather than assessments of party credibility on issues (unsurprisingly). The problem for the M5S here is that, by focusing quasi-exclusively on issues such as political corruption and the political system, it fails to appear credible on issues which matter to more Italians.

According to an IPR analysis, about a quarter of the PD’s vote was cast ‘thinking only about Renzi’ (the rest was cast ‘thinking solely about the party’), which would mean that the Renzi effect was worth 10.8% to the PD, adding that amount to the 30% of votes which went to the PD for traditional partisan reasons – a number which would make sense, given that the PD’s base in normal circumstances seems to be about 30% of the vote or a bit lower. The Renzi effect has had people asking if the election was a victory for the PD or rather a victory for the ‘Party of Renzi’.

Of course, the flip side here is that a vote based on cautious optimism and the temporary credibility of one party over another is very volatile. Indeed, the other main lesson of this election is the confirmation of the extreme volatility of the Italian electorate in recent years. According to a study by Demopolis, only 53% of those who voted in 2013 ‘confirmed’ their vote in 2014 by voting for the same party while 45% of 2013 voters either did not vote or voted for another list. The 2013 election was also quite volatile – only 54% of 2008 voters ‘confirmed’ their vote in 2013 and 39% voted differently or did not vote. With this in mind, the PD’s success in 2014 could prove remarkably short-lived if Renzi and his government don’t live up to expectations.

The other major factor behind the PD’s vote is differential turnout. Geographically, turnout was down from 2013 (-16.5%) in every region and down from 2009 (-7.8%) in all but two regions. As is usually the norm in Italian elections, turnout was lowest in the Mezzogiorno and the islands, with 51.7% turnout in the Southern EP constituency and 42.7% turnout in the Insular EP constituency, compared to 61.8% in Central Italy, 64.5% in Northeast Italy and 66% in Northwest Italy. It is tough to see obvious links between turnout and partisanship geographically, although the central zona ‘rossa’ - the historic left-wing (formerly PCI) strongholds of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Umbria and Marche – saw the highest turnout at 68.2% overall (over 70% in Umbria and Emilia-Romagna) and also the lowest decline in turnout (-12.3%) of any major region (north, south and Red Zone) from the 2013 election.

Exit polls and vote flow analyses, however, showed clear differential turnout in the PD’s favour. The centre-left, in short, was able to mobilize its electorate far better than the M5S or the Berlusconian right, who had many voters sit out the EP elections. Several pollsters and academics have done their own analyses of vote flows compared to the 2013 election, and despite different numbers in the details, the broad picture is similar. Demopolis looked at the 2013 votes of ‘new non-voters’ – those who voted in 2013 but did not vote in 2014 – and found that 34% had voted M5S, 31% had voted PdL, 22% had backed another party and only 13% supported the PD. Looking at it from a different angle, Tecnè reported that 42% of the PD’s 2013 voters did not vote, compared to 53% of Grillist supporters in 2013 and 50% of PdL voters. SWG had the most complex and detailed vote flow analysis, and found that the M5S lost 2.660 million votes to abstention, the PdL/FI lost 1.750 million and the PD lost only 1.400 million of its 2013 voters to abstention.

Vote flow analysis from 2013 to 2014 in five major Italian cities – Turin, Venice, Parma, Florence and Palermo (source: CISE in ‘Renzi, alta fedeltà e nuovi voti a 360°‘ by Roberto D’Alimonte)

This article published by the Centro Italiano Studi Elettorali calculated voter flows in major cities using election results while another article looked at Milan and Rome in more detail. In all seven cities sampled, the PD’s retention of its 2013 vote was quite extraordinary – ranging from 95% in Florence to 71% in Palermo. Outside Palermo, the the PD did not lose more than 10% of its 2013 vote to abstention – for example, in Milan, only 2% of the PD’s 2013 voters did not vote in 2014. It is even more striking if you compare the PD’s electorate’s behaviour to that of M5S and PdL voters in 2013. In Venice and Palermo, over half of the PdL’s supporters did not vote in 2014, and over 40% did not vote in Rome. In Rome, Milan, Parma and Palermo, over 40% of the M5S’ supporters did not vote in 2014 (and 38% in Florence and 35% in Venice). The radical left – SEL and RC in 2013 – also saw a number of their voters sit out in May 2014, notably in Venice (where 50% and 45% of RC and SEL voters respectively didn’t vote).

The PD’s ability to retain its 2013 electorate so well combined with the demobilization of M5S and Berlusconian supporters from 2013 contributed heavily to the PD’s success. But the PD also gained votes from other parties, given that it not only ‘held’ its 2013 votes it also gained votes from 2014 despite lower turnout (the only other lists who increased their votes from 2013 were the Lega and FdI). The main source of new votes from the PD was, unsurprisingly, Mario Monti’s old SC, which is practically dead. According to SWG, the PD gained 1.270 million votes from the SC – only 170,000 of the SC’s 2013 voters went for the ‘European Choice’ list in this election and 250,000 went for Alfano’s NCD-UDC. 850,000 of the SC’s 2.82 million voters from last year did not vote in 2014. The flow analyses cited above confirm the exit polls: in the seven cities sampled, the PD won between 44% and 60% of the SC’s 2013 voters while another 10-15% went for Alfano. According to SWG, about 1.090 million M5S voters switched to the PD (that’s about 12.5% of M5S supporters from 2013) – again confirmed by flow analysis at the municipal level – in five of the seven cities (not Milan and Rome), the PD won between 6% and 17% of M5S votes. A smaller amount came from the ex-PdL (430,000), again a small transfer corroborated at the local level. The PD also gained smaller number of voters from the radical left (420,000 from ‘other centre-left parties’ in SWG, presumably SEL), the UDC-FLI (110,000) and other centre-right parties in 2013 (90,000). The PD only ceded 350,000 votes to the M5S, 230,000 to the Tsipras list and very small numbers to the right – for a total of 2,050,000 2013 votes lost (largely to abstention) more than compensated by the 4,570,000 votes the PD has gained since 2013 – including 1.14 million from people who hadn’t voted in 2013 but did so in 2014.

Demopolis reported that 66% of the PD’s 2014 voters had already voted PD in 2013 – it gained 13% from the SC, 9% from Grillo, 7% from non-voters and only 5% from the PdL.

The M5S and FI suffered the bulk of their loses to abstention – overall, SWG estimates that the M5S lost 4.56 million votes (and gained 1.66 million) from 2013, while Forza Italia lost 3.69 million and gained only 960,000 votes from 2013. As noted above, a small albeit not totally insignificant percentage of M5S and FI voters from 2013 switched to the PD this year. The M5S lost some votes to the Lega (-240k), FI (-130k), FdI (-130k) and Tsipras (-120k); FI also lost some support to the M5S (-410k), the NCD (-470k), the Lega (-340k) and FdI (-220k). Forza Italia gained very little votes from other parties. The flow analysis in the seven cities found similar results, with local differences – in the north, FI lost up to 6% (in Milan) of its 2013 vote to the Lega Nord; throughout the country, FI lost about 2-5% of its 2013 vote to Alfano’s folks and about 7% to the FdI.

For Tecnè, Grillo and Berlusconi only held 34% of their 2013 vote and lost most heavily to abstention with single-digit loses to the centre-left. IPR’s analysis unwisely focused only on 2013 voters who voted in 2014 and ignored the significant number who didn’t do so.

According to SWG, the Lega Nord lost 500,000 votes – the three-fifths of those votes were lost to abstention – and gained 800,000 votes – +340k from Forza Italia, +240k from the M5S, +140k from other parties and +80k from 2013 non-voters. Interestingly, the vote flow analysis in the cities shows that the Lega’s 2013 electorate may not have been all that loyal – it held only 46% of its 2013 vote in Milan, 43% in Turin and 44% in Venice (although these are three northern cities where the Lega is particularly weak), with a fairly significant number of 2013 Lega voters opting for other parties in the EP election (in Venice, 36% apparently voted PD; in Milan, it shed 18% to FI and 10% to the PD).

The NCD-UDC list, in SWG’s analysis, found 470,000 of its 1.2 million votes from the PdL, 200,000 from the UDC and 250,000 from the Monti SC. It gained a small number of votes from the M5S, and even less from others, the PD and 2013 non-voters. In the Rome and Milan analysis, the study showed that the NCD-UDC’s voters in 2014 had split their votes fairly equally between Monti and Berlusconi in 2013 (in Milan – where it did well – it got 44% from the PdL and 36% from the Monti list, in Rome it got 47% from Monti and 37% from the PdL.

The vote flow analyses reveal, unsurprisingly, that we cannot assume that the Tsipras list simply won the votes of those who had backed the SEL and RC lists in the 2013 election. According to SWG, the Tsipras list gained the most votes (440,000 out of 1.1 million) from the SEL with smaller amounts from the PD (230k), RC (200k) and M5S (120k). This would mean that about 40% of the SEL’s 2013 voters and only 26% of the RC’s 2013 voters went to the Tsipras list this year – a result confirmed municipally, with between 35% and 58% of the SEL’s voters in our seven cities voting Tsipras and between 13% and 31% of RC voters from last years going for Tsipras. The RC’s 2013 voters also went to the M5S in fairly significant numbers (between 12% and 40% across the seven cities) and a good number – up to half in Venice – not voting. The SEL, in contrast, lost mostly to abstention and the PD with only minor leakage to the M5S.

Finally, as noted above, the 2013 SC Monti vote went heavily towards the PD (45% in SWG) – no surprise here – and only 6% per SWG went to the SE list (in the municipal election, the SE polled too poorly for it to be analyzed). Another 250,000 (per SWG, or 8%) went to the NCD-UDC and 850,000 did not turn out (30%).

In Rome and Milan, the FdI’s electorate was largely made up (about 40%) of people who had already voted for the Berlusconian centre-right in 2013 (the analysis linked to above includes 2013 FdI voters with the PdL), but it also drew a significant (but not very large) number from Monti, M5S and the PD.

An Ipsos Italia exit poll also reported similar results in its flow analysis – the tremendous retention of its base by the PD, the heavy loses of nearly all other parties to abstention, the PD gains from the old Monti centre (and some from the SEL+RC) and a fairly good vote retention from the Lega.

Largest party by comuni (source: YouTrend)

The PD’s victory changed the demographic makeup of its electorate somewhat. The most remarkable result, noted by most Italian pollsters, was the very marked improvement of the PD with entrepreneurs and self-employed workers – a demographic which had voted heavily for the right in 2008 (68%) and split between the M5S and the right in 2013 (40.2% for Grillo vs. 34.6% for the right and 16.4% for the left). According to Demopolis, the PD now won 33% of their votes and EMG reports that the PD took 30.7% with them against 25.1% for the M5S and 18.5% for FI. Ipsos’ data differentiates between entrepreneurs/managers/liberal professions and self-employed/traders/craftsmens – mixing the traditionally anti-leftist vote of self-employed workers and entrepreneurs with the anti-Berlusconi vote of liberal professions, but the PD won 35.3% with the former category and 30.1% with the latter (vs. 25.6%/31.2% for the M5S and 14.2%/17.8% for FI respectively), confirming a major swing to the Renzi-led PD with self-employed workers and entrepreneurs. According to Ipsos’ more detailed socioprofessional breakdown, the PD did best with pensioners (50.5%), employees/teachers (43.1%), students (41.1%), housewives (38.5%) and workers (35.8%) – more broadly, with public sector dependent employees (42.8%). The M5S did best with the unemployed (32.7% – first ahead of the PD) and workers (30.5%) but very poorly with housewives (15.4%) and pensioners (7.4%). FI did best with housewives (24.3%), the unemployed (20.1%), pensioners (20%) and self-employed traders and small businessmen (17.8%). The Lega Nord, at 8.2%, also did best with self-employed traders and small businessmen, and also performed well with workers (7.1%) and pensioners (6.9%). The NCD-UDC did best with entrepreneurs, managers and liberal professions (6.1%) and students (6%). The Tsipras list won 8% with students and 5.7% with employees and teachers, doing strikingly better with public sector workers than private sector workers (7.1% vs. 3.5%).

There is, as you may have guessed from Grillo’s comments about retirees not voting for their ‘grandchildren’s future’, a huge generational gap in the M5S’ support – nothing surprising for a new and flashy party – the party’s support is highest with younger voters (according to EMG, 32.5% with those 18-34) – or, for Ipsos, particularly middle-aged adults (33.5% with 33-44, 26.6% with those 45-54) – but, at any rate, the M5S’ support with older voters is extremely weak: Ipsos reports only 17.4% for Grillo with those 55 to 64 and 6.4% with those over 65, a result corroborated by EMG and Tecnè. In 2013, according to the CISE, the M5S’ support dropped from 38.4% with the youngest cohort (18-29) to 8.8% with the oldest (65+), a 29.6% gap compared to 12.7% for the PD and 18.5% for the PdL. Again in 2014, the PD and FI’s support both increased with the age of the voter – peaking at 50.2% for the PD and 22.1% for FI with voters over 65. The PD’s age gap is not as wide, because it still retains solid support with younger voters (32.9% with those 18-29 according to EMG, compared to 11.4% for FI), but both it and FI had about half of their 2014 electorate made up of voters older than 55 (compared to only 20% for the M5S). On the left, the Tsipras’ list support was much stronger with younger voters – up to 7.6% with those 18-24, attracting a crowd of well-educated young professionals and especially students (up to 8-9% with students).

The M5S did well with fairly educated voters – only 11% with those without any diploma or only elementary education (but I suppose this educational group is disproportionately old) – although with those who have a high school diploma or middle school education (27.4% and 20.5% respectively in Ipsos) and not with university graduates (17.8%). The PD did best both with university graduates (as did Tsipras) and those with no education (unlike the Tsipras list, but like FI); FI’s support decreased with higher educational achievement.

Ipsos’ exit poll also included interesting data on the ‘media gap’, religiosity and ideology. Unsurprisingly, the M5S did best – by far – with voters who inform themselves mostly through the internet, winning 38.7% against 28.8% for the PD, while M5S support was below national average for all other media sources, although in terms of makeup of its voters, 32% informed themselves mostly through TV (and 31% through the internet, obviously far more than the 15% of all voters who get most of their news online). Unsurprisingly, FI did best – 22% – with voters who inform themselves solely through TV, while PD voters are more likely to read newspapers or inform themselves mostly through TV. Religiosity continues to impact vote choice, although not where one may expect it: the M5S and Tsipras list did significantly better with non-religious voters or lapsed Catholics (27.7% M5S support with those who never attend mass, and they make up a third of the party’s electorate; half of the Tsipras list’s voters never attend mass) while the NCD-UDC’s support was heavily biased towards the most religious voters – half of its voters attend mass weekly. The PD showed no correlation with religiosity, and actually scored major gains since 2009/2013 with weekly mass-goers, winning 43.3% of their votes. Berlusconi’s support with the most religious Catholics has declined significantly from 2009, but he remains strongest with monthly mass-goers (22.9%) and weakest with irreligious voters.

The ideological self-identification of voters offers an interesting portrait of the M5S electorate. While the PD, FI, Lega, NCD-UDC, Tsipras and FdI voters identify neatly with their ideological families – half of the PD and FI’s voters identify as centre-left and centre-right respectively and most of the remainder as left or right – the M5S’ electorate draws from all ideologies. 20% of the M5S’ voters identify as left-wing, but 15% identify as right-wing; overall, 38% identify with the left/centre-left and 32% with the right/centre-right. Compared to all other parties, however, a very large proportion of the M5S’ supporters do not identify with any ideology (they make up 17% of its electorate and the M5S won 53.5% with these voters). Unsurprisingly, Grillo has picked up voters across the spectrum, combining voters who identify with both extreme ends of the ideological spectrum and many voters who do not fit anywhere.

% vote for the PD by comuni (source: YouTrend)

YouTrend has an excellent interactive map of the results. The PD won all but three provinces in the country – FI won the province of Isernia in the southern region of Molise, the Lega Nord was victorious in the Alpine Lombard province of Sondrio while the SVP (allied to the PD) won 48% in South Tyrol (province of Bolzano-Alto Adige/Bozen-Südtirol). The PD did very well in the traditional left-wing zona ‘rossa’ in central Italy, winning 56.4% in Tuscany and 52.5% in Emilia-Romagna. In Matteo Renzi’s home province (and longtime left-wing stronghold) of Florence, the PD won its best national result, 61.8%, up over 17% from the PD’s result in 2013. The M5S’ support was generally similar to its 2013 spread, although it took a much more ‘southern’ orientation in 2014. The Grillists sustained their heaviest loses in central Italy and parts of the north, and help up better in the south – and even improved on the 2013 result by 0.8% in Sardinia (where the PD’s results were mediocre), taking 30.5% on the island (its best national result). In contrast, the M5S won only 16.7% in Tuscany (-7.3%) and 15.7% in Lombardy (-3.9%). Forza Italia also did better in the south and Sicily, although it still won good results in traditionally conservative provinces of the Piedmont and Lombardy. Compared to 2013, the Lega Nord’s biggest rebound came from the Veneto, where the Lega won its best national result (15.2%, compared to 14.6% in Lombardy, the Lega’s other major northern base) – up 4.7% from the 2013 election. Many noted that, in the Veneto region and notably the province of Verona, where the Lega received its third-best result (19.6%), top candidate Matteo Salvini was outpolled by Flavio Tosi, the mayor of Verona and leader of the Liga Veneta. Tosi is a more traditional conservative (keener on the free market and not anti-Euro), who had opposed Umberto Bossi but now seems to be taking his distance from Salvini’s anti-Euro line and alliance with Le Pen. The NCD-UDC list did best in the south – taking 6.6% in the Southern Italy constituency and 7.5% in the Insular constituency, compared to about 3% in the north of the country. The Christian democratic tradition remains strongest in the south, where old clientelistic political traditions remain strongest – although the leadership of both the NCD and UDC, drawn from the old DC, are largely southern (Alfano is Sicilian – the list won 9.1%, its second best result, in Sicily). Tsipras’ support was far less reflective of old Communist support and was instead largely urban (particularly urban areas with a university) – its best provinces (except for South Tyrol, where it was backed by the local Greens, and the Francophone Aosta Valley where no local list ran in 2014) were Florence (6.5%), Bologna (6%), Livorno (6%) and Trieste (5.9%). It also performed above its national result in Milan, Rome, Turin and Pisa. Finally, FdI’s support was strongest in the Lazio (5.6%), a traditional base of the neo-fascist or post-fascist right.

Regional and local elections

Regional and local elections were held alongside the EP elections.

In Piedmont, an early regional election followed the cancellation of the 2010 regional elections by the regional court on account of irregularities (falsification) in signatures for a small list allied with the right. The president of the region, Roberto Cota (Lega Nord), had already been placed under investigation and later indicted (in January 2014) for embezzlement, fraud and illegal financing. He is notably accused of using his expenses to pay for items including green underpants and sex toys. The region, traditionally the major swing region between left and right in northern Italy, had been gained by Cota – backed by Berlusconi’s PdL and the Lega – in 2010, notably due to an early M5S winning 4.1% and allegedly ‘spoiling’ the election for the centre-left incumbent. Piedmont has long been one of Italy’s major industrial heartlands, notably around the regional capital of Turin but also in other towns across the country. Historically, the PCI had strong support with working-class voters in Turin’s suburbs (which welcomed a large population of immigrants from southern Italy) and other industrial centres (Alessandria, Novi Ligure, Vercelli); today, the left has been weakened outside of Turin, but retains strong support in the province of Turin itself. The M5S has been very strong in the Val di Susa region in the province of Turin since 2010, due to its identification with and support of the very strong local movement against the Turin-Lyon high-speed train (TAV).

The left’s candidate was Sergio Chiamparino, the former PD mayor of Turin (2001-2011), supported by the PD, SEL, a civic list, a local centrist party (Moderati), SC and IdV. Roberto Cota did not run, and the right’s candidate was Gilberto Pichetto, a former regional vicepresident and senator from Forza Italia, supported by FI, the Lega and small parties. Davide Bono, an incumbent M5S regional councillor who had already won 4.1% in 2010, ran for the M5S. There were also FdI and NCD-UDC candidates.

Sergio Chiamparino (Centre-left/PD) 47.09% winning 32 seats (10 president’s list, 17 PD, 2 civic list, 1 Moderati, 1 SEL, 1 SC)
Gilberto Pichetto (Centre-right/FI) 22.09% winning 9 seats (6 FI, 2 Lega Nord, 1 president’s list)
Davide Bono (M5S) 21.45% winning 8 seats
Guido Crosetto (FdI-AN) 3.73% winning 1 seat
Enrico Costa (NCD-UDC) 2.98%
Mauro Filingeri (PRC) 1.12%

In the list vote for the regional council, the Lega Nord’s support fell from a strong 16.7% in 2010 to 7.3%. The FI’s result was about 10% lower than the PdL’s 2010 showing, while the PD’s list (36.2%) gained 13% from 2010. Detailed interactive maps are available here.

Abruzzo is a largely mountainous or hilly southern region, traditionally right-leaning, which has become the most affluent region in southern Italy. The right had gained the region from the left in a narrow battle in 2008, an early election which had followed the arrest of the incumbent centre-left president, who had himself gained the region from the right in 2005. The incumbent president, Giovanni Chiodi of Forza Italia, has also been mixed up in corruption scandals. The left’s candidate was Luciano D’Alfonso, a former Christian democratic mayor of Pescara.

Luciano D’Alfonso (Centre-left/PD) 46.26% winning 18 seats (10 PD, 4 civic lists, 1 CD, 1 SEL, 1 IdV, 1 president’s list)
Giovanni Chiodi (Centre-right/FI) 29.26% winning 7 seats (4 FI, 1 NCD-UDC, 1 civic list, 1 president’s list)
Sara Marcozzi (M5S) 21.41% winning 5 seats
Maurizio Acerbo (PRC) 3.07%

The right’s defeats in Piedmont and Abruzzo, along with a (narrow) defeat earlier this year in Sardinia, means that the Italian right only holds the regions of Lombardy, Veneto (both with the Lega Nord), Campania (with FI) and Calabria (with the NCD). The Aosta Valley is led by a local centre-right coalition, excluding the Italian right, because Aostan politics operate in their own cocoon. Since the last regular regional elections in 2010, the left has gained no less than seven regions from the right in early or regularly-scheduled regional elections.

Municipal elections were held alongside the EP elections on May 25, with a runoff on June 8. According to La Repubblica, the centre-left won 164 out of the 243 largest communes which held local elections, against 41 for the centre-right and 24 for civic lists. The M5S won three communes. In terms of provincial capitals, the PD gained 11 and lost 6.

The left gained Pescara (Abruzzo), Bergamo (Lombardy), Cremona (Lombardy), Pavia (Lombardy), Campobasso (Molise), Biella (Piedmont), Verbania (Piedmont), Vercelli (Piedmont), Sassari (Sardinia), Caltanissetta (Sicily) and Prato (Tuscany). The right gained Potenza (Basilicata), Urbino (Marche), Foggia (Apulia), Perugia (Umbria) and Padua (Veneto). The M5S gained Livorno (Tuscany). The left’s defeat in several cities, after its landslide in the EP elections, somewhat mitigated the talk about the PD landslide, and may confirm the theory that the PD’s victory held quasi-exclusively to Renzi and that in a runoff ballot without any Renzi effect, the PD’s performance was far less impressive. Nevertheless, the PD still gained several cities – including large ones such as Bergamo and Pavia – and easily held others such as Florence (with 59.2% in the first round).

Two of the most striking defeats for the left came from Livorno and Padua. Livorno, a major working-class industrial and harbour city in Tuscany, had been governed by the left (the PCI, historically) since 1946 and it is a left-wing stronghold to this day (in the EP election, the PD won 52.7% vs 22.5% for the M5S), with a strong base for the radical left as well. The incumbent PD mayor was retiring this year. In the first round, the M5S candidate placed a distant second with 19% against the centre-left’s 40% and 16.4% for a radical left candidate. In the second round, the M5S candidate won 53.1% against 46.9% for the PD. Between both rounds, turnout dropped from 64.6% to 50.5%, and the PD was particularly hit by demobilization from the EP election (the PD candidate’s raw vote declined from the first round), but the M5S candidate likely won the votes of those who had backed the radical left and maybe the weak centre-right (7.3%) in the first round. In the M5S’ other municipal victories, they have usually come after weak distant second showings in the first round, through the mobilization of all voters who had backed other eliminated candidates in the first round – left or right. For example, in the port city of Civitavecchia (Lazio) – an old PCI stronghold which has drifted right since 1994, where the M5S defeated the centre-left incumbent, the M5S polled 18.3% in the first round to the left’s 26.6% and won 66.6% in the runoff thanks to low turnout (from 72.7% to 52.7%) and support from eliminated centre-right candidates (18.2% and 12.2% in the first round) and the radical left (10.9%).

The left suffered a bad defeat in Perugia (Umbria), where the right overcame a 20-point gap in the second round to win 58%, although turnout fell by 20%. In the southern city of Potenza, an FdI candidate backed only by Mario Mauro’s small Populars, gained the city with 58.5% in a runoff against the left, which had polled 47.8% in the first round against only 16.8% for the FdI (the centre-right and centre won the bulk of the remaining votes). Turnout collapsed from 75.1% to 48.4%.

In Padua, the third largest city in the Veneto, Lega Nord senator Massimo Bitonci, supported by FI and the centre-right, defeated the PD incumbent with 53.5%, with turnout 10 points lower than on May 25. It is interesting to point out that, in the election for city council, the Lega did poorly with only 4.9% (down from 11% in 2009), while the top scoring list on the right was a civic list with 16.7%. On the other hand, the PD did quite well in northern Italy (especially Lombardy). Its most notable victory was in Pavia (Lombardy), where the centre-left candidate defeated FI incumbent Alessandro Cattaneo, a young ambitious politician sometimes described as the centre-right’s Renzi. With turnout nearly 15 points lower, the left overcame a 10-point gap in the first round to win with 53.1% (the right’s support, in terms of vote, fell from the first round).

Although I speculated about a potential ‘Renzi effect’ in the first round and its drop-off in the second round, preliminary research suggests that it may have been the municipal elections which had the greater impact on the EP election than the other way around. A CISE study reports that turnout on May 25 declined by 23.5% from 2013 in communes with no local elections while it fell by just 3.4% in those which did hold municipal elections. The gap in turnout change is greatest in the south, where the difference between the two types of communes is 26.8%, over 10 points more than the region with the second-highest difference. In the south, turnout in local elections was even higher than in the 2013 election!). Additionally, while the PD performed better by an average of 2.5% in communes without local elections than those with, Forza Italia’s support declined less (-3.3%) from 2013 in towns with local elections than those without (where it was about -4.5% lower than in 2013).

The EP elections saw a rather phenomenal showing for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s centre-left PD, a vote of cautious optimism and confidence in his new government which has gotten off to a solid and energetic start – but also a vote which is more reflective of the pitiful state of the PD’s opponents. The result is quite significant – more significant than a low-turnout EP election would normally be – because it is effectively a popular mandate, indirectly, for a Prime Minister who won that office through backroom wheeling-and-dealing rather than through the polls. That unexpected popular mandate has left the PD’s opponents, particularly Beppe Grillo, quite confused. In polls taken since the EP elections, the PD has suddenly surged into a significant lead over the right and Grillists, averaging about 40-42% against 19-21% for the M5S, 15-16% for Forza Italia and 6-7% for the Lega Nord. Somewhat ironically, the PD’s landslide makes a snap election less likely, because the opposition and the PD’s junior allies have no interest in an election now. It is now a fairly serious possibility that the Parliament elected in 2013, widely seen as an unworkable mess which wouldn’t last two years, may actually serve its full term to 2018. However, Italian politics remain in a fascinating state of flux – nothing here indicates that the PD’s current success will endure for a long time, and nothing indicates that Italian politics are anywhere close to stabilizing at some level.

Italy and Italian politics in 2013

2013 was another momentous year in politics and elections around the world, and my usual Top 10 post reviewing the year’s ten most significant election while offer a retrospective on the political and electoral year which passed. If there is one country, however, where 2013 has proven to be an exceptionally consequential and memorable year as far as politics are concerned, that would need to be Italy. At this time last year, it was clear that 2013 would be a memorable year in Italian politics. But, in true Italian style, what has transpired politically in Italy in the past twelve months has been incredible and obviously of deep consequence for the future of Italian politics.

It all began with legislative elections on February 24-25. The expectation prior to the vote was that the centre-left coalition by Pier Luigi Bersani, the colourless leader of the Democratic Party (Partito Democratico, PD) – Italy’s largest centre-left party – would be able to form a relatively stable government, probably with the added support of a centrist/centre-right coalition led by Mario Monti, the economist and former EU Commissioner who was serving as Italy’s technocratic Prime Minister for a year. Things, however, didn’t quite play out that way. Silvio Berlusconi, the histrionic business magnate at the centre of Italian politics since 1994, did better than anybody expected, coming within 0.3% of winning the election (in the lower house). To make matters even worse, the Five Star Movement (MoVimento Cinque Stelle, M5S), a virulently anti-establishment party led by charismatic (demagogic?) comedian Beppe Grillo, won 25.6% of the vote and became the single largest party. Because of Italy’s notoriously horrible electoral law, Bersani’s coalition won an absolute majority in the lower house – the Chamber of Deputies – by virtue of having won the most votes nationally and being entitled to a majority bonus granting the largest coalition an absolute majority. But since the Senate has such bonuses apply only regionally, Bersani’s coalition fell short of an absolute majority in the upper house – with 123 seats to Berlusconi’s 117 and Grillo’s 54.

Italy is a parliamentary republic with ‘perfect bicameralism’, which means that a government needs the confidence of both houses to remain in power. Therefore, it became clear that Bersani wouldn’t be able to form government (with the confidence of the Senate) lest he either swallowed the left’s entire raison-d’etre since 1994 by forming a coalition with Berlusconi or convincing parts of Grillo’s ragtag and inexperienced caucus of allying with him in a short-term minority government. Bersani was principled enough to choose the latter option, desperately trying to convince the Grillists to back him in a stopgap coalition committed to constitutional, electoral and political reform.

By March, however, it had become clear that Bersani had failed. Beppe Grillo, the fiery and demagogic comedian who leads the very theatrical M5S from his blog rather than Parliament, is an uncompromising foe of the entire Italian political system, institutions and politicians – they’re all rotten to the bone, he insists. Grillo and his éminence grise Gianroberto Casaleggio also understand that agreeing to collaboration with an old timer like Bersani and the traditional parties would be suicidal for a new and fragile movement whose support lies heavily on Grillo’s populist rhetoric against a corrupt political elite (it’s often hard to take issue with what he rants on, given the legendary corruption, incompetence and vanity of the Italian political elite). Therefore, Grillo effectively blocked his 109 deputies and 54 senators from giving in to the temptation of siding with Bersani.

In April, to complicate matters further, parliamentarians and regional delegates were called to elect the President – a largely ceremonial role, but one of significance in the government formation process. Bersani, who had up until that point done the best he could in a nightmarish situation, did like the Italian left usually does – shoot itself in the foot. Bersani reached an agreement with Berlusconi and the centre on a common candidate for the first ballot, on April 18 – Franco Marini, an 80-year old former Christian democratic trade unionist. The deal with Berlusconi, which seemed to be reneging all of the PD’s campaign and post-electoral behaviour, incensed many on the left and within the PD. Left Ecology Freedom (Sinistra Ecologia Libertà, SEL), a small ecosocialist leftist party led by Nichi Vendola and Bersani’s junior ally in February, broke with the PD and backed Stefano Rodotà, a respected former jurist and Communist nominated by Grillo’s M5S. Within the PD itself, Bersani’s strongest rival, the young and centrist mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi, who had been defeated by Bersani in a 2012 primary for the prime ministerial candidacy, decried Marini’s pick.

Marini fell far short of the 672 votes required to win on the first ballot, largely due to defections on the left from Renzi’s supporters. After two more inconclusive ballots, the PD (including Renzi) and the SEL agreed to support Romano Prodi, a respected former centre-left Prime Minister. Prodi only required an absolute rather than two-thirds majority to win by this point, but he won only 395 votes – short of the 504 needed to win. It is largely believed that Prodi’s nomination was part of a dirty ploy engineered by Massimo D’Alema, a former Prime Minister and a leading factional leader on the PD’s left (who had backed Bersani in 2009 and 2012). D’Alema comes from the party’s ‘left’ (former members of the Italian Communist Party), like Bersani, but in reality he is a centrist who has long been willing to compromise with Berlusconi and the centrist parties (with disastrous consequences for the party). Renzi might also have been behind the Prodi ploy. In any event, the trick worked, and Bersani resigned the leadership.

On April 20, the leading politicians from all parties (except the M5S) agreed on an unprecedented last-ditch exit route from the crisis. The incumbent President, 88-year old Giorgio Napolitano, who was due to retire as all of his predecessors had done after one term, agreed to run for reelection as a solution to the crisis. Napolitano was reelected on the sixth ballot with a huge majority.

Palazzo Chigi, the seat and residence of the Prime Minister (own picture)

Palazzo Chigi, the seat and residence of the Prime Minister (own picture)

Napolitano’s condition in exchange for agreeing to serve a second term was the formation of a grand coalition government between the left and right. On April 24, Napolitano nominated Enrico Letta, a relatively youthful (47) politician from the PD’s centrist (ex-Christian Democrat, DC) wing but a former Bersani ally. Letta formed a government backed by his own PD, Berlusconi’s PdL, Mario Monti’s Civic Choice (Scelta Civica, SC) and independents. On April 28, he was sworn in with his ministers. Angelino Alfano, still seen as Berlusconi’s dauphin, became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior and the PdL had four other ministers (Infrastructure and Transports; Health; Agriculture, Food and Forestry; Constitutional Reforms). The PD was well represented, but like with the PdL few – if any – leading party figures joined the cabinet. Major portfolios went to fairly independent personalities – the former EU Commissioner and Radical politician Emma Bonino as foreign minister, the director general of the Bank of Italy Fabrizio Saccomanni as finance minister, Monti’s former interior minister Annamaria Cancellieri as justice minister and Mario Mauro, a PdL dissident who joined Monti’s party, as defense minister.

On the right, the Lega Nord – Berlusconi’s ally in the elections – went into opposition, as did the SEL. The most vocal opposition came from the M5S, with Grillo as fiery as ever in opposition to Letta’s government. Grillo denounced the creation of the government as a coup d’état and kept calling Parliament a degenerate institution.

Berlusconi had little commitment to Letta’s cabinet from the get-go, being largely preoccupied with his own political and personal interests. He understood that he was holding Letta’s government by the balls; as long as the government served his interests, he would grudgingly tolerate it (but wanting to have the cake and eat it, criticize it at the same time) but if the government started being inconvenient, Berlusconi would start huffing and puffing. Even the PD had little deep commitment to Letta’s government. Renzi was hardly enamoured by Letta’s government, and most of the party was busily preparing for the leadership elections in which Renzi was the runaway favourite. In June, even the mild-mannered and gentlemanly Monti threatened to pull his (weak) party out of the coalition unless it became bolder and more unified.

Letta’s objective, for the time being, was largely restoring investor and foreign confidence in Italy and managing the economy – mired in recession for months on end. On this front, he was relatively successfully, although vulnerable to Berlusconi’s huffing and puffing. Italy has been badly hurt by the economic recession, the result of a variety of structural and political factors among which is years of economic mismanagement by Berlusconi’s governments.

After the emergency austerity measures adopted by Monti’s technocratic government between 2011 and 2012, Italian policy-makers have tried to reorient economic and fiscal policies in a ‘pro-growth’ and ‘pro-jobs’ direction. The public’s mood, with the economy in recession since the fourth quarter of 2011 and unemployment at 12.5% in October 2013, is obviously quite testy and tired of austerity policies. The economic crisis also created a new wave of deep-seated anger at the political elites (la casta), described by populists with Grillo – often with good reason – as parasites of no use who leech on hardworking taxpayers to serve their narrow personal interests. Monti’s reformist government began taking on vested interests and lobbies in ‘closed’ economic sectors (pharmacists, taxies), Grillo’s campaign focused much of its fire and vitriol on ‘parasitical’ politicians (all rotten, he insisted). Even Berlusconi, the political chameleon he is, was able – with some success – to recycle populist rhetoric aimed at politicians and judges.

The government promised to cut employers’ welfare contributions, tax breaks for energy-saving home improvements, expand a guarantee fund for small and medium enterprises and it said it would consider benefits for families and children. Once in office, the government sped up payments of €40 billion in public administration debts, approved tax incentives for employers to employ young workers and began working on a privatization program. For some, Letta’s government has been insufficiently bold in tackling vested interests and promoting competition, largely because both the PdL and PD are tied to special interests and have little interest in disturbing that.

Berlusconi’s main interest as far as economics went was to get the IMU, an unpopular property tax introduced by Monti (with PdL support), scrapped as he had flamboyantly promised in the election. Letta’s government gave in, knowing that Berlusconi would bring down the government if he didn’t. The IMU on primary residences will be abolished.

The government faced its first major test in May-July. In late May, a police operation unceremoniously arrested Alma Shalabayeva, the wife of an exiled Kazakh political dissident (who lives in the UK) and her six-year old daughter. 72 hours later, the Italian authorities handed them over to Kazakh government, who had a plane waiting in Rome to take her to face an uncertain fate in Kazakhstan. Alfano, as interior minister, denied knowledge of the operation. His denial might have been more plausible if Berlusconi didn’t entertain a close and friendly relation with Kazakhstan’s authoritarian president, Nursultan Nazarbayev and if Italy’s main oil firm (ENI) didn’t have a 17% stake in a Kazakh oil field. On May 28, the Kazakh ambassador had apparently met with Alfano’s chief of staff at the interior ministry to demand Alma Shalabayeva’s arrest and deportation.

The Kazakh expulsion created a political firestorm in Rome which threatened to bring down the government. Berlusconi and his party made it clear that the government would fall if Alfano got into any sort of trouble. The M5S and SEL, along with renziani PD parliamentarians demanded Alfano’s resignation. In July, the M5S and SEL senatorial caucuses tabled a motion of no-confidence in the interior minister, which was rejected by the Senate a few days later. Berlusconi’s threats paid off – the PD, minus a few renziani senators who excused themselves, joined the PdL, SC and minor right-wing groups in voting against the M5S-SEL motion.

Alfano ultimately got a slap on the wrist. Letta was hardly any tougher on other politicians who got caught up in nasty business. Roberto Calderoli, a Lega Nord senator (and one of the vice presidents of the Senate), said that Congolese-born integration minister Cécile Kyenge made him think of an orangutan. Calderoli, who has a knack for comments of the kind, defended himself saying that he intended no racism and only said it because ‘he loves animals’ (and apparently sees animals in all cabinet ministers!); many called on him to resign, but the government seemingly let the matter slide away without a ruckus, although Calderoli may face charges. Annamaria Cancellieri, the non-partisan justice minister, was accused in November 2013 of intervening on the correctional services office to release the daughter of Salvatore Ligresti, a corrupt entrepreneur who is a friend of the minister. The government reiterated its confidence in Cancellieri, and the governing parties all voted against a M5S no-confidence motion in the Chamber of Deputies.

In the meantime, attention turned to Berlusconi’s judicial travails. Il cavaliere‘s innumerable run-ins with the law is nothing new; the business magnate has been indicted on charges of tax fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion, bribery, false accounting, violation of antitrust laws, libel, defamation and under-age prostitution. However, until August 2013, Berlusconi had never been convicted of anything – he was acquitted, cases dragged on exceeding the statute of limitations, he saved his own skin by aptly passing amnesty laws or he changed the law to legalize the alleged offences. The French newspaper Le Monde has an excellent infographic detailing Berlusconi’s various cases.

Il cavaliere‘s luck with the Italian judicial process, often derided for its lengthiness, ran out this year. In October 2012, an appeals court in Milan confirmed a lower court judgement in late 2012 which had found Berlusconi guilty in the ‘Mediaset’ case, where he and his media giant company (Mediaset; the haven of badly-dubbed Extreme Makeover Home Edition reruns) were accused of tax evasion and tax fraud for illicit trade (and false accounting) of movie rights between Mediaset and secret fictive foreign companies in tax havens. The appeals court sentenced him to four years in prison and a five-year ban from holding public office. Berlusconi appealed the case to the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest appeals court. Much to Berlusconi’s chagrin, the Court of Cassation proved exceptionally quick at issuing a decision on the case – on August 1. The court confirmed the lower courts’ verdict, with a four year prison sentence but asked the Milanese appeals court to review the length of the ban from public office. A 2006 amnesty law, ironically voted by the left to reduce prison overcrowding, automatically reduced Berlusconi’s jail sentence to one year and since he is over 70 and not a repeat offender, he will not serve any jail time: he was given a choice between house arrest or community service, opting for the former.

On June 24, a penal court in Milan had found Berlusconi guilty of child prostitution and abuse of power in the world-famous Rubygate case, where Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, who was a minor at the time (in 2010) and abusing his powers to have her released from police detention in 2010 (on the pretext that she was Hosni Mubarak’s niece). The court sentenced Berlusconi to seven years in prison and a lifetime ban from public office, but he will appeal the decision.

Berlusconi is still involved in three other ongoing cases. A trial on the bribery of a centre-left senator in 2006 to topple Prodi’s government will open next year; in March 2013, he was sentenced to a year in jail in the ‘Unipol’ case (confidential wiretaps by Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by Berlusconi’s brother, on conversations between a former Governor of the Bank of Italy and a centre-left politician); the Constitutional Court is set to rule on a defamation case concerning Antonio Di Pietro, a former magistrate (famous for his corruption-busting work during the 1990s Mani Pulite operations) and the former leader of the Italia dei Valori (IdV) party. Berlusconi, in 2008, had accused Di Pietro of obtaining his degree only with the complicity of the secret services. In 2010, a court in Viterbo acquitted Berlusconi because parliamentary immunity bans any prosecution against words spoken in the exercise of a parliamentary mandate; however, a higher court overturned the decision in 2012.

The Legge Severino, adopted in December 2012 by the Monti government with the support of all major parties (including the PdL), bans any politician convicted to over two years’ imprisonment from holding or running for public office for six years. This law superseded the October 2013 judgement of the Milanese appeals court, which has shortened Berlusconi’s ban from public office to two years. With the prospect of Berlusconi being expelled by the Senate (but his colleagues would need to vote on the matter first), Italian politics for all of August and September were largely dominated by Berlusconi’s fate.

Undeterred, Berlusconi and his camarilla argued that he was the target of a political witch-hunt – in which the culprits were the same as in the past: left-wing ‘red’ judges. In a country where decades of Red Scare rhetoric by the Democrazia Cristiana (DC) have created a right-wing base receptive to anticommunism and allegations of communist plots against a tireless defender of Italy, Berlusconi still appeals to a large number of Italians (but, we shouldn’t fall into the usual trap of deriding the bulk of Italian voters as ‘dumb’ – the Berlusconian right won less than 30% in 2013). In his usual theatrical (and often comedic) style, Berlusconi complained that he was unable to sleep, that he had lost 11kg, that he was psychologically tormented and that his children felt like Jews under Hitler.

Berlusconi’s supporters pleaded that their leader be granted agilità politica (‘political freedom’). President Napolitano and Prime Minister Letta were faced with the hot potato issue of pardoning Berlusconi. While Letta knew that he was taking a political risk in holding firm, he – and the PD – also knew that doing so would be political suicide for the centre-left. Berlusconi challenged the Legge Severino, arguing that it was not retroactive (and, by extension, he couldn’t be expelled by the law since his crimes were committed before 2012) and is challenging the issue to the European Court of Human Rights.

Politically undeterred, Berlusconi simultaneously announced that the PdL, the party which he had founded in 2008, would be folding and that Forza Italia, his original party when he entered politics in 1994, would return. Rome, Milan and some other Italian cities were plastered with posters of Berlusconi rallies reading ancora in campo per l’Italia (‘still in the field for Italy’); while planes with ‘Forza Italia Forza Silvio’ banners flew over beaches during Ferragosto, Italy’s second most popular holiday in which the swelteringly hot cities are emptied by Italians heading to the beach.

Some of Berlusconi’s closest supporters began floating the possibility of a dynastic succession, in the person of Marina Berlusconi, the cavaliere‘s eldest daughter  and chairman of her father’s Fininvest holding firm. She showed little interest, and the dynastic implications annoyed some politicians in Berlusconi’s party.

Hitherto united in public, the PdL/Forza Italia began showing public cracks in September 2013. While a Senate committee, in which the PD and M5S held a majority of the seats, began debating Berlusconi’s expulsion (decadenza in Italian, because Italian is such an awesome language) under the Legge Severino, Berlusconi started huffing and puffing again. On September 28, Berlusconi ordered his cabinet ministers to resign from Letta’s cabinet. The pretext was the government’s decision to raise the VAT (IVA) by 1%, but nearly everybody saw through that – the real reason was that Berlusconi was threatening to pull the plug on Letta (and plunge Italy into another political crisis) over his judicial travails and Napolitano/Letta’s unwillingness to pardon him or delay the expulsion debate. Feeling that Berlusconi might be bluffing, Letta asked for a confidence vote on October 2.

Berlusconi had been breathing fire in the run-up to the vote, threatening to vote against the government. However, on October 2 in the Senate, Berlusconi gave a speech critical of the government but one which ended by announcing he would vote confidence (fiducia), such a astonishing twist that many initially taught he misspoke (the word for distrust or no confidence is one letter away, sfiducia). The PdL joined the PD, SC, Union of the Centre (UDC) and minor government allies in voting for Letta, who won the Senate’s confidence easily 235 to 70 (M5S, SEL, Lega).

Was Berlusconi bluffing all along? It appears he twisted and turned in agonizing indecision, facing an extremely rare internal revolt. Indeed, all but one of the PdL ministers – who obeyed Berlusconi’s original order – shortly thereafter said it was perhaps a bad decision. One of them was Alfano, who led the doves (colombes) in the PdL – moderates (ex-DC and ex-Socialists) and ministers who placed political stability over Berlusconi’s personal interests. The doves faced the hawks (falchi) and loyalists (lealisti), hardline supporters of Berlusconi who came from the party’s right-wing liberals (Giancarlo Galan, Daniele Capezzone), hard-right (Daniela Santanchè) or camarilla (Raffaele Fitto, Mara Carfagna, Renata Polverini). The hawks-loyalists lost, the doves won and Berlusconi, to save face at the last minute, went with them. It was a shocking twist from Alfano, a Sicilian Christian democrat who had been a subservient justice minister between 2008 and 2011 (passing laws to save his boss from prosecution) and been groomed as Berlusconi’s loyal successor and political ‘son’ (despite Berlusconi publicly insulting him).

On October 4, the Senate committee voted to recommend Berlusconi’s expulsion, sending the matter to the Senate as a whole. The PdL demanded that the vote be held with a secret ballot, a prospect which worried Berlusconi’s opponents – given that it would probably mean that he would try to secretly bribe centre-left lawmakers as he had in the past, but there was also a rumour that the M5S would like a secret vote to secretly vote against Berlusconi’s expulsion to reinforce their ‘plague on both your houses’ rhetoric. On October 30, the rules committee asked for a public vote.

Still undeterred, Berlusconi pressed on with the transformation of the PdL into Forza Italia. On November 16, Berlusconi dissolved the PdL into a new Forza Italia. However, one day prior, the ‘doves’ led by Angelino Alfano announced that they would not dissolve into Forza Italia and formed their own party, the New Centre-Right (Nuovo Centrodestra, NCD). The NCD includes all five centre-right ministers in the Letta government, the former Lombardian regional president Roberto Formigoni and his allies, members of the Catholic lay movement Comunione e Liberazione, former members of the DC who joined the centre-right from various post-DC Christian democratic parties (Carlo Giovannardi, in the UDC until 2008), former members of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), Renato Schifani – the former President of the Senate and architect of an unconstitutional immunity law in 2004 and the incumbent regional president of Calabria Giuseppe Scopelliti.

All in all, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – reduced to the hawks, loyalists and ‘mediators’ (moderates such as Renato Brunetta, supporters of party unity) – has 67 deputies and 60 deputies, against 29 and 31 respectively for the NCD.

Palazzo Madama, the seat of the Italian Senate in Rome (own picture)

Palazzo Madama, the seat of the Italian Senate in Rome (own picture)

On November 26, as the government was preparing to pass the 2014 budget, Forza Italia withdrew its support from the government and, the next day, voted against the budget which nevertheless passed the Senate 162 to 115, with the NCD’s support. That same day, the Senate finally voted on Berlusconi’s decadenza under the Legge Severino by public ballot. Berlusconi’s supporters, symbolically dressed in black in the Senate or rallied in front of Berlusconi’s Roman residence, desperately tried to delay the vote or have it held by secret ballot. Berlusconi warned the PD and M5S senators from voting against him, so that they were not later “ashamed in front of their children”, he also insisted on a re-trial, claiming new evidence and witnesses. All to no avail, as the Senate voted 192 to 113 to expel Berlusconi from their ranks. The PD, M5S, SEL, SC, UDC and two small centre-left groups voted in favour, while Forza Italia, the Lega Nord, the NCD and a centre-right autonomist group voted against. The NCD in doing so signaled that their split was not as much against Berlusconi himself as against Berlusconi’s political strategy, which makes the Alfano dissidence different from Gianfranco Fini’s very public split with his former ally in 2010. Indeed, Alfano said that he was still Berlusconian – but “in a different way”.

To top off a year of shocking twists and turns, the Constitutional Court ruled, on December 4, that two key parts of the electoral law were unconstitutional. The Italian electoral law (known as the Legge Calderoli, or unofficially the legge porcellum - piglet law – or porcata literally ‘shit’, as described by its own sponsor, Roberto Calderoli) was passed by Berlusconi’s government in 2005 in an unsuccessful attempt to save the right in the 2006 elections. The law, whose effects we witnessed in the February election, guarantee an absolute majority in the Chamber to whichever coalition wins the most votes nationally by granting them 340 seats (55%), even if said coalition wins only 29% as in 2013! In the Senate, however, the majority bonus is applied regionally (but three regions have no majority bonus) so there is no guarantee that the winning coalition will have an absolute majority in the Senate. This means that the winning coalition either lacks a majority in the Senate (2013), has so tenuous of a majority that it makes it vulnerable to any dissent within the often-fractious coalitions (2006) or the majority is strong but still vulnerable to large blocs of dissent within the coalition (in a landslide election like 2008).

The Constitutional Court declared that the majority bonuses in both houses were unconstitutional and also ruled against the closed party lists, which prevent voters from indicating preferences for candidates on a party list. A new electoral law was already one of the government’s priorities, along with constitutional reform (to end with ‘perfect bicameralism’ and reduce the Senate’s powers); it will now need to actually deliver on a new electoral law. This will hardly be a cakewalk given that there is no agreement on what form the new system should take, and it is obvious that the parties will likely engage in horsetrading and concessions amongst themselves before agreeing on constitutional and electoral reform. It is likely that the new electoral system will include a large number of seats won in single-member districts. Many, like Matteo Renzi (but not Alfano), like a French electoral system, with two round voting and the propensity to create a two-party (or two-coalition?) system. However, in the absence of a political agreement, the most likely option might be a return to the Mattarellum in place between 1993 and 2005, in which 75% of members of both houses were elected by FPTP in single-member districts and the remaining 25% by forms of proportional representation, either compensatory or party-list votes. The system had led to backroom deals, horsetrading, small parties selling themselves to the highest bidder (and holding great power) and corrupt abuses of the obscure clauses of the law (decoy lists in 2001 to work around the party-list PR rules).

What are voters thinking?

The short answer: nobody knows, and politicians are in no hurry to find out. In national polls, the centre-right coalition (PdL/FI+Lega Nord+allies+NCD) have generally held small leads, confusingly ranging from statistically insignificant/tied to narrow but significant (4-6 pts) depending on the pollster (who, it must be pointed out, generally are terrible). The right opened up a narrow but significant lead from April to June-July, at which point the left closed the gap and it has, on the whole, been more or less tied between the right and left since.

Within the coalitions, the PD has improved on its February result (25%) and now stands at 28-29% while Forza Italia, hurt by the NCD split, stands where the PdL stood in February – or a bit below (19-21%). The Lega Nord is stable at low levels of support (4-5%), the SEL peaked at nearly 6% (3% in February) between May and September but has since fallen to 3.5%.

A grand coalition between left and right should have been a godsend for the M5S, but it hasn’t really been so. A new party in Parliament, with a caucus heavily made up of first-time, inexperienced novice politicians drawn from different social horizons and drawing on different political traditions and ideologies, it has had a tough time adapting to Parliament – especially how their leadership and many of the parliamentarians themselves consider the Parliament to be a corrupt and illegitimate institution which should, in a perfect world, be abolished and replaced by internet-based direct democracy. Despite the commitment to direct democracy and political revolution, the M5S isn’t a shining example of internal democracy. Beppe Grillo is an autocratic leader, who is rather intolerant of any dissent or criticism, and doesn’t hesitate to insult any critics – internal or external, politicians or journalists – with crude ad hominem attacks. Grillo just recently allowed his followers to go on TV, which he had until then boycotted. His angry followers often enthusiastically join Grillo’s countless attacks on his ‘enemies’ launched from his blogs.

Two deputies and five senators have been expelled or voluntarily left the M5S caucus. In April, senator Marino Mastrangeli was expelled by members (in an internet vote) for having appeared on TV shows. In June, senator Adele Gambaro, who had held Grillo responsible for the M5S’ poor results in local elections, was expelled from the caucus after an internet vote. Gambaro, Mastrangeli and two other dissident M5S senators voted in favour of Letta’s cabinet in the Senate on October 2. Still, considering how diverse and inexperienced the M5S caucuses are, losing so few parliamentarians is a big feat. I compared the M5S to the Canadian Progressive Party from the 1920s in February, and while I still argue that the two parties share some similar traits (some of Grillo’s ideas remind me of the Ginger Group), the difference so far is that the M5S has been far more cohesive than the Progressives. The reason might be that the Progressives lacked a Beppe Grillo, a rabble-rousing populist politician who is also able to hold his crowd together.

In polls, the M5S saw their support fall from 25-30% in the immediate aftermath of the election to 15-17% in July and since then back up to 20-23%. Basically, while some February voters are reconsidering their vote and may not vote for Grillo again, he remains a hugely influential player.

The centre, which won 10.6% in February (Chamber of Deputies), has collapsed. Mario Monti lost control of his own party, the hastily-assembled and fractious SC, ended his short-lived political career in October and resigned from the SC. The SC has broken up, divided between liberals and Catholics. The liberals have taken control of the party, which led the Catholic/Christian democratic wing to split off and join forces with the Christian democratic party, the UDC. The SC group has 26 deputies and 8 senators left, down from 47 and 21 at the outset. The Catholics and UDC have formed their own group, Per l’Italia, with 20 deputies and 12 senators. In the polls, the SC has sunk from 8% in February to 1-2%, and the UDC has been stuck at 1.8%, what it won in the election.

There were local elections in late May (earlier or later in two regions), the most significant race for mayor being in Rome. The centre-left won 19 out of 21 major cities, with an independent list winning one and the M5S only winning one city (Ragusa). The centre-right was defeated in Rome but also other historically right-wing places: Brescia, Treviso or Viterbo. In Rome, incumbent mayor Gianni Alemanno, a former neo-fascist who won a surprise victory in a traditionally left-leaning city (but one with a long history of high support for neo-fascist/post-fascist parties) in 2008, was defeated. His term had been marred by some patronage scandals and policy mishaps, and he was handily defeated by Ignazio Marino (PD), a centre-left senator and esteemed transplant surgeon. Marino won 42.6% against 30.3% for Alemanno in the first round, with the M5S candidate polling only 12.4% (Grillo had won 27% in Rome in February). In the second round, Marino won 63.9%. The centre-right – Lega included – usually did poorly, even in their northern and Sicilian bases. They lost cities such as Viterbo in the Lazio (which elected its first leftist mayor, the incumbent right-wing mayor winning only 37.1% in the runoff), Catania in Sicily (a former centre-left mayor returned by the first round) and Messina (where the PdL was out by the first round, with only 18.5%, and a narrow victory for a pacifist, environmentalist and anti-mafia activist against the PD in the runoff). In Treviso, held by the Lega Nord since 1994, the centre-left defeated Lega Nord candidate Giancarlo Gentilini, a two-term mayor between 1994 and 2003 known for his provocative xenophobic and homophobic stances. The left won 42.6% in the first round against 34.8% for Gentilini, and won with 55.5% in the runoff.

The M5S did very poorly compared to its showing a few short months earlier, winning less than 10% in most cities and winning, at most, 15% of the vote. The party’s only success was in Ragusa, where the Grillo candidate placed second behind the PD in the first round, with 15.6%, and went on to win with 69.4% in the runoff.

A regional election was held in Friuli-Venezia Giulia in April, one day after Napolitano’s reelection. Debora Serracchiani, a young PD MEP close to Renzi, narrowly defeated the centre-right incumbent, Renzo Tondo, with 39.4% against 39% in the presidential vote. The M5S won 19.2% when it had won 27% in February. In May, the special (French-speaking) autonomous region of the Aosta Valley held a regional election. Although Aostan politics form their own little world separate from Italian politics, there is some overlap. The M5S, which had still won 18.5% in February won only 6.5% while the PdL lost all four seats it held and won only 4.2%.

The Trentino-Alto Adige region is its own unique world as well, because of the German-speaking majority in Alto Adige/Südtirol/South Tyrol and the strength of the autonomist centre-left, a regional election was held on October 27. The election in Alto Adige/Südtirol was interesting in its own right but of little relevance to Italy: the Südtiroler Volkspartei (SVP), the catch-all German party which has dominated the province since 1948, finally lost its 65-year old absolute majority on the provincial council, winning an all-time low of 45.7% of the vote. The main winners were the German right, in the form of Die Freiheitlichen (often described as a local variant of the FPÖ and separatist) who won 17.9% but also the Süd-Tiroler Freiheit (separatists demanding reunification with Austria) which increased its support from 5% to 7%. The Greens, one of the few (only?) pan-linguistic parties in the province, increased their support to 8.7%. The PD won 6.7%, roughly holding its ground, but the Italian right lost heavily – an alliance between Lega Nord and Forza Italia (competing as Forza Alto Adige) won only 2.5% and 1 seat, down from 10.4% in 2008. The M5S eked out one seat. In the Trentino province, the centre-left coalition led by Ugo Rossi from the Trentino Tyrolean Autonomist Party (PATT) won handily, taking 58.1% of the direct presidential vote against 19.3% for Diego Mosna, an independent businessman backed by centrists, liberals, centre-right and centre-left dissidents. Running separately, it was a massive disaster for Forza Italia/Forza Trentino, which won 4.3% in the presidential vote and 4.4% in the list vote, losing all 5 seats won by the PdL in 2008. They were surpassed by the Lega Nord, which won 6.6%, but also the M5S – whose 5.7% were still a far cry from the 21% it had won in February.

A special regional election was held in Basilicata, a region in southern Italy, on November 17-18 after the PD president resigned following a corruption bust which saw members of his government and the leader of the opposition arrested for embezzlement. The PD candidate easily held the regional presidency, which has been held by the centre-left since 1995 (often in alliance with the centre), winning 59.6% of the presidential vote. SC senator Salvatore Di Maggio, in coalition with the PdL and UDC, won only 19.4% while the M5S won 13.2% (24.3% in February). In the list vote, the PdL suffered sharp loses, losing five seats and winning only 12.3% of the vote (19.4% in 2010) although the PD also lost ground, from 27.1% to 24.8%.

Why are Italian voters handing the left large victories at the local level, but are still torn between the left and right nationally? Similarly, if the M5S is holding up relatively well from the general election, why are they being trounced in local elections? The most likely answer for the first question is that the centre-right is heavily dependent on Berlusconi, for better or for worse. Berlusconi is the right’s most famous, charismatic and likely popular leader and remains the glue which may hold a very fractious coalition together, although younger leaders such as Alfano or the Lega Nord mayor of Verona Flavio Tosi are knocking at the door. Berlusconi has little interest in local/regional elections and campaigned little for ‘his’ candidates in this year’s local elections. A similar explanation goes for Grillo, who is by far the M5S’ most charismatic and notable leader. His movement, however, still lacks grassroots at the local level and most of its candidates are no-namers who struggle to make an impact if Grillo is not playing an active role in their campaign.

PD leadership

The PD held a much-awaited leadership election on December 8, capping off a fascinating year in Italian politics.

The obvious favourite was Matteo Renzi, the 38-year old reformist mayor of Florence, who had lost the 2012 prime ministerial primaries to Bersani. After the near-loss in February and Bersani’s disastrous handling of the presidential election, the PD elite and rank-and-file began reconsidering Renzi, who had cemented himself as Bersani’s heir apparent and strongest public critic.

Matteo Renzi, unlike Bersani, comes from the Christian democratic tradition – while too young to have been in the First Republic’s DC, he began his political career in the centre-left Italian People’s Party (PPI), one of the DC’s successor and joined the PD from the Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy. Renzi made in name in politics, as president of the province of Florence between 2005 and 2009 and as mayor of Florence since 2009, as a ‘scrapper’ (rottamatore) who took on the political elites (within his own party) and reducing waste, mismanagement and the size of the local public administrations. Despite being only in his first time as mayor and fairly new to politics, like Barack Obama (to whom he is often compared, alongside Tony Blair), he has made a name for himself largely by being a competent municipal administrator and his populist/anti-establishment persona which is popular in Italy.

The Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's town hall (own picture)

The Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s town hall (own picture)

In 2010, Renzi made a name for himself nationally by launching a reformist anti-elite movement within the PD (rottamazione senza incentivi) alongside two other young leaders, MEP Debora Serracchiani and Pippo Civati – who are more left-wing than the centrist Renzi. In November 2012, he ran against Bersani and SEL leader Nichi Vendola (and two minor candidates) for the prime ministerial candidacy of the centre-left, PD-led coalition in the 2013 elections. Renzi won 35.5% in the first round, about 10 points behind Bersani, and only won 39.1% in the runoff against Bersani, who received the backing of Nichi Vendola. Renzi was popular with some PD members, but his anti-establishment/anti-elite creed and his reformist ‘Third Way’ policy proposals challenging the centre-left’s traditional values worried some left-wing voters. As did, among others, a December 2010 meeting with Berlusconi and Berlusconi commenting that Renzi was adopting his ideas under the PD’s banner. Bersani, the establishment pick and more orthodox, was the safe bet at that time.

Ideologically, Renzi is on the party’s right and challenges the traditional ‘dogma’ of the centre-left (which is nevertheless very moderate in practice). In 2012, Renzi proposed tax cuts for employees, a €100 increase in employees’ net salary paid for by a 15% cut in the costs of public administration, financial support and credit for SMEs, labour market flexibility (flexicurity) along the Scandinavian/Danish model, financial incentives for foreign investors, cracking down on tax evasion and civil unions for homosexual couples. A ‘straight-talker’, he also took strong stances against corruption – abolishing public subsidies to parties (abolished recently by Letta, responding to a M5S demand), reducing the number of parliamentarians, greater accountability of public officials to their constituent (he favours a French electoral system) and constitutional reform to reduce the Senate’s powers. He is often compared to (and accepts such comparisons himself) to Tony Blair and his New Labour.

A good article by Spain’s El País newspaper emphasizes Renzi’s frankness, ‘what you see is what you get’ style – noting his public criticisms of the PD’s old guard, a public admission by Renzi himself that he doesn’t have an excellent relation with the unions, stinging criticism of Italy’s inefficient or mismanaged bureaucracy and a burning desire to promote entrepreneurship. Asked about his age, Renzi points out that ‘only in Italy is 38 still young’.

He justifies his identification with the centre-left by saying that he’s a centre-leftist who “wants to do things”, and not one of those who don’t act and limit themselves to theories and internecine factional warfare. He promotes his record as mayor as his definition of ‘left-wing’ – environmentalist policies (limiting new buildings and preserving green spaces), gender parity in his administration (which now has more women than men), investments in new technologies, privatization of the public transit company, cutting the costs of public administration and promoting culture (late-night opening hours for museums).

He is very critical of the old centre-left leadership for their ‘obsession’ with Berlusconi, saying that his objective is to get him to retire rather than send him to jail (that should be up to the courts, he says) and opposing him by doing the reforms which he (and the centre-left) failed to do. Although both he and Letta shared Christian democratic roots, both men have been on separate sides of recent factional battles (Letta was pro-Bersani) and Renzi is fairly critical of Letta’s government – not openly opposed to it, but less supportive than the outgoing PD leadership. Renzi has little interest in having Letta stay on for longer than is necessary, and can be expected to pressure Letta into doing what he promised to do but hasn’t done (yet) – tax cuts for working classes, fighting corruption and la casta and political reform.

The PD’s members chose between four candidates in a preliminary vote in early November, with the top three moving on to the open primary on December 8. The open primary was free for PD members and non-members needed to contribute €2 to be able to vote. Besides Renzi, two other candidates qualified for the open primary: Gianni Cuperlo and Pippo Civati.

Cuperlo, the oldest of the candidates (52), comes from the other tradition represented in the PD. He was the last national secretary of the Italian Communist Youth Federation between 1988 and 1990 and joined the post-communist/social democratic Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) and Democrats of the Left (DS). He has member a member of the Chamber of Deputies since 2006. Cuperlo was very much the ‘establishment’ or ‘old guard’ candidate, endorsed by the party’s so-called ‘left’ or ‘centre’ – mostly made up, like Bersani or D’Alema – of former Communists. That being said, considering the PD’s establishment to be particularly left-wing despite their opposition to Renzi’s heterodox views is erroneous. In reality, they remain moderate, inoffensive centre-leftists – as Prime Minister, D’Alema governed as a centrist, and Bersani’s 2013 had nothing radical or markedly leftist to it.

Pippo Civati, 38 like Renzi, also comes from the party’s left, but representative of a newer generation opposed to the old guard (and sharing some of Renzi’s criticisms of the old guard) and with some liberal positions on economic issues. Civati, elected to the Chamber of Deputies only in February, stood out by emphasizing the need for a more left-wing oriented party, with close ties to Vendola’s SEL and openly supportive of an alliance with the M5S. Civati represented the PD in the ill-fated negotiations with the M5S, supported the M5S’ presidential candidate Stefano Rodotà and opposed the Letta government.

Renzi was supported by his own core backers (renziani) and most of the liberal and Christian democratic factions of the party. As in 2012, he was supported by Walter Veltroni, the PD’s inaugural leader and 2008 PM candidate, who despite coming from the PCI is considered to be an ‘American liberal’ in the party and supports a big-tent party like the US Democrats. This year, Renzi was joined by ‘Areadem’, a centrist faction led by former PD leader Dario Franceschini (2009), who was defeated for the leadership by Bersani in 2009 but later joined forces with Bersani in 2010, breaking with Veltroni and the Christian democrats (I Popolari). Some supporters of Prime Minister Letta also backed Renzi.

Cuperlo was supported by the traditional social democratic old guard of the party, made up of Bersani and D’Alema’s supporters (Cuperlo himself is a dalemiani) but also the so-called ‘Young Turks’, a faction of younger members (whose most famous name is Stefano Fassina) on the economic left of the party.

Civati, a minor leader in the PD’s factional games, had little institutional or factional support. He was backed, among other names, by Laura Puppato, a new senator and environmentalist from Veneto, who had run in the 2012 primaries.

According to YouTrend, the Bersaniani, Areadem and renziani are the three largest factions in the Parliament, and about 35% of the PD’s parliamentarians were considered to be bersaniani.

In the vote for PD members, Renzi won only 45.34% against 39.44% for Cuperlo and 9.43% for Civati (another candidate, who was eliminated, won 5.8%). On December 8, 2.8 million voters turned out to vote in the open primaries – down from 3.1 million in the centre-left primaries in 2012 (first round) and also from the 2009 PD primaries in which 3.1 million had participated. The PD won 8.6 million votes in February.

Matteo Renzi 67.55%
Gianni Cuperlo 18.21%
Pippo Civati 14.24%

Results of the PD members vote and open primary (own map)

Results of the PD members vote and open primary (own map)

Without much suspense or surprise, Renzi handily won the open primaries against his two lesser-known opponents. While the members’ vote in November showed that a significant section of the PD’s rank-and-file membership was still fairly sceptical of Renzi, when the vote was opened to non-member sympathizers, Renzi won by a predictably massive margin. His support clearly broke through traditional factional strengths, and traditional ‘centrist’ or ‘rightist’ support within the PD. After the near-defeat of February 2013 (which was basically a defeat), the hot mess of April 2013, the humiliation of allying with the Berlusconian right in a grand coalition and the unpopularity of such an unnatural alliance of necessity with the PD’s rank-and-file, there was certainly widespread desire within the PD for a new leader, regardless of his ideological purity, who would give the PD some pride and shake up the political system.

Renzi is expected to take a more critical stance vis-a-vis the Letta government, although it seems unlikely that he would precipitate its collapse in the short term.

Geographically, Renzi won every region and – according to YouTrend - all but one province, losing only the inland Sicilian province of Enna to Cuperlo. Generally, Renzi’s lowest results came from southern Italy, including Sicily and much of Sardinia, while his best results – fairly naturally – came from his native Tuscany, although he was also strong throughout much of northern Italy. Renzi won 78.5% in Tuscany, and 79.6% in his province of Florence. His worst results were in Sardinia (56.4%), Basilicata (57.2%) and Calabria (57.8%). Southern Italian centre-left voters could be expected, I guess, to be more favourable to the establishment pick.

Unnoticed by most, the Lega Nord held a leadership election on December 7. The historic leader of the party, Umberto Bossi, had been forced to resign from his leadership positions in April 2012 following a crazy scandal in which Bossi and his ‘magic circle’ were accused of embezzling the party’s public financing funds and using the money to pay Bossi’s son. The scandal badly hurt the party, which suffered major loses in the February election, and led to Bossi’s replacement by his rival and one-time deputy, Roberto Maroni. Although the Lega still allied (reluctantly and in return for juicy concessions) with Berlusconi in the last election, Maroni and his followers have tended to be far less supportive of the Lega’s traditional ties to the centre-right (Bossi strongly supported the alliance with Berlusconi in the last few years). The leadership battle opposed Umberto Bossi to Matteo Salvini, a MEP. Salvini was supported by Maroni.

Salvini won in a landslide, 81.7% to Bossi’s mere 18.3%. The Łiga Vèneta, the Lega Nord’s branch in Veneto – the party’s second strongest region alongside Lombardy (where the national leadership is drawn from), is controlled by Flavio Tosi, the ambitious mayor of Verona and an ally of Maroni/Salvini’s line against Bossi, although more traditionally conservative. Tosi interpreted the Lega/LV’s poor result in February as the result of the alliance with the PdL. Salvini’s election signals a return to fundamentals for the Lega Nord: more independence from the centre-right, hardened ‘Padanian’ nationalism/separatism, strong anti-immigration stances and Euroscepticism (Salvini once decried the euro as a crime against humanity).

2013 will undoubtedly have been a significant year for Italian politics, which will have major repercussions on the future of Italian politics in the coming months and years.

Merry Christmas to all readers!

Italy (President) 2013

Indirect presidential elections were held in Italy between April 18 and 20, 2013. The Italian President’s role is essentially symbolic, acting as the guarantor of national unity. The President, does, however, appoint the Prime Minister (who must then seek the confidence of both houses of Parliament) and has the power to call parliamentary elections. Fitting this profile, most Presidents tend to be retired politicians or respected public servants, who stand above daily partisan politics and are widely popular. The President serves a seven year term. While there are no term limits, until this year no President had run for reelection.

The President is elected indirectly by an electoral college composed of both houses of Parliament and 58 delegates from each of Italy’s regions – each region sends 3 delegates (usually two from the governing majority, and one from the regional opposition), with the exception of the Aosta Valley which has only a single delegate. This year, the electoral college was made up of 1,007 members. On the first three ballots, a presidential candidate must obtain a two-thirds majority (of all members of the electoral college, including any who are absent), in the fourth and subsequent ballots, an absolute majority (of all members of the electoral college, including any who are absent) is sufficient. Two ballots are held each day.

In 2006, Giorgio Napolitano, a former member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and a respected senior politician, was elected on the fourth ballot. Napolitano is 86 years old.

The legislative election on February 24-25 resulted in total deadlock. The centre-left coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani won a large majority in the Chamber of Deputies, by virtue of the electoral system’s national majority bonus, but he failed to win an absolute majority in the Senate. In Italy, a Prime Minister cannot govern unless he has the confidence of both houses of Parliament. Some had thought that Bersani might have been able to put together a short-term government by getting individual members of Beppe Grillo’s new radical anti-establishment/anti-corruption Five Star Movement (M5S) to prop him up before new elections could be held. On March 22, President Giorgio Napolitano asked Bersani to form a government. However, by this point, it was already clear that Bersani would not be able to obtain the Senate’s confidence, given that he had rejected a grand coalition with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right bloc and had been unable to win any M5S senators over to his side. On March 28, Napolitano took act of Bersani’s failure and announced that he would look for alternative solutions. In the meantime, Prime Minister Mario Monti, who has served as a technocratic non-partisan Prime Minister since Berlusconi’s resignation in November 2011, stayed on as caretaker.

In this context of unbreakable deadlock, both houses of Parliament and 58 regional delegates assembled to elect a President. Giorgio Napolitano had announced that he would not stand for re-election.

In the electoral college, Bersani’s centre-left coalition had 493 seats, against 269 for Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition, 163 for Grillo’s M5S, 71 seats for Mario Monti’s hapless centrist/centre-right coalition and 11 seats were held by other parties. The ‘magic number’ in the first three ballots was 672 votes, the magic number in the later ballots was 504 votes.

First ballot

Prior to the first ballot, Bersani and Berlusconi agreed to support Franco Marini, a former Christian Democrat (DC) trade unionist now associated with the centre-left (he served as President of the Senate between 2006 and 2008). Theoretically, Marini should have been elected easily on the first ballot with support from the left, right and centre. However, Bersani’s decision to pick Marini and his deal with Berlusconi was yet another example of Bersani’s utter ineptitude. Marini was a poor choice to begin with. In a context where Italian voters are fed up with old politicians and ‘politics as usual’, Marini was the representative of the old politics: he is 80 years old and he has been in politics for decades. Matteo Renzi, the young mayor of Florence and Bersani’s main rival within the Democratic Party (PD), said that Marini came from the ‘last century’ of Italian politics. Left Ecology Freedom (SEL), a small left-wing party led by Nichi Vendola and the junior member of Bersani’s coalition, was also displeased by the pick. However, what made Marini toxic to so many electors were the circumstances in which he was picked. Bersani, pressured by Vendola (and common sense), had previously said that he didn’t want to form a government with Berlusconi’s scandal-plagued centre-right. However, Bersani turned around and proved that he was quite willing to work with Berlusconi behind closed doors. Many left-wingers and grillistis decried a corrupt bargain.

Grillo’s M5S held an online primary to allow their members to choose their presidential candidate. After the top two finishers (Milena Gabanelli and Gino Strada) indicated that they did not wish to run, the M5S turned to Stefano Rodotà, a former Communist and respected jurist. The SEL, which opposed Marini’s candidacy because of the corrupt bargain with Berlusconi, backed Rodotà, who has a good reputation on the left.

Candidate Votes
Franco Marini 521
Stefano Rodotà 240
Sergio Chiamparino 41
Romano Prodi 14
Emma Bonino 13
Massimo D’Alema 12
Giorgio Napolitano 10
Anna Finocchiaro 7
Anna Maria Cancellieri 2
Mario Monti 2
Scattering 14
Blank/invalid 119

The first ballot was a disaster for Bersani. Marini, who could have been elected on the first ballot with the support of the left, right and centre (Monti), fell far short of the 672 votes required to win. While votes are secret and we cannot know which left-wingers or right-wingers didn’t vote for Marini, we can presume that there were rebels on both sides – perhaps more so on the left. Many of those rebels cast blank or invalid votes, or supported other (undeclared) candidates. Sergio Chiamparino, the former PD mayor of Turin, received 41 votes, most likely from renziani members of the PD. Renzi had indicated his preference for Chiamparino.

Second and third ballots

Candidate Votes (2nd) Votes (3rd)
Stefano Rodotà 230 250
Sergio Chiamparino 90 4
Massimo D’Alema 38 34
Franco Marini 15 6
Alessandra Mussolini 15 5
Romano Prodi 13 22
Emma Bonino 10 4
Sergio De Caprio 9 7
Giorgio Napolitano 4 12
Anna Maria Cancellieri 0 9
Scattering 92 84
Blank/invalid 432 512

With the failure of the Marini option and no other candidate likely to win outright on the second and third ballots, the left and right largely sat out the vote by casting blank or invalid ballots although some voted, in fairly large numbers, for other candidates: Chiamparino, former centre-left Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema, Alessandra Mussolini or Romano Prodi. The M5S and SEL continued to support Stefano Rodotà.

Fourth ballot

For the fourth ballot, which could be won with a simple majority, the left – both the PD (including Renzi) and SEL – agreed to support Romano Prodi, a respected former Prime Minister and a former President of the European Commission. Berlusconi did not approve of the pick and the right announced that it would continue to sit out the vote by casting blank/invalid votes. Theoretically, Prodi could have won by taking all centre-left electors and adding a dozen or so votes, which could have come from the centre. Things did not work out that way.

Candidate Votes
Romano Prodi 395
Stefano Rodotà 213
Anna Maria Cancellieri 78
Massimo D’Alema 15
Franco Marini 13
Giorgio Napolitano 2
Scattering 7
Blank/invalid 19

Prodi won only 395 votes, falling far short of the 504 votes which he would have needed to win. Of the 1007 members, only 732 turned out to vote on April 19 (right-wingers likely did not participate). In retrospect, it appears that Prodi’s candidacy was a ploy engineered by Bersani’s rivals within the PD – apparently led by Massimo D’Alema, the PD’s top backroom wheeler-and-dealer – to scuttle Bersani’s leadership and force him out after the disaster of the Marini candidacy (and so many other factors, like blowing a big lead in the general election). The ploy worked. Rosy Bindi (president of the PD) and Bersani resigned their leadership positions within the party. However, in the meantime, Italy still needed a President.

Fifth ballot

Candidate Votes
Stefano Rodotà 210
Giorgio Napolitano 20
Rosario Monteleone 15
Emma Bonino 9
Claudio Zin 4
Anna Maria Cancellieri 3
Massimo D’Alema 2
Franco Marini 2
Scattering 14
Blank/invalid 462

While the politicians were actively negotiating amongst themselves to find a way out of the crisis they had placed themselves in, the fifth ballot on the morning of April 20 saw no resolution. The right did not participate, which meant that only 741 out of 1007 members actually showed up, and the left cast invalid or blank votes.

Sixth ballot

In the meantime, the politicians – Bersani, Berlusconi and Monti – met with Napolitano, the outgoing President, to find an exit route. They managed to convince Napolitano to come out of retirement and take the unprecedented move of accepting a second term in office.

Candidate Votes
Giorgio Napolitano 738
Stefano Rodotà 217
Sergio De Caprio 8
Massimo D’Alema 4
Romano Prodi 2
Scattering 10
Blank/invalid 12

President Napolitano was reelected to an historic second term with a huge majority, winning nearly three-quarters of the vote from the electoral college with his nearest rival, Rodotà, taking only 217 votes (probably almost all from M5S).

Napolitano’s reelection, out of the blue, was a sign that some things can still get accomplished in Italian politics. But above all it means that Italy is as dysfunctional as ever.

Napolitano’s reelection is for a seven year term, but few think he will serve until 2020. Instead, he is widely viewed as a temporary solution to the crisis – a patch, if you will. Napolitano’s conditions seem to have been an interim caretaker government (a grand coalition between the left and right) and delaying snap elections which should have been held in the summer (June or July) until the fall or even the spring of 2014. In the meantime, a new cabinet – political rather than technocrat this time (it seems) – would be charged with managing Italy’s catastrophic economy, a new electoral law and perhaps even constitutional reform. The PD will also need to hold primaries, probably in the fall, to choose a new leader after Bersani’s resignation. Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence and Bersani’s rival since Renzi lost the 2012 PD primaries to Bersani, is likely the favourite and the best thing the Italian left has for the moment. But Renzi’s centrist/liberal reformist image might not play well to some members of the PD’s left or the SEL.

On April 24, Napolitano nominated Enrico Letta, a 46-year old member of the PD, to be Prime Minister and form a coalition with the centre-left and centre-right. Napolitano said that he had picked Letta because of his youth, in contrast to the other potential nominee, Massimo D’Alema, who is an old-timer. Letta is a centrist within the PD, who comes from the PD’s Christian democratic tradition (former members of the Margherita party), but Letta had backed Bersani (who comes from the PD’s left-wing and post-communist tradition) won the PD’s leadership in 2009. His centrist standing within the party likely makes him palatable to most factions of the PD, although Renzi has expressed his displeasure at the idea of a grand coalition with Berlusconi’s right. Berlusconi apparently vetoed the idea of Renzi as Prime Minister, because he fears Renzi as his most serious rival in the future.

How will voters react to their politicians’ latest shenanigans? The Grillists will be displeased. Grillo denounced Napolitano’s reelection as a coup d’état and organized a protest in Rome. Furthermore, a grand coalition is perfect for Grillo: he has even more proof that all the traditional parties are the same and can be lumped together, while both the left and right work to discredit themselves while in government.

As of now, Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition has opened up a small lead over the left and M5S in polls, up to five points ahead now. He certainly benefited from the utter trainwreck and incompetent kerfuffle which the PD and Bersani have been since the elections. Once he reenters government, can Berlusconi continue to benefit from the political mess? That might prove tougher.

There was a regional election in Friuli-Venezia Giulia on April 21 and 22. One might have expected the left to do poorly because of the past few weeks, but they did pretty well all things considered. Indeed, the left’s presidential candidate Debora Serracchiani (a young MEP, close to Renzi) defeated right-wing incumbent Renzo Tondo (who had defeated a left-wing incumbent in 2008) with 39.39% against 39% for Tondo and 19.2% for the M5S candidate. The right did win the regional council list vote with 45.2% against 39% for the left and 13.8% for the M5S. Turnout, however, collapsed from 72% in 2008 to only 50.5% this year.

Napolitano’s reelection and Letta’s nomination is only a patch which only temporarily resolves Italy’s lingering political (and economic) crisis. Italian politics remain deadlocked and dysfunctional, and the whole thing will certainly blow up again whenever a new election is held.

Italy 2013

Legislative elections were held in Italy on February 24 and 25, 2013. All 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) and 315 members of the Senate (Senato della Repubblica) were up for reelection. There were also regional elections (direct election of the regional president and the regional legislature) in Lazio (Latium), Lombardy and Molise.

I explained Italy’s confusing electoral system, its unique political history since 1946 and the plethora of parties and coalitions competing in this year’s election in a long preview post here.

Italy is a rare example of ‘perfect bicameralism’, where both houses of the legislature hold equal powers and a government needs the confidence of both houses and legislation needs to pass in both houses. The electoral system in use since the 2006 election, however, has created an opening for political instability since both houses are elected using a different system. In the lower house (the Chamber of Deputies) the coalition (but not party) which wins the most votes nationally automatically receives a majority bonus of 340 seats, corresponding to 54% of the seats in the Chamber (hence, a solid absolute majority). The remainder of the seats (besides one FPTP member for the Aosta Valley and 12 separate seats for Italians abroad) are allocated by proportional representation. In the Senate, however, the ‘majority bonus’ applies separately at the regional level, so that different coalitions end up winning the regional majority bonuses in different regions. This can mean that no single coalition will emerge with a working majority in the Senate.

There were five major contenders in this election. Pier Luigi Bersani led the centre-left coalition, which is spearheaded by Bersani’s Democratic Party (PD). Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (1994-1995, 2001-2006, 2008-2011) led the centre-right coalition, which notably includes Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party and Roberto Maroni’s regionalist Northern League (LN). Outgoing technocratic Prime Minister Mario Monti led a centrist coalition which was backed by two established centre-right parties. Sharp-tongued populist comedian Beppe Grillo led the 5 Star Movement (M5S), a new anti-establishment and anti-system populist party which became popular in 2012.

The last polls, including ‘leaked’ polls which could not be legally published in the last two weeks, showed Bersani’s centre-left coalition with a consistent lead between 3 and 5 points or so over Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition. The main changes compared to the last legally published polls came with the two smaller groupings: Beppe Grillo’s support increased from about 15-16% in the last polls to 20-21% in the ‘leaked’ polls while Monti’s support fell from about 13% to 9-11%.

Results

Turnout was 75.19% for the Chamber of Deputies and 75.21% for the Senate, down 5.31% and 5.25% from the last election in 2008 respectively. Italy’s political elite has long been perceived as corrupt, self-interested career politicians or hopelessly out of touch with their constituents. In the past, these feelings had often proven secondary for many voters. However, the economic crisis – austerity and prolonged recession – has significantly heightened feelings of alienation or resentment towards the political elites. Given how these same politicians are asking their constituents to ‘sacrifice’ themselves for the sake of economic recovery (when many have already suffered heavily from the crisis with job losses, pension cuts, lower wages and so forth), endemic political corruption and self-serving politicians filling their pockets are less easily accepted. Like in Greece, one of the first political effects of the economic crisis has been to alienate a substantial number of voters from the political system in general, leading to a significant decrease in turnout. Turnout is historically extremely high in Italy, always over 80% (often over 85%) and it used to be over 90% in the 1970s. Therefore, 75% is the lowest turnout in a legislative election since the end of the war – and by quite a distance. Turnout in the two Greek elections in 2012 had also been the lowest in that country’s democratic history.

Bad weather – including snow in the north – may also have dragged down turnout.

Chamber of Deputies

Party / Coalition % vote (excl. Aosta, abroad) Change Seats (+abroad) Change (dissolution)
PD 25.42% -7.76% 292 (+5) – 297 +94
SEL 3.20% new 37 +37
CD 0.49% new 6 -3
SVP 0.43% +0.02% 5 +3
Centre-left (Bersani) 29.54% -4.05% 340  (+5) - 345 +131
PdL 21.56% -15.82% 97 (+1) – 98 -111
Lega Nord 4.08% -4.22% 18 -40
FdI-CN 1.95% new 9 +9
La Destra 0.64% -1.79% 0 nc
GS-MPA 0.43% -0.7% 0 -16
Other centre-right 0.47% new 0 nc
Centre-right (Berlusconi) 29.18% -20.06% 124 (+1) - 125 -158
M5S (Beppe Grillo) 25.55% new 108 (+1) - 109 +109
SC 8.30% new 37 (+2) – 39 +39
UDC 1.78% -3.84% 8 -28
FLI 0.46% new 0 -24
With Monti for Italy (Monti) 10.56%  +4.94% 45 (+2) - 47 -13
RC (Ingroia) 2.25% -5.2%  0 -15
Fermare il Declino (Giannino) 1.12% new 0 nc
All others 1.8% -2.3% 4 (1 Aosta, 3 South America) -56

Senate

Party / Coalition % vote (excl. Aosta, TAA abroad) Change Seats (+Aosta, TAA, abr.) Change (dissolution)
PD 27.43% -6.26% 105 (+4) – 109 +5
SEL 2.97% new 7 +7
CD 0.53% new 0 nc
Megaphone 0.45% new 1 +1
PSI 0.18% -0.69% 0 nc
Other centre-left 0.04% new 0 nc
SVP/PD-SVP/PATT n/a n/a (+6) (+3)
Centre-left (Bersani) 31.63% -2.93% 113  (+10) - 123 +16
PdL 22.30% -15.87% 98 (+1) – 99 -14
Lega Nord 4.33% -3.73% 17 -5
FdI-CN 1.92% new 0 -11
La Destra 0.72% -1.38% 0 nc
Pensioners 0.4% new 0 -1
GS 0.39% -0.54% 1 -16
Other centre-right 0.60% new 0 nc
Centre-right (Berlusconi) 30.72% -18.69% 116 (+1) - 117 -45
M5S (Beppe Grillo) 23.79% new 54 +54
With Monti for Italy (Monti) 9.13%  +3.44% 18 (+1) - 19 +3
RC (Ingroia) 1.79% -5.74%  0 -10
Fermare il Declino (Giannino) 0.9% new 0 nc
All others 2.04% -0.76% 2 (1 Aosta, 1 South America) -16

Italy 2013

Italy’s much anticipated election on February 24-25 ended with no clear winner, a potentially ungovernable country and results filled with surprises after a tense and nail-bitingly close night. Bersani’s centre-left bloc, led by the PD, emerged as the single largest coalition in both houses – with an absolute majority in the Chamber (naturally) but only a thin plurality in the Senate where it is a long way from the 158 seats needed for a majority. Berlusconi’s centre-right performed better than expected and came closer to winning than anyone had imagined – in fact, for a while it looked like Berlusconi could actually pull off a win in both houses. The only clear winner of the night, however, was Beppe Grillo’s upstart M5S, which won about a quarter of the vote nationally.

The first exit polls at 15:00 on Monday afternoon corroborated the last (leaked) polling numbers, with the centre-left coming ahead of the right by about 3-5 points. As in 2006, however, the exit polls were off. TV channels released ‘projections’ based on the trends emerging from the votes actually being counted, and these projections (for the Senate) gave the lead to Berlusconi‘s coalition rather than Bersani. Grillo’s M5S was also performing much better than in the first exit polls. Updated projections maintained this state of affairs for quite some time, and the left’s lead in the actual vote count (first in the Senate – which was counted first, then in the Chamber) shrank consistently and by a considerable amount throughout the night. The final vote ‘projections’, however, showed that the left would be able to eek out a tiny win (in the popular vote) in both houses.

On the final count, the centre-left won the Chamber of Deputies (and the 340 seats ‘bonus’) by 0.36% (124,494 votes) and the Senate by a slightly wider margin of 0.91% (281,004 votes). This is a very tight margin, but the 2006 election was even closer: the left won the Chamber by only 0.11% and actually lost the national popular vote for the Senate (but the crucial popular vote is in the Chamber). The votes received by the centre-right regionalist South Tyrolean People’s Party (SVP) in the Chamber (146,804) are greater than the left’s winning margin. If the SVP had run independently, for example, Berlusconi would have won the 340 seat bonus instead.

The left ‘won’ in the technical sense, but it didn’t really win. It was very much a Pyrrhic victory for the left, with a very underwhelming result which is almost as bad as a defeat.

The Berlusconian right didn’t win, because in losing over half of its support from the last election it is definitely one of the biggest losers in this election. But it can pride itself in having lost the election by an unexpectedly tiny margin when almost everybody had bet that they would lose by a significantly larger margin.

The real winner of the election was Beppe Grillo, whose party did not even exist in the last election five years ago and which came out of nowhere in about a year to elect 163 parliamentarians and win about 25% of the vote.

The clearest loser in all this was the outgoing technocrat Prime Minister, Mario Monti, whose first (and likely only) political foray ended in disaster for nearly everybody involved. His pro-European reformist agenda which had excited his European colleagues, The Economist and the Financial Times didn’t excite anybody in his home country, where his tough medicine (austerity) for economic growth was unquestionably rejected by voters.

What happened? The final official polls, the “horse race” and “conclave” leaked polls and the exit polls on the day of had all shown Bersani’s centre-left leading by at least 3 to 5 percentage points over the centre-right.

La Repubblica still has (for now) the results of the first exit polls (in this case for the Chamber) online here. Compared to the actual results, the exit polls (which were basically identical to the final leaked polls) overestimated the centre-left coalition by at least 4.5 points. The Sky-Tecnè exit poll predicted that Bersani would win 34% of the vote, the Rai-Piepoli had given the left between 34 and 38% of the vote.

While the margin between the left and the Berlusconian right was overestimated in the left’s favour by exit polls, it was not because Berlusconi did better than what the exit polls or the final polls had indicated. The right won 29.2% of the Chamber vote and the Sky exit poll gave him 29% (Rai’s fork was 28-32%). In most of the last leaked polls, the right stood between 28 and 30% as well. It would be tempting to explain the surprising result away by saying that a “shy Berlusconi” vote, which nobody could pick up, came out. Except that it’s not what really happened. Berlusconi did not overperform his polling average, rather the left woefully underperformed its polling average.

Compared to the exit polls and final leaked polls, the biggest overperformer was Beppe Grillo’s M5S. The first exit polls had given him 19% (or 19-21%), underestimating the M5S by about 5 points. I can only guess at the various reasons for why even the exit polls proved terrible and badly underestimated M5S while overestimating the left. Perhaps there is some major flaw in the various pollsters’ methodology which made it hard for them to accurately capture the full scale of the M5S tide. Grillo appealed to a younger net-generation which distrusts traditional media sources and established institutions in civil society. It would not be unreasonable to guess that some of these voters might either choose not to respond to pollsters.

This election also had a huge number of last minute deciders. According to Demopolis, even if 52% decided over a month ago, 25% decided in the last 15 days (including 11% in the last 2-3 days). According to a similar poll by ISPO, 35% of voters decided at the last moment (only 20% did so in 2008) and 35% (rather than 53% in 2008) decided over 2 months.

The defeat of the traditional coalitions

The immediate explanation for the left’s near-defeat is that the pollsters are horrible (like they were in 2006) and that we should learn to take them for what they’re worth. But the centre-left needs to shoulder a heavy part of the blame for their horrible result. Once again, the Italian left proved how utterly inept it is at winning elections and how it almost always manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. An election which could have been theirs by a landslide turned out to be a near-loss, a narrow victory that it was practically a defeat.

Even before the election results brought even more bad news to the centre-left, it was clear that the centre-left would win by default rather than by having successfully built a wider coalition behind an popular leader and platform.

The centre-left’s leader, chosen by centre-left voters in an open primary late last year, was a poor choice. Pier Luigi Bersani is probably, at the least, a mildly competent administrator, but he is a poor politician and a low calibre leader who is a poor fit for the post-1994 ultra-personalized politics. Bersani is one of those sleep-inducing stale ‘old guard’ career politicians which the PD has a lot of (too much); a reasonably competent administrator who barely excites anybody beyond his core supporter and who find himself completely crushed by charismatic politicians like Berlusconi or Grillo. The centre-left voters last year made a poor choice with Bersani and many are likely regretting it now; his main rival in that primary, the young mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi is probably tempted to say “told you so”. It is hard to know these things for certain and we can’t change the past, but Renzi with his reformist energy and more centrist (liberal) image would probably have won this election in a much more convincing way than Bersani.

Not only did the centre-left choose the wrong candidate, the PD also led a horrible campaign after the primary. Bersani won the primary and his party dropped out of sight for a while after that, seemingly thinking that if it stayed above the fray it could glide to an easy victory. When Bersani did campaign, he unsurprisingly failed to excite anybody. Against similarly stale and unexciting opponents, this strategy would probably have worked. But again Berlusconi and Grillo, masters at their trade? It was a strategy destined to fail. Despite carrying around heavy baggage and a controversial record (to say the least), Berlusconi proved that he had remained a shrewd politician and that he still mastered television unlike anybody else. Like in the past, Berlusconi quickly seized the initiative from the left and made himself the central figure of the campaign. His simple solutions to Italy’s profound economic woes did not convince everybody, but it allowed him to reignite the Berlusconian right; his much trumpeted promise to abolish and refund Monti’s unpopular new property tax (IMU) was one of his most popular planks and he knew how to make good use of that promise. Grillo has an aversion towards television, but he knows – unlike any other politician in Italy – how to make good use of social media and new technologies to mobilize large crowds and how to seize the spotlight from his rivals. His unorthodox campaign, mixing new technologies and old electioneering (mass popular rallies in the piazzas), turned out to be a success.

Indeed, according to a post-election poll by Demopolis, only 12% of voters felt that Bersani had run the most convincing campaign (against 19% for Berlusconi and 34% for Grillo). The result of a poor candidate, a terribly-run campaign and a boring moderate platform (in sharp contrast to Berlusconi and Grillo’s outlandish promises) was that the left’s support gradually declined from about 40% following the centre-left primary late last year (when the PdL, left without il cavaliere for while, was at rock-bottom) to the low thirties in the last polls. It then severely underperformed its polling numbers on February 24-25.

The ISPO post-election poll showed that the PD had held 61% of its 2008 voters (it lost 4% of its 2008 voters to the SEL or CD). 16% voted for Grillo, 8% voted for Monti and 1% voted for Ingroia’s RC. Only 9% of 2008 PD voters did not vote in 2013.

Within the left, the PD received about 86-87% of the votes which went to the centre-left coalition. Nichi Vendola’s SEL won only 3% of the vote, and a lot of those came in the form of personal votes for Vendola is his political base of Apulia (and surrounding regions). Despite a poor showing, the SEL’s alliance with the centre-left has allowed the ‘radical left’ (ex-communist) to regain a foothold in Parliament, after the Left-Rainbow’s 2008 disaster. Within the governing centre-left coalition, Vendola is also in a fairly strong position to influence government policy, pressure the PD into adopting a more left-wing agenda or extracting (limited) concessions from the PD. However, the SEL might have suffered electorally from its alliance with the moderate centre-left, especially given the constant talk that it would probably form a post-electoral alliance with Mario Monti’s centrist block in order to govern. ‘Radical left’ and far-left voters had little interest in Bersani and his generally moderate centre-left rhetoric. The M5S attracted a lot of radical left and far-left voters who had voted PD or for the Rainbow in 2008; Antonio Ingroia’s Civil Revolution (RC) ended in a trainwreck but it too attracted some radical left voters who cared little for Bersani or the SEL.

The tiny centrist Democratic Centre (CD), allied with the centre-left, was intelligent enough to calculate that it would only survive in a coalition and, indeed, it managed to survive with a handful of seats by virtue of being the largest coalition party below the 2% threshold. Most of its support came from southern Italy. On the other hand, the rump PSI proved how utterly irrelevant it was. The Megaphone, Sicilian regional president Rosario Crocetta’s personal list which ran for the Senate in Sicily, managed to win a single seat. Crocetta’s list won 6.2% of the vote in Sicily.

Berlusconi’s result is rather spectacular, no doubt about it. But making it seem as if he was the big winner of the election and that his story is that of yet another remarkable comeback by a man who has often been presumed politically dead by his opponents is an exaggeration. His result can only be considered to be a victory when compared to the lows where his party and the broader right stood only a few months back in the summer and fall of 2012. In November and December, the PdL sat at lows of only 14-16% in polls (the PdL+Lega together polled between 20 and 25%). About two months later, he won 29.2% (and 30.7%) of the vote with 21.6% (and 22.3%) for the PdL itself. Berlusconi made a comeback during the campaign, but his gains are not as phenomenal and unprecedented as they have been made out to be. His main victory in this election was that he proved that the Berlusconian right remained a relevant actor and that it was not dead in the water, contrarily to what many might have thought (and wished) last year after the right’s abysmal results in the local and regional elections.

That being said, the Berlusconian right still lost heavily – it lost about half of its 2008 support – which makes it hard to read his result as some unquestionable victory. The established parties, both on the right and the left, lost considerable support in this election and were both victims of the Grillist surge. Berlusconi’s only success was that he beat expectations (which he is quite skilled at doing, electorally), polling better than most had thought he would and remaining a relevant and influential political actor. But he still lost over half of his support from the last election and the PdL’s result – only 22% – was a long way from the results of its predecessor parties in any election between 1994 and 2008. The Italian political system no longer revolves entirely around him, and he has lost a significant part of the electoral base which had backed him since 1994.

ISPO’s post-election study showed that Berlusconi held 49% of 2008 PdL voters (only 1% switched to the Lega). About 3% voted for the left instead, 13% voted M5S and 7% voted Monti. Compared to the PD, it is interesting that a lot more 2008 PdL voters did not vote this year (23%).

Within the right-wing coalition, one of the major losers was the Lega Nord. The northern regionalist party won only 4.1% (4.3% in the Senate), losing over half of its votes since the last election. This is the Lega’s second worst result in a general election – only the 2001 election in which it won a bit less 4% The Lega was crippled by the explosive embezzlement scandal which forced the party’s iconic and controversial boss, Umberto Bossi, to resign in April 2012. Prior to the scandal, a year ago, the Lega was riding high – polling about 8-10% in most polls, benefiting from its opposition to the increasingly unpopular Monti cabinet and its austerity measures. However, the Lega fell abruptly (down to 4-6%) following revelations that Bossi and his inner circle had massively embezzled the party’s public financing funds and used them for personal and illicit ends. This scandal was so massive that Bossi, who had been thought to be firmly entrenched as the Lega Nord’s lider maximo and was oftentimes the most prominent ‘face’ of the party, was forced to resign. Roberto Maroni, Bossi’s rival for the party’s leadership, taking the reins did not help the party overcome its abrupt fall from grace in the eyes of the electorate. The scandal destroyed the party’s image. The Lega Nord, like the M5S today, first burst onto the scene in the early 1990s as an anti-system populist party which virulent denounced the moral bankruptcy of the First Republic’s governing elites and the corruption at the highest echelons of powers. Since then, the Lega has continued to benefit from its positioning as a populist, somewhat anti-system force and often got away with consistently trying to have the cake and eat it (acting as a critic of Berlusconi while remaining in his government). The scandal hence destroyed the Lega’s image as the ‘clean’ anti-corruption, anti-system populist force. When any politician or party which presented itself as ‘anti-corruption’ is mixed up in a major corruption scandal, the stench sticks and it really hurts.

Since 1992, the Lega had also served as a receptacle for protest votes in northern Italy. It benefited from popular regional grievances against Rome and the Mezzogiorno, but also attracted protest or anti-system votes on the right (in the north). The emergence of M5S was the first major challenge to the Lega’s hegemony on the protest vote/anti-system playing field and, as a result, it is no longer the natural home for many anti-system ‘protest voters’.

Paradoxically, however, the Lega – regionally – is stronger than ever. Roberto Maroni, supported by the PdL, won the regional elections in Lombardy. With Maroni’s victory, the Lega now controls the regional presidencies of the three most important regions in northern Italy – Veneto, Lombardy and Piedmont. As the Lega tries to heal its wounds and rebuild itself, its strong base at the regional level will come in handy.

Despite its horrible performance this year, writing the Lega’s obituary would be premature. The party has already faced such lows, although the presence of M5S as a powerful and more credible competitor for anti-system votes is new and could significantly hinder the Lega’s ability to rebuild. The regional grievances expressed by the Lega since the 1980s remain a potent political factor in northern Italy.

For the time being, the coalition with the PdL will probably stick. The alliance between the PdL and the Lega is a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. For the PdL, without an alliance with the Lega it would face a tougher time in the politically decisive powerhouse regions of Lombardy and Veneto. For the Lega, without the alliance with Berlusconi it would be much less influential in national politics and its representation in institutions at all levels of government would be significantly reduced. For example, in this election, without the last-minute deal with Maroni, Berlusconi would not have come close to winning a majority in the lower house and his political future would be much bleaker. For the Lega, with an alliance with Berlusconi this year, Maroni would not be president of Lombardy and the Lega would have come out even more marginalized and weakened from the election. Both parties would face a much tougher time in the case of a lasting divorce.

ISPO’s post-election study showed that the Lega retained only 42% of its 2008 voters. 14% switched to the PdL instead and 3% went for other parties in the centre-right coalition; 19% did not this year, 11% backed the M5S, 8% voted for Monti and only 3% switched to the centre-left this year (most for the SEL apparently!).

There was a tough three-way contest on the right to be the largest coalition party under the threshold. Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), a new party created by ex-AN members of the PdL with Berlusconi’s blessing, won less than 2% but it held on to a handful of seats (a bit less than it had just before the election) thanks to the ‘largest coalition party below the threshold’ clause. Not a bad result for a brand new party with less a dozen sitting parliamentarians; but the FdI-CN is less an attempt to recreate the AN of yesteryear than a political calculation by Berlusconi to shore up his support on the right.

La Destra – Francesco Storace’s right-wing nationalist party – and Grande Sud – a vaguely regionalist party in the south – did poorly; winning 0.6% and 0.4% respectively. La Destra had actually won 2.4% of the vote in the 2008 election, it likely lost some of that support to FdI (whose geographical patterns were rather similar). Grande Sud managed to win a single senator (in Calabria, with 3.2%) but the party, which – as an alliance of various regionalist parties from the southern and southern dissidents from major parties (Gianfranco Micciché) – had held a sizable number of seats in the legislature at dissolution, was swept out. In the Chamber, the GS did best in Calabria (with about 3%) but in Sicily, it won only 1.9%. Running separately for the Senate, former Sicilian regional president Raffaele Lombardo’s MPA took only 2.2% of the votes on the island, an unmitigated disaster which shows how thin support for Lombardo’s ostensibly regionalist party was.

The Grillo Phenomenon

The big winner of the election was Beppe Grillo’s upstart Five Star Movement (M5S), which was founded less than four years ago (in 2009) and which only started to receive substantial support barely a year ago (in the May 2012 local elections). Even if the M5S lacked the resources of the major parties and even if it was derided by political leaders and established media sources alike; it managed to achieve a phenomenal result – 25.6% in the Chamber of Deputies and electing a total of 163 parliamentarians. The M5S’ dramatic emergence onto the Italian political scene is comparable to Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to political power in the 1994 election, in which his new party – Forza Italia – came out of nowhere to win the most votes (21%). But Grillo’s success is even more remarkable than Berlusconi’s first success in 1994. Berlusconi was already a wealthy businessman backed by an influential media (TV) empire and he built ties with old political actors; in contrast, Grillo was ‘only’ a popular activist blogger who used his popular blog to launch his party. He could only count on the support of dedicated online and offline activists, he received no support from established politicians and did not even have any ‘star candidates’.

Grillo’s rise from blogger/activist to the leader of the single most voted party in the lower house, which happened in less than a year (in February 2012, the M5S polled about 3-6%), is the result of Italy’s contemporary socio-economic condition and the expression of deep-seated popular anger at the political class and the Italian political system in general.

The economic crisis, the tough austerity measures and reforms supported by Mario Monti’s cabinet, a prolonged recession and record-high unemployment created a climate of social frustration and anger. The impact of austerity (which included tax increases in a country with a very heavy tax burden or major cuts in pensions) on the middle-classes, low income earners, retirees and small business owners alike has been particularly tough and caused major social discontent. Austerity was resented as a diktat imposed by the country’s political elites (the casta) and foreign decision-makers (the ECB, IMF, Germany).

Like in Greece or in Spain, the political effect of austerity and its social effects was that the established political parties, which had predominated the political system for decades beforehand, lost most of their credibility in the eyes of the electorate. They are considered as the culprits for the economic mess, and their response to the crisis was deeply unpopular with the electorate.

The economic crisis and austerity in these countries, Italy included, has also led to a significant decline in public trust of democracy, political institutions and politicians. Anti-system, anti-establishment and ‘anti-politician’ sentiments which had been dormant in the past are being expressed politically through different means in different countries.

Italy’s political problems and flawed political system predate the economic crisis and denunciations of corrupt politicians, the political elites and the political system is nothing new in Italian politics – in fact Silvio Berlusconi used that rhetoric in his initial rise to power in 1994. However, the economic crisis has created new deep-seated popular anger at the political elites (la casta) who are seen as ‘parasites’ who do no good and serve their own personal interests on the back of the people. The economic crisis and the resulting credibility crisis faced by all established politicians have allowed for these sentiments to burst onto the scene.

Grillo’s campaign spewed vitriol on the entire Italian political system and its entire political leadership. Grillo does not differentiate between the left and the right because he insists that the entire Italian political system and constitutional model is rotten to its core and that the only solution to these problems would be to get rid of all these ‘parasites’ and replace the system with bottom-up direct democracy. In a climate of social anger, frustration and resentment directed towards la casta, that privileged caste of political and administrative elites which have ridiculously generous conditions and benefits while many voters suffer the weight of austerity measures and economic reforms. These same politicians ask their constituents for ‘sacrifices’ in order to restore economic stability, but at the same time political parties still receive public funding, la casta benefits from lifelong pensions and corrupt politicians continue to run wild. Grillo’s populist anti-system and anti-politician rhetoric, combined with a radically anti-austerity platform – cutting waste, giving monthly stipends to the unemployed, shortening the workweek to 20 hours, a referendum on the euro and debt renegotiation – hit the right notes with voters, both on the left and the right.

Grillo’s surge fed thus fed on three key factors: unpopular austerity, an economic crisis which has bred popular anger against privileged political elites and the discredit of traditional parties on both the left (PD) and right (PdL, Lega). Voters are tired of austerity, high taxes, endemic corruption and the widening disconnect between politicians and the electorate.

The post-election poll by Demopolis reflected that Italians, in large majority, voted for change – oftentimes drastic change. 42% said that the need for a radical renewal of the political leadership was the main influence on their vote, another 31% said that it was the need for different economic, fiscal and labour policies. Only 24% said that the top candidate or party leader was the main influence on their vote, and 9% said that local candidates were the main influence on their vote.

Grillo’s success also shows the growing political power and influence of the internet, more specifically social media. At the heart of the Grillo phenomenon is Grillo’s very popular blog and his own mobilizing power on the internet (when few Italian politicians have embraced social media) has played a key role in the Grillist surge and whirlwind success. The internet forms the backbone of the M5S, whose actual ‘headquarters’ are Grillo’s blog. The party selected its candidate through an open online primary, and Grillo has used his strong presence on social media platforms such as Facebook to mobilize dedicate activists and rally large crowds to his rallies and to his causes. Without such a strong web presence and an ability to organize support through social media platforms, the M5S would likely have had a tougher time organizing itself into a relevant and influential political actor.

The internet is no substitute for traditional political action and electioneering, however. That being said, Grillo also showed that controlling or having a strong presence on television – like Berlusconi has consistently enjoyed since 1994 – is not a necessity. Grillo bans his party’s members from appearing on television, effectively boycotting all political shows or talkshow programs on TV. In late 2012, a Bologna municipal councillor was expelled from the party after appearing on a talkshow on TV. Instead, Grillo’s offline political action and campaigning has come in the form of large rallies in the piazzas. These rallies, often organized online, predate the M5S: Grillo first organized vaffanculo days (fuck off days, rallies for political reform and opposition to the system) in 2007 and 2008. These V-days allowed Grillo’s movement to reach a much wider (offline) audience. During the campaign, Grillo managed to rally thousands to hear his speeches – loud and angry tirades against politicians, the system and the socio-economic situation – throughout Italy. A huge crowd turned out for his final rally on a packed public place in Rome on February 22.

What is the nature of the Grillo phenomenon? Who are the people behind the Grillist surge and who voted for Grillo on February 24-25? Unfortunately, there is only limited information on the demographic or even political background of Grillist voters; research on electoral sociology and related matters seems very sparse in Italy compared to other countries.

A study (done in August 2012) on Grillist supporters on Facebook by UK-based think tank ‘Demos’ offers some interesting insights into the Grillist phenomenon. The study’s findings are based on a survey of over 1,800 Grillist supporters on Facebook.

The Demos study revealed that the movement’s online supporters tended, disproportionately, to be males. A full 63% of the movement’s supporters on Facebook are males (about 54% of Italian Facebook users are males). This is in line with studies done after the 2012 local elections which found that Grillist voters tended, in large part, to be male. What is more surprising, however, from the Demos study is that the M5S’ supporters are actually older than the average Italian Facebook user: 64% of its supporters are over 30 years old (compared to 51% with all Italian Facebook users), and the M5S is actually underrepresented with the youngest age groups (16-20, 21-25). Although 12% of their supporters on Facebook are over 51 years old (against 10% of Italian Facebook users who are over 51), their supporters tend to be largely middle-aged. Other populist movements in Europe, including many far-right parties, tend to find their strongest support with middle-aged males.

The Grillist phenomenon in Italy has been linked to the brief Pirate phenomenon in Germany in 2011-2012. The M5S’ support is certainly deeper and stronger than Pirate support in Germany, given that the Pirates largely responded to ephemeral distaste with the entrenched political system while the M5S is based on deeper distrust of and opposition to the political system and entrenched political corruption. But the M5S might be attracting a similar demographic that the Pirates attracted in Germany: left-leaning males, who are rather well educated and live in urban areas, but many of whom are also unemployed or lower-income (which was the main difference between Pirate and Green support in Germany). However, the Pirates attracted mostly first-time voters, young males (many of whom were unemployed) and many students. The M5S certainly appeals to students and younger age groups as well, but the Grillist voter definitely seems to be older than the Pirate voter – perhaps a result of the M5S’ electorate being far larger than the German Pirate electorate was, even at its height.

The Demos study also showed that the M5S’ supporters on Facebook tended to be considerably more educated than the average Italian. This may reflect, in part, the digital divide. 54% of Grillo’s supporters online have a high school diploma (compared to 35% of Italians) and 27% have a university degree (compared to 12% of Italians). On this count, M5S supporters have more in common with Pirate voters in Germany (well educated) rather than right-wing populist movements in western Europe (who attract those with less education and are weak with the most educated voters).

However, the study also showed that the M5S attracted a considerable number of unemployed voters. 19% of the movement’s Facebook supporters sampled in the study were unemployed, against 8% of Italians at the time of the study. Only 50% were employed full time. 18% were students, which is much higher than the share of students in the Italian population (3%) but also much lower than the share of students in the Pirate Party’s online supporters in Germany (about 35% are students).

On political matters, the study confirms what we could have guessed: Grillist voters are pessimistic, extremely dissatisfied towards the state of Italian democracy and exhibit very deep distrust towards politics, politicians, parties and democratic institutions. The movement’s supporters more favourably disposed to activism (signing petitions, boycotts, unauthorized strikes, occupying factories or buildings) than the wider public.

66% feel that the country’s economic situation will get worse in the next 12 months, compared to 43% of Italians who think likewise. 31% even think that their own lives will get worse, compared with only 18% of Italians who say the same (and while 55% of Italians say their lives will stay the same, only 26% of Grillists say likewise.

Only 4% of respondents were very or somewhat satisfied with the state of democracy in Italy (compared to 32% of Italians) and a full 83% said they were very dissatisfied (only 19% of Italians think likewise). Most (78%) also feel things are going in the ‘wrong direction’ in Italy and in the EU (70%).

M5S supporters, unsurprisingly, exhibit deep distrust towards various institutions, organizations and traditional media outlets. 94% distrust political parties (84% of Italians), 86% distrust government (80% of Italians), 80% distrust big companies (54%), 92% distrust banks, 62% distrust the EU (49%), 82% distrust religious organizations (43%) and 75% distrust unions (56%). They also display a deep aversion towards traditional media outlets and older technologies, but are extremely keen on new technologies. 91% distrust the TV (49%), 83% distrust the press (53%) and 56% distrust the radio (40%). But 76% of Grillists trust the internet, compared with only 37% of Italians. They also tend to be more supportive of SMEs than the average Italian (61% trust vs 53% Italians trust SMEs). Interestingly, however (and in contrast with right-wing populist parties again), Grillists are not disproportionately distrustful of other people – in fact, they seem to distrust others less than other Italians do.

The top two most important issues for Grillist supporters on Facebook were the economic situation (62%) and unemployment (61%). 43% of respondents also cited taxes as one of their top two issues, 36% said rising prices/inflation, 33% were concerned about education or the environment. Immigration, housing, terrorism and foreign policy were less important for most supporters. On the particular topic of immigration, there is a clear difference with right-wing populists in other European countries: most M5S supporters favour immigration, with 56% (compared to 28% of Italians) saying that immigration is more of an opportunity for Italy.

When asked why they backed the M5S, 41% of Facebook Grillists said they backed the movement because they were disillusioned with the main parties and political system and/or wanted change. 28% adhered to the M5S’ values, 20% felt it represented ‘the people’ and 6% support the M5S because of Beppe Grillo’s personal integrity. Only 2% said that they backed the M5S because of economic concerns.

What are the political origins of Grillist voters? Prior to the 2012 local elections, the M5S’ few supporters were clearly on the left of the spectrum (48% of M5S supporters at the end of 2010 placed themselves on the left, only 11% on the right) and the M5S represented a fairly attractive option for left-wingers dissatisfied with the PD and its mediocre performance in opposition. After the 2012 local elections, the M5S’ electorate diversified politically, attracting much more support from the right and weakening the presence of left-wingers within the M5S electorate.

The Demos study in August 2012 still found that the party’s Facebook supports skewed to the left of the wider Italian electorate (the average placement on the 1 left-10 right scale was 3.88). The study’s sample had mostly voted for left-wing parties in 2008: 23% for Antonio Di Pietro’s anti-corruption IdV, 22% for the PD; but also 13% for the PdL and 5% for the Lega. 25% had either voted for other parties, not voted at all or had been too young to vote.

An ISPO study after the 2012 local elections (see here) revealed that 24% of M5S voters in 2012 had voted for the PD in 2008, 16% for the Lega, 13.6% for the PdL, 6% for the Left-Rainbow and about 4% for IdV. 30.5% had not voted or cast invalid ballots.

Demopolis’ post-election study this year analyzed where M5S had come from. 32% of them had voted for the PdL in 2008, 23% had voted PD, 13% had not voted (or were too young), 12% had backed the Lega, 11% supported Di Pietro’s IdV and 9% had voted for other parties. ISPO’s post-election study also asked a similar question to all voters. Overall, 24% of M5S voters this year had backed the PD or IdV in 2008 (21% PD, 5% IdV) and 23% had voted for the right (19% PdL, 4% Lega). 16% voted for the first time this year and 19% did not vote in 2008 (or cast invalid ballots). 16% and 13% of the PD and PdL’s 2008 voters, respectively, voted for the M5S in 2013. 11% of the Lega’s 2008 voters also voted M5S.

Mario Monti’s failure

The biggest loser in these elections was certainly Mario Monti and his centrist coalition. Monti’s decision to enter electoral politics and support a centrist coalition in these elections had excited the Italian centre-right (Casini’s UDC and Fini’s FLI) and foreign observers (the European centre-right and The Economist mostly). Monti and his allies’ goal was clearly to renew the Italian centre-right and recreate the political structure of the First Republic, with a moderate and vaguely centrist DC-type party at the core of the system which could govern either with the moderate centre-left or the right (most often with the centre-left, of course). Casini and Fini both saw in Monti their political saviour, the ostensibly popular non-politician who would lift their fortunes and allow them to retain influence over Italian politics. The Casini-engineered Third Pole with the UDC and FLI never took off and died before it reached maturity; Gianfranco Fini’s dream of renewing the Italian right and preparing it for the post-Berlusconi era had not worked out and his FLI had very low support in polls.

Things did not work out as planned for anybody in the centrist coalition. Mario Monti commanded the respect of many voters only because he was a technocrat who stood above politics and did not associate with any of the established political parties, he lost this significant advantage when he joined partisan politics himself (even if he always denied he was not really joining traditional left-right partisan politics). Monti was campaigning on an unpopular pro-European and liberal/reformist agenda which unambiguously endorsed his cabinet’s unpopular austerity policies and economic reforms/liberalization agenda. On the right, when voters faced between a charismatic populist who promised to solve problems by refunding an unpopular tax and ‘creating jobs’ or a gloomy technocrat who preached austerity and more sacrifices; the choice was quite easy.

Monti also had the misfortune of running a terrible campaign which never got off the ground – his campaign was even worse than the centre-left’s disastrous campaign (only 5% of voters felt that Monti ran the most convincing campaign). The reason for all this is quite simple: Monti is an economics professor and a pure technocrat, not remotely close to being an actual politician. He is uncharismatic, his rhetoric and demeanor is boring and stale, and he was awkward on television. This election confirmed the heavily personalized nature of Italian politics since 1994. Those politicians who do well in elections are those, like Berlusconi and Grillo, who are charismatic larger-than-life figures who master political communications. Those who don’t do well are politicians like Bersani and Monti, who are not telegenic and who are not very charismatic at all.

The result was basically a disaster for Monti’s coalition. It won 10.6% of the vote in the Chamber (barely clearing the 10% threshold to be recognized as a coalition for seat allocation purposes) and only 9.1% for the Senate. It will have a small caucus in both houses of Parliament.

In the Chamber, where the coalition’s three components each ran separate lists, about 78% of the coalition’s voters supported Mario Monti’s civic list (Civic Choice, SC) – which won 8.3%. Casini’s UDC won only 1.8% (down 3.8% since 2008) and Fini’s FLI won a disastrous 0.5%. The UDC fell below the 2% threshold a coalition party needs to win seats, but it salvaged 8 deputies by virtue of the ‘largest coalition party below the threshold’ rule. However, by winning less than 2%, the UDC destroyed the FLI. Gianfranco Fini’s party lost its two dozen seats in the Chamber of Deputies (it might have saved a few senators through the coalition’s common list for the Senate). Both the UDC and FLI felt that allying themselves with Monti would be their political salvation; it backfired on both of them. Gianfranco Fini lost reelection – interestingly, he is the second President of the Chamber of Deputies in a row to lose reelection, the communist Fausto Bertinotti lost reelection in 2008.

Other parties fell flat

Civil Revolution, a left-wing anti-corruption list led by former anti-corruption magistrate Antonio Ingroia and which included the two moribund communist parties, Di Pietro’s IdV, Naples mayor De Magistris’ new party and the irrelevant greens, fell far short of winning seats. It won 2.3% and 1.8%, underperforming its polling numbers. RC suffered from competition from M5S, which took many potential left-wing and/or anti-corruption voters the RC would have needed to win. Beppe Grillo was a far more popular option for those voters, RC never really broke out and unlike the Grillists it never attracted lots of media attention or coverage during the campaign. The RC’s failure likely spells the end of the road for Di Pietro’s IdV, already half-destroyed by deep divisions and internal rifts. Di Pietro resigned as IdV leader following the election, it is tough to see how his party would be able to survive without any parliamentarians and its long-time standard bearer. The two communist parties, PRC and PdCI, will remain deeply irrelevant.

Oscar Giannino’s neoliberal/libertarian Act to Stop the Decline went nowhere, barely winning 1% of the vote. It attracted a very economically liberal/libertarian right-wing voters, but little else besides that.

Geography of the Vote

Largest coalition by comuni, Chamber of Deputies (source: YouTrend)

Geographically, the election saw both persistent old traditions and voting patterns (such as the left-right divide) but also a lot of new patterns, linked to the emergence of the M5S. Grillist support was one of the most important and interesting aspect of the election, and its geographic distribution could be instructive as we try to decipher the nature of Grillo’s support.

YouTrend (and igraphics.gr, the Greek company which did those similarly fantastic map of the Greek elections last year) has produced a fantastic interactive map of the result, which allows you to explore results down to the comuni level but also visualize the support for coalitions and parties or compare 2013 results to those of the last election in 2008.

Senate

Under the current electoral law, control of the Senate is decided by elections in individual regions. The left  is somewhat penalized by the concentration of some of its votes in the Red Quadrilateral, it won by about 20 points in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany and about 13 points in Umbria (in all three cases, the M5S placed second). It also won Basilicata, the centre-left’s usual southern stronghold (largely because the local DC cadres turned to the left after 1994), by 11 points over the right.

The centre-left was able to pull off important victory in “swing regions” – it won by 3 in the Lazio, Marche, Liguria, Sardinia (in the latter three cases, the M5S was second), by 0.5 in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Piedmont. However, the right was able to walk away with a bare plurality of senators (excluding the Aosta Valley, TAA and the abroad seats elected by a different system) because it managed to sweep the main ‘swing regions’ including Lombardy, Veneto, Campania, Calabria and Sicily. The left severely underperformed in Lombardy (in the senate contest), the right took the region by 7 points. It also won Veneto by 8 points. The left also did much worse than expected in Campania, the region surrounding Naples, it lost that region by an unexpectedly large 9 point margin to the right. The right won Apulia by 6 and Sicily by about 4 points (6 points over the left, which placed third). It also won Calabria by 4 points. The left’s unexpectedly weak performance nationally served as a major drag on the centre-left in individual regional Senate races and allowed Berlusconi to walk out with many more seats than originally predicted.

The centre-left won a bare plurality of seats in the Senate thanks to its results in Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtiro, where the PD and its local allies (the SVP, the PATT and the UPT) won 6 seats, against only one for the PdL-Lega; and abroad, where the PD won 4 seats (out of 6).

Voting patterns

In northern and central Italy, the traditional left-right divide remained visible. The centre-left coalition won 40.1% in Emilia-Romagna, 41.5% in Tuscany and 35.5% in Umbria (for the Chamber). The right won 35.7% in Lombardy and 31.8% in the Veneto. Piedmont remained a swing region, with the left winning the region in the Senate contest with 29.8% against 29.3% for the centre-right (it also won 28.3% in the Chamber of Deputies in Piedmont). At the provincial and municipal level, the old Red Quadrilateral/Red Zones of central Italy – the PCI’s strongholds during the First Republic – are naturally quite visible, and provided the centre-left with some of its best results in the entire country.

The centre-left won most major urban centres in the country. In the core of the Red Quadrilateral, it won 48.3% in Florence and 46.9% in Bologna. It won in Rome, with 33.7% against 27.3% for the M5S, but lost nearly 13 points compared to the 2008 election. In Milan, the Berlusconian right lost over 20 points (the left lost ‘only’ 5.6) can placed second with 29% against 33.6% for the left. The centre-left also won Venice (with 33.9% against 27.6% for M5S), Trieste (by a hair – M5S and the left both took 28.7%), Turin (34.6% against 25.6% for M5S) and Genoa (35.2% against 32.2% for M5S). In southern Italy, however, the right won Naples by a hair (30.3% vs 30% for the left) and M5S won Palermo in Sicily (with 32.8%).  The right also won Bari (Apulia) and Catania (Sicily). The largest city won by the right in the north was Verona, the largest city won by the left in the south was Cagliari (Sardinia).

% vote for the M5S by comuni, Chamber of Deputies (source: YouTrend)

In the Senate, the M5S did not win any region; but in the Chamber, the M5S topped the poll in Liguria (32%), Marche (32%), Abruzzo (29.9%), Sardinia (29.7%) and did best in Sicily (33.5%). The party’s worst results, outside German-speaking Bolzano, were in Lombardy – particularly the Prealpine provinces where the Lega does best, the inland regions of the Red Quadrilateral in Tuscany and Emilia and parts of the south including Campania and the tip of Calabria. Although the Grillists won up to 40.2% of the vote in one province (Trapani in Sicily), their vote was fairly homogeneously distributed throughout the country – the worst province (besides Bolzano) was Bergamo (Lombardy) and the M5S still took 16.8% there.

The M5S’ support reveals how heterogeneous its electorate is. The party broke the traditional left-right patterns, doing best in right-wing regions (Sicily, parts of Liguria, parts of rural Lazio, parts of Veneto) but also in left-wing regions (Marche, parts of Piedmont, parts of Sardinia). It did well both in urban areas and in some rural areas, it won both left-wingers and right-wingers, both middle-class voters and working-class voters.

Regional patterns and local factors certainly played an important role in the M5S’ vote. Grillo himself is from Genoa and his movement did very well in Liguria. In the province of Turin, where M5S won 29% of the vote, it did extremely well in the Val di Susa – a valley extending westwards from Turin – taking over 40% in most comunis in that valley. In this particular case, the M5S benefited from a particular local issue: opposition to the TAV, a proposed high speed train which would connect Turin to Lyon (in France), the proposed route would go through the Val di Susa. The M5S opposes the TAV and a few of its new MPs from Piedmont are linked to the anti-TAV social movements.

Throughout the north but also in parts of central and southern Italy, it is interesting to point out that M5S did best not in the urban cores (Milan, Turin, Venice, Rome etc) themselves but rather in all surrounding suburban or exurban municipalities, so that its support forms a kind of halo around major cities. This does not mean that the Grillists did poorly in major cities – it won 25.6% in Turin, 27.6% in Venice, 28.7% in Trieste, 32.2% in Genoa and 27.3% in Rome – but it did even better in municipalities surrounding these cities. This is particularly clear in Venice, where the left won the city itself but the M5S swept surrounding areas, including Chioggia, Mira and Mirano; but also in Milan, where the M5S won only 17% in Milan itself but won well over 20% in surrounding municipalities – most of which formed part of a solidly left-wing proletarian hinterland (‘Red Belt’) under the First Republic. In Rome, the left won the capital city itself but the M5S won a lot of the city’s suburban areas; including working-class Guidonia Montecelio and Monterotondo (33% in both) but also Fiumicino (36%), Aprilia (35%) and Civitavecchia (35%). It also won Tarquinia (33%), Viterbo (32%) and Rieti (32%). In parts, there appears to be a superficial correlation between municipalities were the PCI did well in the 1970s and the 1980s and the municipalities won by the M5S.

Urban and suburban areas concentrate well educated young and middle-aged voters, which seem to have formed the core of the Grillist base. The M5S clearly won both working-class and middle-class voters in urban and suburban areas. It would be interesting to compare the M5S’ support at a municipal level in these areas with variables including unemployment. Urban and suburban areas would likely be the most sensitive to Grillo’s style of campaigning; middle-aged voters, lower middle-classes and the working-class have also suffered disproportionately from austerity measures and economic reform, and their Grillist vote expresses the despair of well-educated voters who have lost their jobs and many of whom are forced to seek employment in other regions or in other countries.

Southern Italy is a politically volatile regions, and factors such as ideology play a less important role in forming voting patterns than in northern Italy. In the 2012 local elections, the M5S did not really do all that wel in southern Italy, leading some to think that it would have a tougher time breaking through the old walls of clientelism and political traditionalism in southern Italy. But in the Sicilian regional elections in October 2012, it surprised all observers by winning 18% of the presidential vote and 15% of the list vote. In some cases, the M5S still had some trouble breaking through in rural areas of the south, particularly in Campania, Basilicata, Calabria and parts of Apulia; at the same time, however, the Grillists did extremely well in most urban areas in southern and insular Italy.

% vote for the M5S by comuni in Sicily, Chamber of Deputies (source: YouTrend)

Sicily was the M5S’ best region, winning 33.5% of the vote in the Chamber of Deputies and the Sicilian provinces of Trapani (40%!), Ragusa (39%), Siracusa (37%), Caltanissetta (36.6%) and Agrigento (36%) were the M5S’ five best provinces in the country. The Sicilian results are extremely interesting, and somewhat puzzling. The Grillist’s strong performance may be due to them already having a base of elected officials in Sicily since October 2012 – the M5S also did quite well in Parma province (29%), where they have held the mayoralty of Parma since last year.

Politics in Sicily and other parts of the Mezzogiorno tends to be less ideologically-driven and more volatile than politics in northern Italy. Ideology and partisanship is a factor, but the personality of the candidate tends to play a much stronger role in the south and voters tend to be drawn to populism. The SEL’s strong performance in Apulia (6.5%), Basilicata (5.9%) and Molise (5.5%) confirms this; these are three Catholic and small-c conservative regions which are not usually associated with the SEL’s ecosocialist ideology. Rather, the SEL’s vote in these regions was a friends-and-neighbors vote for regional favourite son Nichi Vendola (regional president of Apulia).

Hence, southern and insular voters were likely drawn to Grillo because of his strong personality and his populist style – two things which southern voters tend to like in their politicians. In Sicily and the south, the Grillists likely took most of their votes from the Berlusconian rights (though they took a lot from the left as well).

In Sicily, the results at the comuni level tell us some things about the nature of Grillist support on the island. Even if his support was, once again, spread relatively homogeneously, there are a few regions which stand out. Firstly, the five aformentioned provinces are located on the southern or southeastern/southwestern coast of the island; he did not perform as well along the northern coast, particularly in the province of Messina (25.7%). Secondly, the Grillist vote was – once again – strongest in urban and suburban areas – 33% in Palermo (and even higher in some surrounding towns), 39.6% in Trapani, 38% in Marsala, 43% in Mazara del Vallo, 41% in Sciaccia, 37% in Agrigento, 39.7% in Caltanissetta, 43% in Vittoria, 41% in Ragusa, 40% in Modica, 35.3% in Siracusa, 42% in Augusta (an industrial area with a big petrochemical refinery), 32% in Catania (even higher in surrounding towns) and a low of 27.7% in Messina. He did not do as well in small towns and villages, especially in mountainous areas in the province of Palermo and Messina. Thirdly, and rather interestingly, the M5S’ map shows a superficial (although quite imperfect) correlation with those municipalities where the PCI used to poll well in the 1970s and 1980s. Trapani was also the only Sicilian province to vote for the republic in 1946; the republican vote was also stronger in those southern provinces where the M5S performed best.

While the Grillist took more from the right than from the left in Sicily and southern Italy – a region where the Berlusconian right has usually performed better than the left since 1994 – the M5S likely took more from the left in Marche, a traditionally solidly left-wing region in the Red Quadrilateral. Marche and Abruzzo are two other rather puzzling results.

Interestingly, in both regions – particularly Abruzzo – it is striking how the M5S performed best in urban/suburban areas, along the coast and in other low-lying areas while it did not do as well in mountainous regions. Similar patterns are also apparent in parts of northern and central Italy – for example, in Emilia-Romagna, the M5S did not do as well in the Apennines; and it performed poorly in the Alps. Is this only a pure coincidence and geography cannot explain anything about Grillist support? After all, the Grillist vote was very high in a bunch of rural mountainous villages in Liguria.

Or could it still be the beginnings of a (partial) explanation of the Grillist vote? Perhaps mountainous villages were more permeable to Grillo’s unorthodox style of campaigning – based on the internet and organizing large rallies in the piazzas of main towns (both of which would be more likely to reach a urban or suburban clientele) – and perhaps did not experience a ‘late swing’ to Grillo as a result? Could relative isolation from the main modes of communication and transportation still have an impact on the diffusion of new political ideologies in 2013?

In northern Italy, the M5S certainly stole a lot of votes from the Lega Nord – particularly in the Veneto. However, exploring the results at the comuni level reveals that there is no correlation – on the contrary, if there is a correlation it is probably a negative one – between the Lega Nord’s results and the Grillist vote. In Lombardy and the Veneto, the M5S polled best in urban and suburban areas – there is a noticeable ‘halo’ effect around Milan and Venice – or in other low-lying areas, such as the province of Mantova (the most left-wing province in Lombardy) or the province of Pavia (these areas are often old small industrial centres, which were at the heart of the Industrial Revolution in northern Italy). On the other hand, the Lega Nord usually finds its strongest support in rural areas, particularly the Pedemontana, the region at the feet of the Prealps and in mountainous regions themselves. The Lega won 22.5% in Sondrio, 19.7% in Bergamo, 17.6% in Brescia and 16.1% in Varese – with the exception of Varese, the M5S’ result was below the regional average (19.7%) in all those provinces.

The Grillist vote is a fascinating new political phenomenon, and it certainly merits a much more thorough explanation. Unfortunately, Italy tends to lack academic interest in electoral geography and electoral sociology. The M5S movement is a new populist movement quite unlike the traditional far-right populism seen elsewhere in western Europe; but also different from the left-libertarian populism represented by the Pirate Party in Germany. A more thorough study of its vote, down to the comuni level, would be fascinating and reveal tons about modern Italian society and the socio-political effects of the crisis in Italy.

Monti’s map was rather interesting. In part, it resembles the old map of the DC – strongholds in the north (Veneto, rural Lombardy and Piedmont) and in the conservative south (Campania and Basilicata). Monti did well in northern Italy. He won his best result, 20.7%, in the Trento – but that was largely due to an alliance with Lorenzo Dellai’s local Union for Trentino (UPT) for the Chamber of Deputies. But he still won 11-15% in most northern provinces in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto, Lombardy and the Piedmont. Monti’s reformist and liberal agenda was a fairly good fit for some voters in the north, traditional Christian democrats or reformist right-wingers drawn to Monti’s pro-European centre-right and more repelled by the PdL and the Lega’s shift towards populism and anti-austerity rhetoric. Northern Italy has a strong and vibrant culture of ‘progressive Catholic’ small business owners and entrepreneurs who formed the backbone of the northern DC up until 1992 and have traditionally backed the right.

By virtue of his alliance with the UDC and the FLI, whose supports lies primarily in the south and Sicily (regions where the DC vote held up better than in the north in the 1990s and where the post-DC centre has been able to do best), Monti performed quite well in the south as well. He won 19.5% in the Campanian province of Avellino, where the DC’s networks of political patronage and clientelism proved surprisingly resilient after 1994 (the PPI won Avellino in 1994 and 1996); and took 10-12% in much of the Mezzogiorno. However, Monti’s performance in the south was quite mediocre. Despite his alliance with Casini and Fini, Monti was unable to hold traditional centrist voters in the south. In these poorer and more populist regions, Monti’s liberal, elitist and pro-European style likely turned off a lot of voters.

Monti’s best results came from Italians abroad – he won second place with 18.4% of the vote in the international vote in the Camera. He took 27% in Europe, 27.8% in North and Central America and 31.2% in Asia/Africa/Oceania (it did not run in South America). This should not be too surprising: a lot of expats, particularly those who lean to the right, tend to be educated professionals or affluent businessmen and these voters would naturally love a centre-right candidate like Monti. By living abroad, they were also relatively unaffected by austerity (therefore less likely to dislike Monti because of it) and perhaps somewhat disconnected from the campaign back home.

Voting Shifts since 2008

An important key to understanding these results is the shift in votes since the 2008 election. YouTrend/igraphics.gr’s maps gives you the ability to visualize the voting shifts since the 2008 election. These shifts are extremely important in helping us understand the ideological and political nature of the Grillist electorate.

Centre-left coalition ‘trend’ since 2008, Chamber of Deputies (trend: % swing since 2008 by comuni compared to the national swing since 2008)

The map on the left shows the ‘trend’ in the centre-left since the 2008 election: municipalities shaded in green indicate areas where the swing against the centre-left was smaller than the national average; those shaded in red indicate areas where the swing against the centre-left was larger than the national average. Nationally, according to YouTrend’s calculations, the centre-left lost 9% since 2008. In my calculations above, I excluded the IdV from the centre-left’s vote share in 2008; YouTrend’s map includes the IdV in the centre-left’s 2008 vote share.

The left suffered heavy loses along the Adriatic coastline in Marche, Abruzzo and Molise. It also suffered similarly heavy loses in the Val di Susa in Turin province, around Genoa and Savona in Liguria, in the Lazio, in parts of Calabria (Cosenza and Crotone), Sicily and Sardinia. In Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, the left generally suffered some large loses as well; though it resisted well in mountainous regions (the Apennines) and in Piacenza (Bersani’s native province in Emilia).

From the map, it is quite clear that the Grillist vote along the Adriatic in Marche and Abruzzo fed heavily on the left. In the Lazio, the Red Quadrilateral, Calabria (and other parts of southern Italy), parts of Liguria and the islands; the left also lost a good number of votes to the M5S. Even in Sicily, the huge Grillist vote also came from the left – notice how the northern parts of the island (Messina and Palermo province) had swings lower than the national average.

In Molise, the loses are due to the IdV being counted as part of the centre-left coalition in 2008. The PD itself actually improved its vote share in the region, where the IdV vote was extremely strong in 2008 (Molise is Di Pietro’s native region).

In the north, the left’s vote generally held up a bit better. The lowest swings against the left came from Lombardy and eastern Piedmont, where the Grillist vote likely came disproportionately from the right. The centre-left had also performed poorly in those regions in the 2008 election, and it could not fall much lower.

PdL ‘trend’ since 2008, Chamber of Deputies (trend: % swing since 2008 by comuni compared to the national swing since 2008)

Berlusconi’s PdL saw its share of the vote drop by about 15.8% since the 2008 election. The PdL’s heaviest loses came from Sardinia, the Lazio, parts of Sicily and Campania, and the provinces of Imperia and Savona in Liguria. The PdL vote held up much better in the north, particularly in the Veneto and eastern Lombardy. In the north, it likely managed to gain a few votes from 2008 Lega Nord voters; helping to limit the bleeding. The PdL could not fall much lower in the left-wing strongholds of the Red Quadrilateral.

Sardinia is fairly interesting. Clearly, both the left and the right lost heavily to Grillo on the island; but the PdL had been doing quite poorly in Sardinia ever since the 2009 European elections (which followed the right’s victory in snap regional elections in Sardinia). In the Lazio, the particularly heavy loses suffered by the PdL – which once again benefited Grillo. The swing in the Lazio was perhaps exaggerated by the dismal state of the PdL and the right in the Lazio after regional president Renata Polverini was forced to resign following a scandal involving embezzlement of public funds by right-wing regional councillors. In Liguria, the Grillist vote – in part a favourite son vote – gained a lot of votes from the right, particularly in the conservative provinces of Imperia and Savona.

While the Grillist vote in the Marche and Abruzzo was clearly a left-wing vote in large majority, the PdL was not immune to the Grillist surge in those regions either.

The Lega Nord lost about 4.2% nationally. Obviously, the swing was largest in those northern regions where it was strongest while the swing was much lower in central regions where it is quite irrelevant.

Lega ‘trend’ since 2008, Chamber of Deputies (trend: % swing since 2008 by comuni compared to the national swing since 2008)

The Lega accounts for most of the centre-right’s loses in the Veneto, where the right’s general performance was surprisingly well. The Lega polled extremely well in the Veneto in 2008 and 2010, doing better than in Lombardy (27% in Veneto and 21.6% in Lombardy in 2008). This year, the Lega won only 10.5% in Veneto, while it won 12.9% in Lombardy. In the Veneto, the Lega mostly lost votes to the M5S, but also to the PdL and Monti.

Regional elections

There were also regional elections – for the regional president and regional legislature – in Lombardy, Lazio and Molise on election day.

Lazio

Regional president

Nicola Zingaretti (PD) 40.65% winning 10 seats
Francesco Storace (La Destra-PdL) 29.32% winning 1 seat
Davide Barillari (M5S) 20.22%
Giulia Bongiorno (FLI-Centre) 4.73%
Sandro Ruotolo (RC) 2.17%
Simone Di Stefano (Casapound) 0.79%
Alessandra Baldassarri (Fare) 0.57%
Giuseppe Rossodivita (amnistia giustizia libertà) 0.44%
Roberto Fiore (Forza Nuova) 0.37%
Luca Romagnoli (Fiamma tricolore) 0.34%
Luigi Sorge (PCL) 0.27%
Giuseppe Strano (Rete dei cittadini) 0.08%

Regional legislature

Zingaretti Coalition 41.63% winning 18 seats
Storace Coalition 32.80% winning 11 seats
M5S 16.64% winning 7 seats
Centre (Bongiorno) 4.42% winning 2 seats
RC 2.09% winning 0 seats
Casapound 0.65% winning 0 seats
Fare 0.5% winning 0 seats
Amnistia giustizia libertà 0.39% winning 0 seats
Forza Nuova 0.27% winning 0 seats
Fiamma tricolore 0.26% winning 0 seats
PCL 0.2% winning 0 seats
Rete dei cittadini 0.09% winning 0 seats

As expected, centre-left Nicola Zingaretti – the president of the province of Rome – was elected regional president of Lazio by a solid 11% margin over Francesco Storace, a former AN regional president (2000-2005) who is now the leader of La Destra. The outgoing PdL regional president, Renata Polverini, was forced to resign following a scandal concerning the embezzlement of public funds by right-wing regional councillors who used those funds for personal purposes or to organize lavish purposes. The scandal left the regional right in disarray, deeply weakened. The young and fairly charismatic Nicola Zingaretti, the popular president of the province of Rome, ran a good campaign, and won easily.

The M5S did not do as well in the regional elections; it won 28% in the Chamber election, but its candidate took only 20% of the vote. Given that the right performed only marginally better regionally, many M5S voters at the national level must have voted for the centre-left’s candidate at the regional level. The centre, which won 8.8% in the Chamber election, also did significantly worse in the regional election.

Many Roman politicians go on to play prominent roles in national politics – Francesco Rutelli and Walter Veltroni, two former centre-left mayors of Rome both went on to lead the centre-left coalition in general elections (in 2001 and 2008 respectively). Zingaretti’s victory makes him a potential player nationally.

Lombardy

Regional president

Roberto Maroni (Lega Nord-PdL) 42.81%
Umberto Ambrosoli (PD) 38.24%
Silvana Carcano (M5S) 13.62%
Gabriele Albertini (Monti) 4.12%
Carlo Maria Pinardi (Fare) 1.18%

Regional legislature

Maroni Coalition 43.07% winning 48 seats
Ambrosoli Coalition 37.27% winning 21 seats
M5S 14.33% winning 9 seats
Centre-UDC (Albertini) 4.05% winning 0 seats
Fare 1.26% winning 0 seats

In the most disputed and important regional election, Roberto Maroni – the national leader of the Lega Nord – scored an important win for the Lega and the centre-right in Lombardy, Italy’s most populous region and economic powerhouse. Lombardy is a right-wing stronghold, but the resignation of longtime centre-right president Roberto Formigoni because one of his allies was accused of buying votes from the Calabrian mafia had allowed the left to hope that it could finally score a big win. It was thus a high-stakes contest for both sides: the left hoping for a major win in a right-wing stronghold, and the Lega Nord trying to conquer – with the PdL’s backing – its birthplace and the most important region in northern Italy.

Maroni won by a bit less than 5 points, a wider margin than predicted by polls (all had basically shown a close race) although the centre-left still performed decently considering the national circumstances. The M5S’ candidate did not do as well as her party did in the national election – she won 13.6% (the regional list won 14.3%) while the Grillists won 19.7% in the Chamber election. This proves that a fair number of Grillist voters preferred to vote for the traditional left or right in the regional election. Many of them likely voted for the Lega Nord: the Lega and Maroni’s personal list won 23.2% of the regional list vote put together (13% for the Lega itself), while the Lega won only 12.9% in the Chamber election. Still, a substantial number also voted for the left, which did about 10% better in the regional election than in the general election. One party which did horribly, however, was Monti’s centrist coalition. Although it had a solid candidate (Albertini is a MEP and former Berlusconian mayor of Milan), it won only 4% of the vote – while it won 12.1% in the Chamber.

Maroni’s victory is a major boon for the Lega, which paradoxically finds itself in control of northern Italy’s three most important regions while it is in a precarious shape at the national level.

Molise

Regional president

Paolo Di Laura Frattura (PD) 44.70% winning 3 seats
Angelo Michele Iorio (PdL-UDC) 25.8% winning 1 seat
Antonio Federico (M5S) 16.76%
Massimo Romano (Centre-Fare) 11.01%
Antonio De Lellis (Rivoluzione Democratica) 1.12%
Camillo Colella (Lavoro Sport e Sociale) 0.59%

Regional legislature

Frattura Coalition 50.14% winning 9 seats
Iorio Coalition 27.54% winning 4 seats
M5S 12.18% winning 2 seats
Romano Coalition 8.67% winning 1 seat
Rivoluzione Democratica 0.93% winning 0 seats
Lavoro Sport e Sociale 0.52% winning 0 seats

Angelo Michele Iorio, the incumbent centre-right regional president of the small southern region of Molise (since 2001) lost reelection by a wide margin. He had won reelection by a tiny margin in the 2011 election, but the 2011 election was overturned because of irregularities in the election.  The PD’s Paolo Di Laura Frattura, who had narrowly lost the 2011 election, won in a landslide.

In the general election (Chamber), the centre-left won 28.9% against 28.4% for the right, with the M5S at 27.7%. Iorio actually did worse than his coalition did in the general election – despite his alliance with the UDC at the regional level. The centre-left candidate did much better than the centre-left did in the general election, about 16 points better. Given how the M5S underperformed at the regional level, most of these additional voters simultaneously voted for the M5S in the general election.

The regional elections all show that a substantial number of M5S voters are quite ready for the centre-left (or centre-right). Although the Grillist rhetoric is uncompromising towards other parties, the new Grillist electorate is not as uncompromising as it might appear.

What next for Italy?

On the basis of these results, Bersani’s centre-left coalition has a large majority in the Chamber of Deputies because of the electoral system and the national supermajority bonus. However, the Senate is deadlocked. Bersani’s centre-left coalition narrowly emerged with a plurality of seats – 123 – but fell far short of the 158 seats needed to form an absolute majority on its own.

Before the election, when it looked as if Bersani would win by more than a point, most had predicted that even if the centre-left was to lack an absolute majority, it could easily form an alliance with Mario Monti’s centrist coalition in the Senate and cobble together a more or less solid governing majority. That was not to be. Both Bersani and Monti did horribly, and the result is that even when put together, the centre-left and the centre lack an absolute majority on their own. They hold 142 seats in the Senate, and at least 158 seats are needed for an absolute majority (and, ideally, a stable government in Italy needs more than a bare absolute majority in the Senate to protect itself from defectors – just ask Prodi).

In a lot of bicameral countries – like in Spain for example, this would not be a major problem because the lower house is often the more powerful of the two houses and a government is able to govern even if it lacks a majority in the Senate. Italian bicameralism, however, is ‘perfect bicameralism’ – both houses are equals, they must both approve bills (and no one house can override the other house’s opposition) and – most importantly – a government may only be formed and then continue to govern as long as it enjoys the confidence of both houses. A government, however, does not necessarily fall if one of its bills is rejected by one house.

The new legislature only convenes on March 15, so Bersani and the other parties have until that date to try to reach an agreement. As per the Italian constitution, the President – Giorgio Napolitano – would likely appoint Bersani to form a government. The constitution gives him ten days following his appointment to receive the confidence of both houses.

Bersani needs to find at least 16 senators to obtain the confidence of the Senate, where abstentions seem to be counted as votes against the government. Bersani could either turn to Berlusconi’s PdL and form an unprecedented and unruly Grand Coalition with the right, or he could turn to the M5S and lobby individual M5S senators to gain their support.

A coalition with Berlusconi would have been disastrous for both sides – and it would have been the best thing ever for Grillo. There are differences between Bersani and Berlusconi, and a government which includes both of their parties would have been unruly, chaotic, unstable and unable to take action on any major issue (economic reform, corruption etc) because of deadlock between both parties. A coalition between the two old coalitions of Second Republic politics would have been perfect, politically and electorally, for Grillo. Neither the centre-left nor the centre-right were ever warm on the idea to begin with. SEL leader Nichi Vendola flatly opposed any coalition with Berlusconi and Bersani recently closed the door on any such deal.

The only option for Bersani is now to seek the confidence of at least 16 (if not more) Grillist senators. Beppe Grillo has always refused any electoral coalitions or political alliances/deals with the traditional parties, always preaching “a plague on both their houses”. Grillo’s rhetoric brands both traditional parties/coalitions on the left and right as corrupt parasites which must be overthrown and replaced with a new political order and a new political system. Bersani has recognized his precarious position and has said that he is willing to offer various concessions to the M5S – supporting a Grillist to be President of the Chamber, electoral reform and new laws against corruption. He has also more or less signaled that this would be a short-lived government, which would focus on electoral reform and anti-corruption legislation, before quickly returning to the polls – perhaps as early as the fall.

Grillo, as noted above, is the central icon of his movement. Although he claims to reject traditional party discipline and partisan hierarchy, and claims that the M5S is a movement rather than a political party; it is quite clear that Grillo is the leader of the movement/party/whatever and that he controls the M5S with an iron hand. For example, he expelled two M5S members in December 2012 – one local councillor for appearing on TV, and one regional councillor for daring to speak out about internal democracy in the M5S. The only other rather prominent and well-known figure in the M5S is Grillo’s right-hand man, Gianroberto Casaleggio – an entrepreneur and businessman. Casaleggio is a controversial figure, his opponents say he is a shadowy and mysterious ‘guru’ who controls the Grillist machine from behind the scenes.

However, the Grillist movement is thrust into uncharted waters now. The M5S now has 163 parliamentarians (109 deputies, 54 senators). Almost all of them are political novices with no prior parliamentary or even political experience. Its new caucus includes a wide array of students, businessmen, activists, environmentalists, academics, researchers and young men and women. Their leader, Beppe Grillo, did not run and will not be in Parliament – he will continue to control the movement through his blog, from the outside.

The movement’s new parliamentarians are newbies in Parliament, but they are the real kingmakers who will make or break any government and decide the country’s future. How will they act? Grillo is ‘radical’ and intransigent. He has refused any deal or parliamentary pact with Bersani, and has announced that Grillists will not give their confidence to the centre-left or anybody else. Will the new Grillist deputies follow the words of their leader and flatly deny confidence to any other party?

As a new movement born – in large part – on the internet and recruiting from different social horizons, many in the M5S’ caucus have made clear that they will act independently as parliamentarians, and vote their conscience rather than adhere to any party line or subject themselves to partisan discipline. Not much – if anything – is known about the new Grillist parliamentarians, but perhaps a good number of them are more pragmatic than their leader, and more inclined towards reaching consensus. Apparently, by the comments on his blog, Grillo’s announcement that he would not vote in favour of any government, did not go down all that well with many Grillist activists. There are signs that the Grillist electorate and perhaps the caucus is more pragmatic and would be amenable to endorsing a short-term Bersani government which focuses on electoral reform and anti-corruption laws. Some new Grillist deputies have openly said that they would support legislation which they judge to be ‘good’.

Canadian readers will be familiar with the experience of the Progressive Party in Canadian politics in the early 1920s. The M5S is by no means identical – the Progressives were always a sectional party, the M5S is anything but a sectional or regional party. However, like the M5S, the Canadian Progressives were a new movement which burst onto the scene. It represent political interests and voters which other parties had not been able to represent or accommodate, and expressed the alienation of a certain segment of voters from the traditional party system and their policies. And although the issues behind the rise of both parties are separated by over 90 years and were quite different, there were still some similarities. Like the M5S, the Progressives made a big splash in their first election (in 1921, they were the second largest party ahead of the Conservatives) and their novice MPs were forced into assuming major political responsibilities. The subsequent experience of the Progressives might be parallel to that of the M5S today.

The Progressives were quickly wrecked by internal divisions. You had the so-called “Liberal-Progressives” whose focus was on redressing short-term economic conditions for their region/electorate and integrating the traditional partisan system; many of these MPs later joined the governing Liberal Party. On the other hand, you had the “Gingers”, a radical group of novice MPs which wanted a whole new political system (they opposed representative democracy and supported some kind of group government/corporatism) and wanted more far-reaching social reforms. They refused to subject themselves to partisan discipline. Many Gingers went on to form what is today the NDP.

Could the M5S, which also has a large caucus of first-time novice parliamentarians, have the same experience as the Progressive Party? Could more pragmatic members integrate the traditional party system or at least collaborate with the traditional parties, like the Liberal-Progressives did in Canada in the 1920s? Seeing M5S parliamentarians ‘institutionalize’ themselves by integrating the current political system is certainly what the centre-left and other established parties would love to see.

For now, Bersani’s path to confidence in the Senate is to win the support of individual M5S senators. Grillo has virulently attacked him, but Bersani – to his credit – has appeared quite good at maneuvering these treacherous waters thus far and he understands that while he will not be able to convince the entire M5S or its leader, he could be able to win individual M5S senators to his side. If he does succeed in winning the confidence of the Senate, he will rely on individual M5S parliamentarians who will offer him case-by-case support for legislation. This is what is currently happening in Sicily – the regional governor, on the centre-left, lacks a legislative majority, but he wins supports on a case-by-case basis from M5S representatives. This could provide a major divide within the M5S, but it seems to be the option which most Italians – and most M5S voters – prefer.

Nevertheless, whatever emerges from the Senate after March 15 will not last for very long. The main word coming out from these election is ‘ungovernable’. Indeed, the country appears to be ungovernable and early elections by the end of 2013 seem nearly inevitable.

The two houses will need to elect a president (speaker) once they convene. Their next task – which they cannot ‘duck’ – is the election of a new President once President Napolitano’s seven year term draws to a close in April-May. Napolitano is eligible to run for reelection, but he has said that he will not seek reelection. The Italian President is elected by Parliament and regional delegates; any candidate requires a two-thirds majority to be elected on the first three ballots and only an absolute majority in the fourth and subsequent ballots. Therefore, electing a President will require a deal between the centre-left, the M5S and/or the centre-right. Mario Monti was once seen as a favourite for the ceremonial office, after his participation in this election it seems less likely. A number of names are swirling around, one of the favourites might be Giuliano Amato, a former centre-left Prime Minister who might be acceptable to the centre-right.

The constitution does not allow for the Parliament to be dissolved in the last six months of the President’s term, meaning that dissolution and early elections are impossible until May-June at the least.

Interestingly, the Italian constitution allows for the President to dissolve one or both chambers. This could allow for a snap election only for the Senate; this seems rather unlikely as there have never been elections for only a single house of Parliament in Italy, and it would likely be poorly received by the electorate.

If Bersani is able to cobble together a short-term government to prepare for new elections at the end of the year or early next year, one of the main issues he will face will be electoral reform. This election proved how unfair and unrepresentative the current electoral system is. The 2006 and 2008 resulted in a Parliament more or less representative of the voice of the electorate, because two large coalitions won – by far – most votes (99% in 2006, 84% in 2008). This year, no coalition won more than 30% of the vote and the traditional left and right blocs won only 59% of the vote together. The supermajority bonus in the Chamber of Deputies allowed the centre-left, on 29.5% of the vote, to win 54% of the seats.

The Gallagher Disproportionality Index, which measures for ‘disproportionality’ in election results by comparing the popular vote to the seat totals, was 17.34 for this election – higher values represent a more disproportional outcome, and indices above 10 tend to be quite disproportional. The indice for the 2008 Italian election was 5.7 and this is, by far, the most ‘disproportional’ election result in Italy since the war. Quite tellingly, with this result, Italy currently has the second most ‘disproportional’/unrepresentative legislature in the EU after France (17.66) and ahead of the United Kingdom (15.1). But unlike either France or the UK, Italy officially uses proportional representation.

Almost everybody agrees on the need for a new electoral law, which might be in place before any new election. But there is probably a lot of disagreement as to what electoral system should be used instead. The PD seems partial to the “French” system, with two-round voting in single-member constituencies. The M5S has often criticized the disconnect between MPs and their constituents, a disconnect made worse by the fact that a single individual may run for election in multiple constituencies and then choose which constituency they will represent. Italy already experimented with single-member constituencies between 1994 and 2005, when most deputies and senators were elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies and a smaller number elected by a PR list vote. The PD would like any electoral system which would narrow the field to two major parties, but Italy is always going to be a multi-party system. The experience with FPTP in the 1990s did not see a narrowing of the field to two parties, rather the coalitions on both sides distributed seats between the various component parties. And now, with the rise of M5S, the establishment parties might prove cooler on single-member constituencies.

Other options likely include a “German” system (either MMP or parallel voting), purer proportional representation, a reform of the current system with either a much smaller majority bonus (and changes in the Senate majority bonus system) or a “Spanish” d’Hondt PR system at a constituency level which would advantage larger parties.

In the meantime, Italy’s economy is still is a perilous position. The news of the results – Berlusconi’s near-victory, the rejection of Monti’s policies by voters, the Grillist wave and ungovernability – sent financial markets into panic mode. European markets dropped, the Euro dropped and Italian sovereign bond yields jumped. The results in Italy may have brought the Euro crisis back to centre stage and reopens the door of a Eurozone breakup. Foreign reactions to the results of the Italian election were almost overwhelmingly negative. The Economist opined that “confronted by the worst recession in their country since the 1930s and the possible implosion of Europe’s single currency, the people of Italy have decided to avoid reality.” Peer Steinbrück, the gaffe-prone candidate of the German SPD in the German federal elections this fall created a mini-crisis when he called Grillo and Berlusconi ‘clowns’.

Although Italians will probably return to the polls before long, this election will likely mark a decisive in Italian political history. Berlusconi was not eliminated and trounced as many had predicted and wished, but he is no longer the ‘central’ figure of Italian politics (although he remains very influential and important). The traditional left-right polarization was disturbed by the Grillist wave, which represents a fascinating new form of populist movement unlike other existing populist movements in western Europe. This election may not be as significant and epoch-making as the 1994 election, but it does mark at least the beginning of the end of the ‘Second Republic’ political system.

What will replace it is very unclear. Will the M5S be a passing fad and go the way of so many other populist movements, or will it become a major political actor for years to come? Where will the Italian left and right go from here? How will the Italian right manage the necessary transition to a post-Berlusconi era when Berlusconi fully retires or leaves politics? Italian politics is entering uncharted waters, and it is more unpredictable than ever.

Election Preview: Italy 2013

Legislative elections will be held in Italy on February 24 and 25, 2013. All 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) and 315 members of the Senate (Senato della Repubblica) are up for reelection. In addition, there will be regional elections (direct election of the regional president and the regional legislautre) in Lazio (Latium), Lombardy and Molise.

Italy’s Electoral System

The Italian electoral system is the dictionary definition of convoluted and absurd. The current election law for the Parliament was adopted in 2005, sponsored by then-interior minister Roberto Calderoli, the law’s namesake. It is commonly known as the porcata (a ‘shitload’, which is how Calderoli described his own law) or the legge porcellum (piglet law). The Italian electoral system is based on closed party-list proportional representation, but it is a significantly altered form of PR which automatically guarantees the winning electoral coalition an absolute majority in the lower house, though not in the Senate.

The Chamber of Deputies has 630 seats. 617 of these seats are elected in 26 multi-member constituencies in Italy proper – these constituencies correspond to the administrative regions, although six of Italy’s regions (Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Lazio, Campania, and Sicily) have two or more (Lombardy has three) constituencies. 12 additional seats are elected by Italians living abroad in four international constituencies, and one member represents the autonomous region of the Aosta Valley. For the 617 seats, voters vote for closed party lists. These parties are allowed to form formal electoral coalitions with other parties whereby they still run separately but their votes will be counted together (for certain purposes). To be recognized as such, however, a coalition must win over 10% of the vote together; if a coalition does not win over 10% its constituent parties are treated as unaffiliated separate parties. Individual parties must win over 4% of the vote to qualify for seats; however, parties representing “linguistic minorities” (read: German-speakers in South Tyrol/Südtirol; the clause also applies in Friuli-Venezia Giulia) may win seat(s) if they win over 20% of the vote in one constituency.

The initial allocation of the 617 seats between qualified coalitions and parties is based on largest-remainder PR. However, the Italian electoral system for the Chamber has a big ‘majority bonus’ (similar to the one in Greece): if no coalition has won 340 seats (55%) on its own, the coalition is automatically awarded 340 seats – ensuring that it has a substantial absolute majority even on a weak mandate (say, 35% of the vote). From my understanding of the law, however, the majority bonus only applies to coalitions and not parties. If a party which is running individually were to out poll all coalitions on its own, it would not – as far as I know – receive the 340 seats bonus. The remaining 277 seats are apportioned to the other qualifying coalitions or individual parties with largest-remainder PR.

Within coalitions, the seats are allocated to the various component parties through the same method. Coalition parties must win at least 2% of the vote to qualify for seats – there is, however, an absurd twist: the largest coalition party below the 2% threshold also receives seats. The linguistic minority clause applies to coalition parties as well. The apportionment of seats between the 26 constituencies is weird and confusing, taking place later and sometimes resulting in a change in the number of seats in each constituency. These constituencies are also quite meaningless because candidates may run in more than one constituency. In 2008, Silvio Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini topped their party’s lists in all constituencies.

The single deputy from the Aosta Valley is elected through FPTP. The 12 deputies representing Italian citizens abroad are elected through open-list PR in four multi-member constituencies (Europe with 6 seats, South America with 3 seats, Central and North America with 2 seats and the rest of the world with one seat).

The Senate has 315 directly-elected senators (there are a variable number of nominated senators-for-life), 309 of these seats are elected in Italy and 6 are elected abroad. The electoral system is basically the same as the one used for the lower house, with a few important modifications and some regional peculiarities. The major difference is that the allocation of seats and the majority bonus takes place at the regional, and not national, level. The majority bonus – all but three regions have a bonus accounting for roughly 55% of the seats – is allocated at the regional level, meaning that different coalitions will win the majority bonus in different regions. Therefore, unlike the Chamber where the winning coalition at the national level is ensured a comfortable majority, regardless of its margin of victory or popular vote total; in the Senate, there is no guarantee that a winning coalition will be able to gain an absolute majority – and if it does it will naturally be far more tenuous than its lower house majority.

The thresholds (applied at the regional level) for coalitions, component parties and individual parties are higher in the Senate. Coalitions must win 20% of the vote to qualify for seats, individual parties need 8% and parties within a coalition need 3%.

This system has regional peculiarities. While all regions are guaranteed a minimum of 7 seats, the small region of Molise elects only two senators and there is no majority bonus in the region. The region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol has seven seats, but six of these seats are elected in single-member constituencies with one final seat elected through compensatory PR. Like in the Chamber, the Aosta Valley’s single seat is elected by FPTP and the 6 members for Italians abroad are elected by open-list PR in four constituencies (Europe with 2 seats, South America with 2 seats, Central and North America and the rest of the world with 1 seat each).

This confusing electoral system has been the subject of controversy and political debate since the start. The focal point of much of the criticism is the majority bonus, and how it is applied differently in the two houses. In the Chamber, the huge majority bonus given the winning coalition tends to significantly overrepresent the winning coalition at the expense of the losing coalitions and parties. While in the two general elections fought under the law (2006 and 2008) the winning coalition won a large enough number of votes to prevent egregious distortions, at the local level (local elections are fought using a similar system) there have been many cases of lists winning huge majorities with a small number of votes. While the principle of regional representation in the Senate is a laudable idea in a relatively decentralized country like Italy, in practice the regional majority bonuses make the Senate a source of constant headaches for many government. The Italian parliamentary system is based on perfect bicameralism, where both houses have the same powers and the incumbent government requires the confidence of both houses to continue governing. The regional majority bonuses in a regionally polarized country such as Italy may, as in 2006, result in near-deadlock in the Senate – a major contributing factor to continued governmental instability and the difficulty of governing in Italy.

The electoral system also incites small parties – which would struggle to survive independently – to tie themselves to bigger coalitions in a bid to win seats in Parliament and have a chance to have leverage over the larger coalition. Especially in the Chamber, the law discriminates against small non-coalesced parties in favour of just as small (or even smaller) parties in coalition with larger parties.

There was, again, talk of changing the electoral law before the elections but it appears that it was another false alarm. This election will be fought under the 2005 law again, but as it becomes ever more unpopular – even with its former backers on the right – there is a chance that the law could be changed after the election.

The First Republic and its Demise (1946-1994)

There have been two clear eras in Italian politics since the country became a republic in 1946. The first era, widely known as the First Republic, lasted between 1946 and 1994. The second – and current (for now) – era, dubbed the Second Republic, began in 1994. There is little overlap between these two political eras; there was a major break between the two ‘republics’ in 1994. What makes this election particularly interesting, even more so than past elections, is that Italy might be standing at a turning point in its political history. There are some indications that we might be witnessing the end – or at the very least the beginning of the end – of the Second Republic and the rise of the ‘Third Republic’ in Italian politics.

The DC, Italy’s natural governing party between 1946 and 1994, presented itself as the ‘shield’ against communism

The First Republic is commonly associated with extreme governmental instability, marked by cabinets coming and going and a rapid succession of Prime Minister (Presidents of the Council of Ministers, or Presidente del Consiglio dei ministri). Indeed, most cabinets were short-lived, lasting on average only 11 months. However, this instability was more apparent than real – it was ‘stable instability’ if you will. Italian governments between 1946/1948 and 1994 were dominated by the Christian Democracy party (Democrazia Cristiana), a big-tent anti-communist and centrist party which participated in all governments between 1946 and 1994 and held the office of Prime Minister for most of this period. The DC’s major rival was the Italian Communist Party (PCI), one of the most powerful communist parties in Western Europe at the time though also one of the most moderate communist parties – the PCI broke with Moscow in the 1970s and shifted towards ‘Eurocommunism’. The PCI participated in the first governments after the war, but after being kicked out in 1947, it never participated in any other national governments. It retained a solid electoral base and was the major opposition to the DC-led cabinets, but it never stood a chance at forming a government on its own throughout this period.

The First Republic’s political system was dominated by political parties – the era is often called, derogatorily, a partitocrazia (particracy). The Prime Minister, in contrast to the theory of the Westminster system, was fairly ineffectual and could not act as a true executive himself. Instead, party leaders held considerable power. Political parties – especially the DC – were composed of various semi-official factions with their leaders, members, bases and sources of financing. The power struggles between warring partisan factions was the main reason for the apparent political instability: cabinets needed to be reshuffled regularly in accommodate various factions or other allied parties, on the basis of events which had indicated the power of one faction/party over another.

Italy has always been a multi-party system, and the First Republic’s closed-list PR system with a low threshold allowed for the proliferation of various parties. Besides the DC and the PCI, the other major force of Italian politics throughout this era was the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), which hovered between 9% and 14% during the First Republic. The PSI originally maintained close ties with the PCI; the two parties ran a common slate in the decisive 1948 election. However, the PSI broke with the PCI – the dominant force of the left after 1948 – over the Hungarian invasion in 1956 and by 1963 the PSI responded to the DC’s overtures and started participating in centre-left coalition governments with the DC and other parties. In the 1970s, under Bettino Craxi – who served as Prime Minister between 1983 and 1987 – the party moved further to the right and became an integral part of the political ‘system’ and establishment.

Three other parties were the mainstays of most DC governments during the First Republic: the Italian Liberal Party (PLI), the Italian Republican Party (PRI) and the Italian Democratic Socialist Party (PSDI). The PLI was a carryover from the inter-war era, when the party had represented the old right-wing (what would pass as conservative in the rest of Europe was known as ‘liberal’ in Italy after unification because of the circumstances of how unification came about) tradition. After the war, the PLI was displaced as the main right-wing force by the DC and managed to salvage support only in Southern Italy, where old Liberal oligarchic networks had been left relatively unscathed by the war. The party shifted to the right in the 1950s and 1960s before moving towards the centre in the 1970s, becoming a vaguely centre-right party which was an integral part of most DC-led governments.

The PRI predated the republic as well, having been the political avatar of the old democratic/republican movement under the monarchy (what would have been styled liberal in other European countries at the time). Its raison-d’être having been republicanism, the PRI’s influence declined somewhat until it regained support in the 1980s. It became a vaguely liberal centre-left party, and an integral part of almost all DC-led cabinets after the 1960s.

The Italian Democratic Socialist Party (PSDI) was founded in 1947 by the anti-communist wing of the PSI, led by Giuseppe Saragat, which opposed the PSI’s alliance with the PCI in the 1948 election (the two parties ran a common slate, the Popular Democratic Front, which was heavily dominated by the PCI). After winning 7% in 1948, the PSDI’s support stabilized at 3-4% until the late 1980s. Professing to be a modern social democratic party, the PSDI quickly became a venal party largely devoid of ideology and operating as a consistent junior partner in almost all DC-led cabinets after 1948.

Excluding smaller parties which won seats during this time period, the only two opposition parties throughout the era were the PCI and the Italian Social Movement (MSI). The MSI, a neo-fascist party, was formed in 1946 by fascist veterans and supporters of the former regime. As a political party which participated in elections, the MSI was forced to adapt itself to the constraints of the democratic environment and tended to downplay old-style fascist rhetoric. The party was divided between a northern-based radical and ideological neo-fascist wing and a southern-based authoritarian conservative wing which was less dogmatic and radical than the neo-fascist faction and tried to integrate the MSI into the mainstream right. The party oscillated between 5 and 6% support for most of its history, though it won up to 9% of the vote (in 1972). Most of its support came from southern Italy, where the fascist regime’s oligarchic conservative networks had been left unscathed by the war (the south had not suffered a bloody civil war after 1943).

The ‘stable instability’ of the First Republic created a corrupt and fossilized political system in which a few political parties and their powerful leaders entrenched themselves in power and shared the spoils of power amongst themselves. This system extended beyond cabinets and the civil service, state-owned conglomerates were controlled by prominent politicians or their friends. The different governing parties came to carve up their own personal preserves in government, claiming various ministries for themselves and awarding them to loyal – though often incompetent – party stalwarts. The politicians who partook in this system of entrenched corruption often became particularly rich. Political parties and their leaders were funded through bribes from contractors and entrepreneurs. In southern Italy, most governing parties were tied to the mafia.

Italy enjoyed a period of relatively strong economic growth between the 1960s and the late 1980s, despite a few troughs and unemployment problems. However, the Italian economy was undermined by the devaluation of the Italian lira and the issuing of excessive amounts of high-interest treasury bonds, which led to a ballooning deficit and public debt in the 1980s. By the late 1980s, economic growth slowed to a halt. Bettino Craxi (PSI Prime Minister between 1983 and 1987) was able to reduce the high inflation rate by eliminating a system by which wages had been automatically tied to inflation, but his government’s high spending policies (including very generous pensions for civil servants and tons of dirty public works projects) led to a worsening debt and deficit problem. By 1994, Italy’s public debt stood at 121% of the GDP.

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 had a major effect on Italian politics, which had been marked by a Cold War confrontation of communists and non-communists since its foundation in 1946. For example, in the watershed 1948 election both major parties (the DC on the right and the PCI-PSI coalition on the left) were proxies for foreign powers – the DC was bankrolled by the CIA, the PCI was funded by Moscow. Even if the PCI under Enrico Berlinguer had broken with Moscow and tried to integrate the system (the ‘historical compromise’), the right continue to play up the ‘red threat’ and anti-communism remained a powerful force on the right. The PCI, at the forefront of the evolution of the European communist left once again, split up in 1991. The party’s leader, Achille Occhetto, founded the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) as a post-communist democratic socialist party. The hardline minority which disagreed with the PCI’s dissolution formed the Communist Refoundation Party (PRC). The fall of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the PCI reduced, for a time, the clear left-right polarization in Italian politics.

The First Republic political system collapsed between 1992 and 1994. The intricate web of corruption, graft and bribery at the highest levels of power – a system nicknamed tangentopoli (bribesville) – was revealed by the Mani pulite investigations (clean hands) which began in February 1992. Initially involving only a PSI stalwart quickly denounced by his nervous party superiors as a rogue element, the investigation eventually uncovered the entire system and caused the political system and the governing parties to collapse. Opposition parties like the PCI were not left untouched, but most of the investigation concerned the governing parties – particularly the DC, PSI, PLI and PSDI.

The explosive revelations of prominent politicians filling their pockets with taxpayers’ money and living on the public dime led to the collapse of the First Republic and the emergence of new political forces. The beginning of the end was apparent by the 1992 elections, in which the governing parties – particularly the DC – did rather poorly. While the PSI, PSDI, PLI and PRI managed to perform well, the DC fell to a record low 30% of the vote. 1992 saw the emergence of the Lega Nord, a northern-based regionalist party which exploited disgust with endemic corruption and the north’s (primarily fiscal) grievances with the central government and southern Italy. The new populist party won 9% of the vote and took votes away from all traditional parties in the north. However, by the time of the 1992 election, only the tip of the iceberg had been in sight. In 1992 and 1993, the investigations uncovered the rest of the iceberg. In 1993, the PSI Prime Minister Giuliano Amato’s government (a DC-PSI-PLI-PSDI coalition) was forced to resign and replaced with a technocratic government led by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, whose cabinet also received the support of the left (PDS and Greens). The traditional parties, which had formed the backbone of an exceptionally solid and stable (despite apparent instability) political system since 1948, all collapsed overnight. The DC dissolved in 1994 and split between its left-wing and right-wing factions. The PSI’s leader, Bettino Craxi (a central figure in the corrupt system) had resigned in 1993 and the party collapsed in 1994. The PLI disbanded in 1994. The PSDI and the PRI kept going, but they become very small parties.

Silvio Berlusconi and the Second Republic (1994-2011)

The 1994 elections saw unprecedented political change and turnover. To begin with, the parties which had dominated the First Republic either disappeared or fundamentally transformed themselves. Above all, however, the 1994 election saw the dramatic emergence of a new political actor and movement on the right which went on to define contemporary Italian politics. Worried by the prospect of a left-wing victory in the 1994 election, wealthy Milanese businessman Silvio Berlusconi – the owner of Fininvest, a financial holding company which controls a football club and a TV station among others – “entered the field” and created his own party, Forza Italia – a populist right-wing party which sought to appeal to disoriented anti-communist/right-wing voters left homeless by the collapse of the pentepartito coalitions. Running a shrewd, well-oiled and classically populist campaign, Berlusconi won the 1994 elections. His party, FI, had formed two coalitions in the run-up to the elections – with two separate parties who disliked one another. In the north, he allied with Umberto Bossi’s federalist/separatist Lega Nord (LN). In the south, he allied himself with Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance (AN). Fini, who became leader of the MSI in 1987, had actively tried to transform the neo-fascist party’s image by dropping its original fascist ideology and becoming a nationalist and conservative party instead. FI won the most votes of any party (21%) and the two right-wing coalitions won 366 seats in the Chamber against 213 seats for the left (an alliance of the PDS, PRC, Greens and other parties including a moribund PSI which won 2%).

Silvio Berlusconi, il cavaliere (source: The Guardian)

Berlusconi formed a coalition government including FI, LN, AN and two right-wing ex-DC parties. This new coalition, however, proved unable to overcome its internal contradictions. Bossi’s Lega Nord advocated a very federalist and decentralist agenda, which clashed with Fini’s AN, which had not yet broken all bridges with neo-fascism and was a centralist and Italian nationalist party. The Lega, alleging that Berlusconi had broken his promises, left the government and the cabinet collapsed in January 1995. He was replaced by Lamberto Dini, a technocrat whose government received the support of the left and the Lega.

A centre-left coalition, L’Ulivo (The Olive Tree), composed of the PDS, the Italian People’s Party (PPI, the left-wing of the old DC), a party led by Dini and smaller parties won the 1996 elections. The centre-left, led by Romano Prodi, a former left-wing Christian democrat, won 285 seats in the Chamber, against 246 seats for Berlusconi’s FI-AN coalition. The Lega Nord’s decision to run separately doomed the right; on its own, the Lega won a record high 11% and 59 seats. The PRC, which had pledged to back a centre-left cabinet, won 35 seats.

Romano Prodi became Prime Minister, serving until the PRC withdrew its support in late 1998. Massimo D’Alema, a former Communist who some claimed engineered the collapse of Prodi’s government, replaced him as Prime Minister and served until 2000. Giuliano Amato returned to office and served a bit over a year until June 2001.

The three successive left-wing governments, especially Prodi’s government, continued Lamberto Dini’s economic policies aimed at restoring the sick country’s economic health to allow Italy to meet the strict parameters of the European Monetary System and eventually join the Euro. Italy’s economic situation in 1994 – a huge public debt, a very large government deficit (over 7% of the GDP) and over 11% unemployment – was catastrophic and most believed that the country would never meet Europe’s strict parameters. However, the government’s policies were quite successful. Italy quickly met the conditions required: its debt fell to 108% of GDP in 2001 and it came close to budgetary balance in 2000 (the deficit was only 0.8% of GDP in 2000). However, the right was able to retain momentum by focusing on the country’s high tax burden. Berlusconi promised tax cuts and a simplification of the tax brackets.

Berlusconi returned to power in 2001. Having patched up with the Lega, Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition (House of Freedoms) won 368 seats in the Chamber against 247 for the centre-left L’Ulivo, led by Rome mayor Francesco Rutelli. Berlusconi had signed a 5-point ‘contract’ which pledged to reduce the tax burden, reduce criminality, raise the minimum pension, reduce unemployment by 50% and make significant investments in public works. Unlike in 1994, Berlusconi was able to create a solid majority cabinet which lasted for the duration of the parliament’s 5-year term (a rarity in Italian politics). A more astute politician, he was able to keep the lid on internal tensions between his federalist, nationalist and centrist allies.

However, Berlusconi’s government eventually became rather unpopular. The country’s economy performed poorly during his term, with sluggish economic growth and a larger deficit than under the previous government. He was unable to deliver on most of his key promises, particularly tax cuts. He did manage to pass a pensions reform, a labour market reform, a judicial reform and an unsuccessful constitutional reform (rejected by voters in 2006). The weak economy and the widespread perception that he had not delivered on most (if any) of his 5 landmark promises hurt Berlusconi and his government. The left was victorious in the 2004 European and 2005 regional elections; all trends seemed to indicate that Romano Prodi, the top candidate of a broad left-wing coalition including the PRC, would win a comfortable majority in the 2006 elections.

Prodi and the left did win a majority in the 2006 elections, but Berlusconi made a remarkable comeback and ended up losing the election by a hair. The left won a strong majority in the Chamber thanks to the new electoral law, but it held a tiny 2-seat majority in the Senate – something which considering the very heterogeneous nature of Prodi’s coalition came back to haunt him shortly down the road. Prodi’s government led a reformist agenda, but it was constantly dogged and weakened by constant infighting between the plethora of parties which made up his big-tent coalition (from the far-left to centre-right). In 2007, the PRC almost brought down his government over foreign policy. In January 2008, a small right-wing ally of the government whose leader objected to same-sex civil unions and was being implicated in a corruption scandal pulled the plug on the government. It lost the confidence in the Senate and was forced to call early elections.

Results of the 2008 general election (Chamber of Deputies), winning coalition by province

Results of the 2008 general election (Chamber of Deputies), winning coalition by province

Berlusconi, like the proverbial phoenix, returned in force in the 2008 snap elections. His coalition won 46.8% against 37.5% for Walter Veltroni’s centre-left coalition. The elections did see a further polarization of public opinion, as the ex-DC centre-right (running independently from Berlusconi) did poorly and the communist coalition was crushed and shut out of Parliament (the first Italian legislature without any communist members since 1921).

Berlusconi’s third term in office was marked by the slow collapse of his government and the country’s economy. Politically, troubles began when Gianfranco Fini, who had been one Berlusconi’s closest allies in the past, started turning against him. Fini increasingly took positions opposed to il cavaliere on issues such as justice or immigration. Following months of conflict, Fini was kicked out of Berlusconi’s party in July 2010 and created his own party, followed by about 30 deputies and 10 senators. By December 2010, having lost its majority in the Chamber, Berlusconi’s government was on the verge on the collapse and was expected to lose a no-confidence vote. Against all odds, however, Berlusconi’s government survived – the motion failed by 3 votes – it was later shown that Berlusconi had bribed opposition MPs to back him in the vote.

Berlusconi remained relatively popular throughout the first two years of his government. The right performed quite well in the 2009 European and 2010 regional elections. However, as the economic crisis deteriorated further and the Prime Minister became embroiled in an even larger number of corruption/lifestyle scandals in 2011, his government’s popularity slowly declined. The beginning of the end came in May 2011, when the Berlusconian right was defeated in a series of local elections (including in Milan, the cavaliere’s political base). Then in June 2011, ‘abrogative referendums’ which sought to repeal controversial laws including a partial immunity for the Prime Minister were succesful, breaking the 50% turnout threshold required to be valid (similar referendums often fail in Italy because turnout is under 50%).

Italy was hit particularly badly by the European debt crisis and continues to suffer the aftereffects of the initial crisis. Italy’s economic troubles date back to the 1980s, when the post-war ‘Italian economic miracle’ ended and the country entered a long spell of low growth, high unemployment, rising deficits and a huge public debt. One of Italy’s main economic ills is its lack of competitiveness; unit labour costs in Italy since the birth of the euro in 1999 have risen must faster than in other EU countries (such as Germany) and productivity has declined.

The Euro debt crisis and Italy’s own economic crisis worsened in the final months of 2011. Berlusconi’s government had largely failed to tackle the crisis and, by November, Italy was said to be on the verge of default. Indeed, Berlusconi’s government since 2008 had seemingly been more preoccupied with il cavaliere‘s judicial travails than actually tackling the crisis; although his government did implement several (controversial) austerity measures between 2009 and 2011. By this point, investors, foreign markets and other European governments – particularly Berlin – felt that Berlusconi had lost all credibility and legitimacy. On November 8, an austerity plan was passed but a majority of deputies abstained (the bill passed with 308 votes, less than the absolute majority). It was clear that the government had finally lost its majority in the lower house, and Berlusconi officially resigned from office four days later.

Italy, by November 2011, was in crisis-mode as it teetered on the cliff. The country’s ceremonial President, Giorgio Napolitano, managed to get the main parties – including the left and right – to agree to a technocrat (or ‘technical’) government to be led by Mario Monti, a former European Commissioner and a respected economist. The new government’s immediate task was to ‘save’ the Italian economy from collapse through urgent reforms. Monti immediately set to work on passing an emergency austerity package which significantly raised taxes and cut pensions. His government also undertook several other major reforms aimed at liberalizing and reforming the Italian economy. His government passed measures aimed at introducing more competition in monopolized and noncompetitive sectors (taxis, pharmacies); a pension reform which pushed the retirement age to 66 and attacked ‘special retirement plans’; a labour market reform along the lines of Denmark’s flexicurity model which reduced guarantees for employees; and got serious on targetting the very high rates of tax evasion in Italy.

The results of Monti’s austerity policies have been a mixed bag. On the one hand, Monti definitely managed to save Italy from default and he took the first steps in righting the ship before it sank. His reformist policies have won him the plaudits of investors, foreign markets and his European partners (especially Angela Merkel). The deficit, which was never really catastrophic in Italy compared to other countries, was projected at 2.6% of the GDP in 2012 (5.4% in 2009). Italy’s public debt, however, remains high at 126% of GDP and is still growing. On the other hand, Monti’s austerity policies have prolonged the recession, the country’s economy shrank by 2.3% in 2012 and will shrink by 0.7% in 2013. Similarly, Monti’s reforms have led to a major increase in unemployment, from 8.4% in 2011 to around 11% today; youth unemployment is even higher at over 36%.

Monti’s government lost the support of Berlusconi’s party in December 2012, compelling Monti to announce his immediate resignation following the approval of the 2013 budget by Parliament. With the budget approved, the Parliament was dissolved and elections scheduled for February 24 and 25 2013.

Silvio Berlusconi has been the single most important figure of Italian politics since 1994. He has fundamentally transformed Italian politics and political culture, and it would not an overstatement to say that the Second Republic was structured around his personality and ideology. While Italian politics remain structured around a traditional left-right opposition, it often seems that the traditional left-right divide is secondary to the Berlusconi-not Berlusconi divide which played a key role in the 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2008 elections. Similarly, under Berlusconi, the Italian right has been transformed. The DC was a centre-right party and it appealed to conservative Catholic voters with its anti-communist and Christian democratic ideology. However, the DC – with some exceptions in the 1950s and 1960s – often preferred to govern from the centre-left in coalition with parties such as the PSI. Economically, the DC implemented fairly interventionist (statist) policies, including a generous welfare state.

However, the Berlusconian right has been significantly to the right of the old DC. Berlusconi rehabilitated and integrated Gianfranco Fini and his party, which most considered an unpalatable neo-fascist party in 1994. He developed, despite a few hitches over the years, a close alliance with Umberto Bossi’s populist and often controversial Lega Nord. Several prominent far-right figures, who were associated with neo-fascist or other far-right movements in the past, have played a major role within the Berlusconian right.

Politically, Berlusconi liked to view himself as the later Italian incarnation of the Reagan-Thatcher. His populist rhetoric and political style, based on a repudiation of the ‘elites’ and the ‘partitocrazia‘ of the First Republic, in addition to his virulent attacks on ‘left-liberal elites’ which he claimed dominated the judiciary (a haven of communists according to il cavaliere) and even the media, marked a sharp break from the centrist and consensual politics of the First Republic. Berlusconi’s rhetoric was close to that of the New Right of the 1980s – which sought to represent the ‘hardworkers’ over the professional political elites and ‘moochers’; which denounced government bureaucracy, wasteful spending, a heavy tax burden and endorsed a tough law-and-order approach to criminality and ‘family values’. This was, again, a departure from the post-war economic interventionism favoured by the DC and its allies. Most would see a fundamental contradiction between Berlusconi’s ostensible reformist neoliberalism and his own personal business interests which he often sought to protect and defend while in government. Berlusconi, however, never saw any conflict between his own personal business interests and that of the country as a whole.

Under Berlusconi, Italian politics have become very personalized and political parties have lost the power and influence they held under the First Republic. The electoral system has favoured this personalization of politics. Parties, not individuals or personalities, dominated under the First Republic. Since 1994, however, Italian politics have become very personalized. This personalization has become very apparent in all Italian elections since 1994/1996, where great emphasis has been placed on the various ‘candidates’ for Prime Minister on all sides of the aisle. Political parties have remained powerful, but they are no longer the powerful political machines they were during the First Republic – where parties had large memberships and maintained close links with organizations in civil society.

On the right, Berlusconi’s political parties have certainly been personal vehicles for his own political ambitions. On the left, opposition to Berlusconi has often been the glue which kept the warring factions and parties of heterogeneous left-wing coalitions since 1994 together. Politicians and parties who chose to stand outside this system, often trying to represent a centrist third-way, have been marginalized and all have failed to become credible alternatives.

2013: Coalitions, Parties, Contenders and Issues

Centre-right led by Silvio Berlusconi

The People of Freedom (Il Popolo della Libertà, PdL): The PdL, currently the largest party in both houses of Parliament, is the latest partisan incarnation of the Berlusconian right, centered and built around the charismatic and populist figure of Silvio Berlusconi.

Silvio Berlusconi is a billionaire businessman who made his fortune with Fininvest, a financial holding company which still controls a football club (AC Milan) and a powerful private media empire (Mediaset). A cloud of secrecy surrounds Berlusconi’s personal wealth and his business empire and his business and political career has been racked with controversy including numerous accusations of conflict of interest stemming from his failure to sell his personal share in his companies after entering politics in 1994. Over the years, Berlusconi has been accused and charged on numerous cases of corruption, bribery, tax fraud, mafia collusion, tax evasion and embezzlement. In October 2012, Berlusconi received his first conviction in a tax fraud involved Mediaset, he was sentenced to four years in jail; but he will ultimately never serve jail time thanks to an amnesty law and the statute of limitations. In all other cases, Berlusconi was either acquitted, saved by the statute of limitations or the trials archived.

Berlusconi is a controversial and colourful character. His extensive control over a large private media empire in Italy has been criticized by numerous analysts who claim that his control of a media empire has stifled freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Italy’s press freedom rankings are pretty atrocious for a western European nation – ranking 57th by Reporters Without Borders and classified as ‘partly free’ by Freedom House. He is also a colourful character with a well-known reputation for making gaffes or insensitive remarks: he compared German MEP Martin Schulz to a concentration camp guard, he complimented Barack Obama on his ‘tan’, said that it was better to ‘like girls than be gay’, made disparaging remarks about Finland and Finnish cuisine and famously annoyed Queen Elizabeth II by yelling at a G20 summit.

Berlusconi is a noted womanizer, something which has gotten him in trouble in recent years. Berlusconi has always made comments about his appreciation for ‘good-looking girls’ and he likes to have ‘good-looking girls’, even those without any political experience or talent, on his party’s electoral lists. However, since 2009 Berlusconi has been embroiled in a number of sex scandals. His second wife, Veronica Lario, filed for divorce in 2009 after he attended a girl’s 18th birthday party in Naples. In 2010, he was accused of having paid for sex with an underage Moroccan dancer (known as ‘Ruby’) and he is currently awaiting trial on charges of underage prostitution.

Berlusconi created his own political party, Forza Italia, only two months before the February 1994 elections. The First Republic system having collapsed with the Mani pulite investigations and all dominant parties of that era having either dissolved or fallen into disrepute because of their involvement in corruption scandals. There was a large electorate on the centre and centre-right which found itself disoriented and politically homeless following Mani pulite, a large electorate ready to be picked up by any ambitious politician. Berlusconi, a charismatic populist and astute politician, with a mastery of media, communications and marketing was that man.

The 1994 election was a success for Berlusconi, whose new party won 21% of the vote. The party and its leader was weakened by his ouster from government in 1995 and the right’s defeat in the 1996 elections, but Berlusconi survived his first dry spell. He slowly reemerged as the leader of the opposition and the Berlusconian right won the 2001 election, in which FI won a record 29% of the vote. In the 2006 elections, however, FI suffered the brunt of loses incurred by the governing right-wing coalition.

The idea of a merger between Berlusconi’s FI and Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance (AN) first came up at the time of the 2006 election. Berlusconi took the initiative by announcing the transformation of FI into a larger party in November 2007, although Fini opposed the idea at the time. Both leaders reconciled before the 2008 election and Berlusconi’s FI and Fini’s AN formed a common list – The People of Freedom (PdL) – the 2008 election. The PdL also included a plethora of small, irrelevant parties on the centre-right and the right including Alessandra Mussolini’s far-right Azione Sociale (AS). The PdL won a fairly impressive 37.4% of the vote on its own in the 2008 election, a hefty sum in Italy’s fragmented multi-party system. The party was officially founded in March 2009.

The alliance between Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini, once widely seen as Berlusconi’s anointed successor, was short-lived. As early as 2009, Fini – now the president of the Chamber of Deputies – became a vocal critic of Berlusconi’s policies and broke from the conservative party line on certain issues. The ambitious heir-presumptive, Fini also took issue with Berlusconi’s personalist and centralist leadership style. Fini supported a more structured party leadership which relied less on il cavaliere‘s charisma. In April 2010, Fini set up his own association within the party and by the end of July he was pushed out of the PdL and created his own group in Parliament.

There was increasing unease within the party after the disastrous showings in the May 2011 local elections, in which the PdL lost its Milanese bastion and failed epically in its quest to win Naples. In response to both of these factors, Berlusconi tried to refresh the party’s worsening image by appointing his justice minister, Angelino Alfano (a Christian Democrat from Sicily), as the party’s secretary and new heir-presumptive. He later announced that he would not seek reelection in 2013. However, as the economic crisis worsened, the PdL became increasingly divided as a number of parliamentarians broke with the party and called on Berlusconi to resign.

The formation of Monti’s technocratic government in November 2011 divided the party. An anti-Monti faction of the party wanted snap elections, but others supported the new government. Ultimately, the PdL opted – reluctantly – to support the Monti government, at the price of breaking the alliance with the Lega Nord and being forcibly associated to the new government. The PdL was a restless and often petulant reluctant ally of the government, which often prevented Monti from doing more on issues such as liberalization or corruption.

The PdL suffered a humiliating beating in the 2012 local elections. Throughout the summer, with polls showing the bloodless party agonizing in third place, it seemed as if the Berlusconian era was over. Even il cavaliere, depressed and demotivated by his resignation in November 2011 and pursued by the courts on various charges, seemed to have accepted that. In October, Berlusconi announced that he would not run in 2013 and set the stage for PdL primaries in December. But Berlusconi, playing a confusing but also rather amusing game of in-and-out, quickly had second thoughts and called off the primary at the end of November. In early December, Berlusconi announced that he would in fact run. On January 7, after a last-minute coalition deal with the Lega, Berlusconi announced that he would lead the party but that, if elected, he would not serve as Prime Minister but rather as finance minister under Angelino Alfano.

The PdL, like FI before it, is a diverse big-tent party which has often struggled to find internal coherence. FI included former members of the DC (Giuseppe Pisanu, Roberto Formigoni, Claudio Scajola), the PLI (Giancarlo Galan, Alfredo Biondi) and the PSI (Giulio Tremonti, Franco Frattini, Renato Brunetta; Berlusconi’s political mentor was Bettino Craxi); as such, it attempted to synthesize these divergent political cultures (christian democratic conservatism, liberalism, reformist social democracy). In good part, today’s PdL is more or less a renamed FI dominated by former FI cadres with conservative ex-AN members as an appendage. There is a regional dimension to the PdL’s internal ideological diversity. Northern members, most of whom came from FI, tend to be libertarians who support fiscal federalism (like the Lega), deregulation and lower taxes. Southern members, many of whom are from the old MSI and AN, tend to be socially conservative but also more statist and authoritarian.

Under Berlusconi, populism has often tended to be the glue which held the various factions together. Since his entry into politics in 1994, Berlusconi – in line with Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher – has sought to present himself as an ‘outsider’ who spoke and understood the language of the ‘common man’; in his first election in 1994 he ran as the right-wing populist outsider, vilifying the old partitocrazia and corrupt establishment politicians of the First Republic, a rhetoric which he has used on-and-off since then. Another aspect of Berlusconi’s populism is his demonization of magistrates (painted as communists) and the left-liberal elites which controlled the institutions and dominated the media (seriously). Under his leadership, there was clear symbolic shift in attitudes towards the Mani pulite investigations of the early 1990s as Berlusconi tried to rehabilitate the fallen political leaders and vilify those who had gone after them. Most of this anti-elitist rhetoric was a self-interested attempt by il cavaliere to rally support for himself against the magistrates who gone after him in various corruption scandals.

Berlusconi is a master populist who excels at electoral strategy, campaigning and political communication. He is not an ideologue, far from it. He has always tried to be all things to all people, in the hopes of building the broadest coalition possible. For the northern petite bourgeoisie, he promised lower taxes; for statist conservative southerners, he promised public works. Berlusconi is likely an asset for his party, given how central he is to the entire party. Forza Italia and even the PdL today function as a personal vehicle for Berlusconi’s political ambitions, he is the boss at the helm of the party and has free reign over a fairly decentralized and poorly structured party.

Geographically, one of Berlusconi’s strengths has been his appeal both in northern and southern Italy. Although the Lega Nord takes right-wing votes away from the Berlusconian right in the north, the PdL is nonetheless quite strong in northern regions such as Piedmont (34% in 2008), Lombardy (33.5%) and the Veneto (27.4%). In the 2008 election, the PdL did especially well in southern Italy; maximizing support from former MSI-AN voters but also unideological voters who had backed Prodi’s coalition in 2006. The party won a very impressive 49% in Campania, the region which includes Naples, and also took over 40% in Apulia, Calabria, Sicily (46.6%), Sardinia and the Latium (the region around Rome, 43.4%). The FI and later the PdL’s electorate has traditionally consisted of small businessman, entrepreneurs (especially prominent in the north), conservative Catholic voters (especially in the south but also in some northern regions), traditional right-wing demographics such as high income earners but also a strong base with manual workers. For example, in 2008, the PdL swept the working-class suburbs of Milan – the old Communist ‘Red Belt’ which surrounds the city.

Berlusconi has transformed himself into a right-wing populist with nationalist inklings for this election. After 1994, Berlusconi and FI had worked hard to gain acceptance as a mainstream European centre-right party and gaining acceptance into the EPP; today, he has reincarnated himself as the anti-system, anti-elitist right-wing outsider he was in 1994. He has railed against austerity, even if he implemented austerity measures as recently as 2011 when he was Prime Minister himself. Quite bitter with Angela Merkel who precipitated his resignation in November 2011, Berlusconi’s campaign has also adopted nationalist and Eurosceptic undertones. He is now a vocal critic of Angela Merkel and Berlin’s actions in Italy’s economic crisis, he has said that the European Fiscal Compact is hampering growth and that the ECB should only be a lender of last resort. Berlusconi’s anti-austerity platform includes a pledge to cut taxes. One of his most popular positions is his promise to abolish and refund the IMU, a very unpopular property tax (to be levied on all residents) recreated by Monti after Berlusconi’s government had abolished a similar property tax (the ICI) in 2008.

Northern League (Lega Nord, LN): The LN is one of Italy’s most famous but also controversial party. The Lega, founded in 1991, is a federalist and regionalist (formerly separatist) party in northern Italy which has played a major role in Second Republic politics, most significantly on the right.

The LN reflects the major regional schism which exists between northern Italy and southern Italy (the Mezzogiorno). Italy’s existence as a nation-state is fairly recent, the country only came to be in 1870; but even following Italian unification the new country struggled to find internal unity. Until fascism, Italian politics were largely dominated by the Piedmontese elites which had spearheaded Italian unification under the King of Piedmont, Victor Emmanuel I. Northern Italy quickly became a ‘European’ industrialized and affluent region. Southern Italy, on the other hand, afflicted by deep socio-economic liabilities, remained (and, to a certain extent, has remained) a poor, agrarian and underdeveloped region. Poverty, social inequality (powerful landowners owned large tracts of land and employed landless labourers) and opposition to Piedmontese centralism led to an upsurge in organized crime (either banditry or mafia activities) and emigration (many southerners moved to North and South America, or northern Italy). In southern Italy, the oligarchic power of powerful landowners and the emergence of the mafia as a potent force in the 1850s diluted any communitarian feelings and created a conservative, individualist and atomized society. Until 1946, southern Italy had been ruled almost exclusively by autocratic regimes who maintained formal feudal structures into the early nineteenth century and which subsequently based their power on support from the rural landowning elite. The relation of the average southern Italian with corruption and the mafia is different than in other places; and to a certain extent, corruption is accepted as part of the political process.

The regional divide was quite apparent in the 1946 referendum, when 54% of Italians voted in favour of the republic. In industrialized, affluent and slightly more progressive northern Italy, two-thirds voted for the republic. In rural, poor and conservative southern Italy, 64% voted for the monarchy. Under the First Republic, the government actively sought to industrialize the south through an ambitious program of land reform and public investments (60% of government investment would go to the south). These policies were largely unsuccessful, as the south became subsidized and dependent on the state while deep regional disparities remained. Unemployment is much higher in the south while average incomes and labour force participation remains lower in the south than in the north.

In northern Italy, particularly in Lombardy and Veneto, the view that “hard-working” northern taxpayers were subsidizing the corrupt and “backwards” south created widespread resentment starting in the mid-1980s. A number of regionalist, federalist or separatist “leagues” started to proliferate throughout northern Italy in the mid to late-1980s, the most prominent of which were Umberto Bossi’s Lega Lombarda and the Liga Veneta. In the 1983 and 1987 general elections, these ‘leagues’ enjoyed weak support. Their first breakthrough came in the 1990 regional elections, when the Lega Lombarda took 19% in Lombardy and the Liga Veneta won 7% in Veneto (leagues also did well in Piedmont and Liguria). The Lega Nord, created in 1991, merged these different regionalist leagues in a single federal structure.

The party’s national breakthrough came in the 1992 elections, when the LN won 9% nationally (56 deputies and 26 senators) and became the fourth largest party in Italy. The Lega was able to exploit the north’s regionalist grievances with the central government and southern Italy, but as a radical anti-system voice, it also benefited from growing disgust with the corrupt partitocrazia just as the tangentopoli system was revealed. The party’s support grew in 1993 (notably winning the local elections in Milan) and 1994, but Berlusconi’s FI cut the grass under its feet and seized some of the party’s anti-system, anti-establishment right-wing support. In the 1994 elections, the party, in coalition with FI, won 8.4% nationally – but thanks to its alliance with FI, it doubled its parliamentary representation and came out with 117 deputies and 56 senators. The Lega originally participated in Berlusconi’s short-lived government in 1994, but it was the party’s decision to pull the plug on il cavaliere within a few months which led to the government’s demise.

Between 1995 and 2000, the party operated independently, having broken off its alliance with the right. At the outset, this new positioning was politically lucrative. The Lega won 10.1% of the vote in the 1996 election (59 deputies, 27 senators), its best result. Buoyed by these results, the Lega adopted a hardline separatist line and unilaterally declared the independence of ‘Padania’ – its name for a sovereign state in northern Italy. However, by 1998 the party’s heyday passed because of internal divisions and damaging splits by prominent leaders. It took a beating in the 1999 European elections, with only 4.5% of the vote nationally. The poor results convinced Bossi that the Lega could only survive in the long term through an alliance with the Berlusconian right. The party de-emphasized separatism and focused on devolution, for a federal country in which the north would have fiscal autonomy.

The alliance with the right, patched up before the 2001 election, held for the 2006 and 2008 general elections as well. The Lega did poorly in the 2001 elections (3.9% nationally); but it held powerful positions in the new Berlusconi government and Bossi developed a close working relationship and alliance with Berlusconi, whose right-wing populism and anti-elitist discourse was quite similar to that of the Lega. The party did poorly in 2006 as well (4.1%). A few months after the 2006 election, Berlusconi’s controversial constitutional reform, supported by the Lega – which would have strengthened executive powers and granted fiscal autonomy to regions (in addition to more powers) – was rejected by the electorate with 61% against. There was a clear regional divide in the vote: northern Italy voted against with only 53% (and Lombardy and Veneto voted in favour with about 55%) while opposition in southern Italy was nearly 75%.

Lega substantially increased its support in the 2008 election (largely at the expense of the PdL), winning 8.3% nationally and emerging much stronger with 60 deputies and 26 senators. The party had gained even more leverage over the government, using its new pivotal position to claim key portfolios and extract policy concessions from Berlusconi. The party’s support kept growing in 2009 and 2010, winning 10.2% in the 2009 European elections and around 12% in the regional elections in 2010. In the 2010 regionals, the Lega compelled the PdL to concede two major regional presidencies to it, and both Lega candidates in those regions (Roberto Cota in the Piedmont and Luca Zaia in the Veneto) eventually won the regional presidency.

However, in 2011, as the government’s popularity fell, the Lega entered a downward spiral and was split by a brewing internal battle between the long-time boss, Umberto Bossi and his deputy, Roberto Maroni. Maroni was a ‘moderate’ within the party and had been quite critical of the Lega’s close alliance with Berlusconi; while Bossi (and Roberto Calderoli) supported the close alliance with the right. He slowly gained more and more power within the party hierarchy. The party did poorly in the 2011 local elections, except in Verona where the incumbent Lega mayor, Flavio Tosi, easily won reelection (but he was a prominent opponent of Bossi’s inner circle). When Berlusconi’s government fell, the Lega broke off its alliance with the PdL and became the leading opposition to the Monti government. It used its position as the opposition to Monti’s cabinet to regain lost support.

The party faced an existential crisis in 2012. In April 2012, it was revealed that Bossi and his inner circle had massively embezzled the party’s public financing funds and used this money to ‘remunerate’ Bossi’s sons, buying them diplomas in Albania and crazy stuff about links with the Calabrian mafia and trafficking in Tanzania. Bossi, the party’s founder and longtime leader, was finally forced to resign and replaced with Maroni.

The Lega’s raison-d’être and dominant ideology is northern Italian regionalism or nationalism. The party continues to use thinly-veiled separatist rhetoric and constantly talks about ‘Padania’, but in reality nobody takes the Lega’s separatist pretensions very seriously and it is widely understood to be a federalist party. It supports the devolution of more powers to the regions and, in particular, fiscal autonomy for regions. Fiscal federalism would allow the northern regions to collect and administer their own taxes, without the central government redistributing (‘stealing’ as the Lega would say) tax revenues to the south. The Lega’s fiscal federalist scheme would like cripple southern Italy, given its dependence on transfers from the central government. The Lega has always been quite successful at exploiting northern Italy’s particular regionalist grievances, presenting the hypothetical ‘Padania’ as an ideal state unencumbered with the rest of Italy, represented as either corrupt, inefficient or a burden on the north. The Lega, like Berlusconi, is populist and anti-elitist.

Outside of federalism, the Lega is more or less a right-wing party, although it has some more left-wing positions (the environment, welfare state, pensions). On economic issues, the party supports low-taxes, small government and small businesses/entrepreneurs. It is Eurosceptic and moderately isolationist. The party’s notoriety also comes from its tough line on immigration, being the most vocal anti-immigration party in Italy. The party has often been widely accused of using racist, hateful and xenephobic rhetoric. The party’s stance on immigration, to a certain extent, pushed Berlusconi on the right on the issue and forced Berlusconi’s last government to adopt tough measures against illegal immigration.

The Lega finally reached a coalition deal with Berlusconi and the centre-right in January. In return for Lega’s participation in his coalition, Berlusconi announced that Alfano would serve as Prime Minister if the coalition won and the PdL supported Roberto Maroni’s candidacy in the concurrent regional elections in Lombardy.

The party’s support, naturally, comes from northern Italy. The Lega has defined the north as everything to the north of the Latium – hence including Umbria, Marche, Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna (which are all traditionally defined as being central Italy). The party’s support in those central regions has usually been limited, although the Lega scored impressive breakthroughs in all of those regions – especially Emilia-Romagna – in 2009 and 2010, the Lega won nearly 14% in Emilia-Romagna in 2010 and even won 6% in Tuscany and Marche. The party’s core northern strongholds are Lombardy and the Veneto, where the Lega won 26% and 35% respectively in 2010. In those regions, the Lega polls best in rural areas, especially in the Pedemontana, the northern region at the feet of the Prealps in the Padanian plain. The party has had more trouble in the Piedmont and Liguria, although it is a major political actor in both regions. At its creation, the Lega stole votes across the ideological spectrum (mostly from DC but also from the PCI, PSI, PLI etc) and the party’s leadership is ideologically diverse with various partisan backgrounds. The Lega Lombarda leadership, including Bossi and Maroni, have left-wing backgrounds; the Liga Veneta’s leadership tends to be right-wing with DC backgrounds. In northern Italy, there is significant ideological overlap between local PdL and Lega cadres.

Great South – Movement for Autonomies (Grande Sud-Movimento per le AutonomieGS-MPA): Grande Sud-MPA is a southern regionalist alliance which will run in 14 constituencies for the Chambers and in six regions for the Senate. The list is a coalition of two groupings: Grande Sud (Great South) and the Movement for Autonomies (Movimento per le Autonomie, MPA). Grande Sud itself is a coalition of three regional parties; namely Gianfranco Micciché’s Sicilian Forza del Sud (Force of the South), Arturo Iannaccone’s Campanian Noi Sud - Libertà e Autonomia (We the South – Liberty and Autonomy) and Adriana Poli Bortone’s Apulian-based Io Sud (I the South).

There is a confusing array of vaguely regionalist parties in Southern Italy. It is certainly debatable to what extent these parties are actually fundamentally and genuinely ‘regionalist’ or autonomist or if they merely empty kleptocratic shells founded by regional political bosses to further their political interests or lobby for their constituencies. None of these parties are separatist and few (if any) may be considered as radical in their demands as the much more powerful and influential Lega Nord. To a certain extent, most Southern regionalist parties have tried to be counterweights to the Lega within the Berlusconian right. They mostly tend to lobby for Southern interests in government – either supporting further devolution of powers (Sicily already has special autonomy with full fiscal autonomy) or pushing for government investments, such as Berlusconi’s ambitious Strait of Messina Bridge between Calabria and Sicily.

The Movement for Autonomies (MPA) was founded in 2005 by Sicilian dissidents from various national centre-right parties and led by Raffaele Lombardo, a former Christian Democrat. The party allied with the Lega to form a common list in the 2006 election, but given the enmity between northern and southern regionalists, the alliance was shortlived. In 2008, the MPA – which had expanded outside of Sicily – ran separately in Berlusconi’s coalition. Winning 1% nationally, it won 8 deputies (and 2 senators) because of the ‘largest coalition party under the threshold’ clause of the electoral law. Lombardo was elected regional president of Sicily in regional elections that same day. The MPA’s political alliances have since been schizophrenic. In 2009, the MPA allied with the far-right but also other regionalist parties (including some in the north) for the Euros and won 2% nationally. In December 2009, Lombardo formed a new regional cabinet excluding members of the national PdL. The MPA’s slow breakup with the PdL and the Berlusconian coalition caused a rift in party ranks as 4 deputies were expelled for the party for supporting the alliance with the PdL. In November 2010, the MPA left the Berlusconi cabinet and announced that it would join the ‘Third Pole’ centrist coalition with Gianfranco Fini and the christian democratic UDC. Lombardo was forced to resign as president of Sicily in August 2012, precipitating early regional elections in which the MPA ran separately from the PdL, backing Gianfranco Micciché (a PdL dissident)’s presidential candidacy.

The Grande Sud is a coalition of the three aforementioned parties. The Forza del Sud was launched by Gianfranco Micciché in late 2010, the longtime regional leader of the FI and PdL in Sicily who wanted to build a broader southern regional parties. However, only a minority of the PdL’s Sicilian deputies followed Micciché in his adventures, and like most ambitious attempts at creating a new coalition/party the scheme has been an unmitigated disaster. Noi Sud was launched in January 2010 by those former MPA members expelled from Lombardo’s party for opposing the divorce with the PdL. The party attracted half of the MPA’s 8 deputies, and is led by Arturo Iannaccone, who represents Campania. Io Sud is an Apulian-based party led by Adriana Poli Bortone, a former AN MEP.

Gianfranco Micciché ran in the 2012 Sicilian regional elections, backed by the Grande Sud, MPA and Fini’s FLI. He won 15% of the vote, placing fourth. The MPA won 9.5% of the list vote, the Grande Sud won 6%. The MPA is in decline at this point, having been badly weakened by divisions and defections. It ultimately agreed to join Grande Sud and rejoin the Berlusconian coalition, although the MPA will run a separate list in Sicily for the Senate (in addition to a Grande Sud list). The MPA won up to 15% in Sicily (in 2009) and it had won 7% on the island in the 2008 general election, but its support will likely be marginal. Given the presence of two other small right-wing lists within the coalition, the Grande Sud-MPA are locked in a tough battle to either break 2% nationally (unlikely) or be the largest coalition party under the threshold.

The Right (La Destra, LD): The Right, or La Destra, is a far-right party which ran independently in the 2008 election (winning 2.4% nationally) but which is running as part of Berlusconi’s coalition this year.

The party was founded in July 2007 by Francesco Storace, a member of the AN. Storace had been the leader of the AN’s most right-wing and ‘unreconstructed’ wing, which was nostalgic of the MSI’s neo-fascist heritage and criticized Gianfranco Fini’s more moderate leadership of the AN. Storace had been critical of Fini’s visit to Israel in which he had described fascism as an absolute evil. Although many felt that Berlusconi had a hand in the creation of the party, to weaken his rival Fini, La Destra ran independently in the 2008 election. Its top candidate was Daniela Santanchè, another AN defector who is known for her controversial views on Islam. The party won only 2.4% nationally and won no seats. The poor result led to a leadership struggle between Storace and Santanchè, the latter supporting an alliance with Berlusconi. Santanchè left the party in September 2008.

La Destra, under Storace, started moving closer to the Berlusconian coalition starting in 2010. The party will run with the Berlusconian right this year, with Storace as the right-wing candidate in the concurrent regional elections in the Latium.

La Destra rejects the far-right or neo-fascist labels, although it allied with the openly neo-fascist Forza Nuova and Fiamma Tricolore in 2008. It is conservative and nationalist, with its economic program including both ‘statist’ planks (strong welfare state) and more libertarian planks (flat tax, fiscal federalism).

Brothers of Italy – National Centre-right (Fratelli d’Italia – Centrodestra Nazionale, FdI-CN): The ‘Brothers of Italy – National Centre-right’ is a new national conservative party, founded in December 2012.

The party was launched by ex-AN members of the PdL (Ignazio La Russa, Giorgia Meloni; Guido Crosetto was not AN however). La Russa, within the AN, had represented the party’s moderate ‘liberal-conservative’ wing which was closest to Berlusconi and FI, and somewhat critical of Fini. Within the PdL, La Russa and the others remained loyal to Berlusconi throughout the Fini breakup. Like most of the PdL’s ex-AN members, the party’s founders opposed Monti’s government. The party’s creation was a calculated move by Berlusconi to create a spinoff for more nationalist and right-wing (anti-Monti) voters who somehow cannot bring themselves to vote for Berlusconi’s party but who nonetheless support Berlusconi’s candidacy.

The party has received little attention or support, and – alongside fellow coalition ‘allies’ GS-MPA and La Destra – it is locked in a tough battle to either win 2% themselves or be the the largest party in the coalition below the 2% threshold.

The party’s name is rather amusing: Fratelli d’Italia, or ‘brothers of Italy’, is the first line (and common unofficial name) of the Italian national anthem. I can’t wait for the O Canada Party or the Star Spangled Banner Party!

The centre-right coalition also includes the Italian Moderates in Revolution (Moderati Italiani in Rivoluzione), Popular Agreement (Intesa Popolare) and Pensioners’ Party (Partito Pensionati).

Italy. Common Good (Italia. Bene Commune) coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani

Democratic Party (Partito Democratico, PD): The PD is the main centre-left party in Italy and the dominant party of the centre-left coalition. The PD was founded in 2007 by the merger of the two largest parties of the post-1994 Italian centre-left – the Democrats of the Left (Democratici di Sinistra) and Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy (Democrazia è Libertà – La Margherita) in addition to numerous smaller parties.

The social democratic Democrats of the Left (DS) was created in 1998 after the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) merged with smaller (irrelevant) parties. The PDS was created in 1991 by the transformation of the Communist Party (PCI) into a post-communist democratic socialist/social democratic party, led by the PCI’s last secretary-general Achille Occhetto. The PCI had been at the forefront of the evolutions of the western European communist left since the 1970s, having broken with Moscow’s autocratic rigidity and adopted a more consensual and moderate ‘Eurocommunist’ line. The PDS was confirmed as the main left-wing opposition force in the 1992 and 1994 elections, winning 16% and 20% nationally in those two elections respectively. In the 1996 election, the PDS, with 21% of the vote, was the largest force in the victorious centre-left coalition led by Romano Prodi. After Prodi’s government fell, Massimo D’Alema, a former Communist, became Prime Minister. Under D’Alema’s leadership, the PDS became a mainstream European social democratic party. In 1998, after merging with smaller ex-PCI, PSI, PRI and DC micro-parties it became the DS. It won 16.6% in 2001 and 17.2% in 2006, remaining the largest party of the centre-left coalition. Despite a small left-wing socialist faction, the DS was firmly controlled by moderate/Third Way social democrats who were avidly pro-European and support orthodox fiscal policies.

Following the collapse of the First Republic system between 1992 and 1994, the DC (Italy’s natural governing party) and the wider centrist (from centre-left and centre-right) coalitions which had led Italy since 1947 were in decrepitude. The DC, a big tent party with a right-wing and a left-wing, split between left and right – more or less between those who backed Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition and those who backed the centre-left coalition. The left-wing of the DC founded the Italian People’s Party (PPI), envisioned to be the main successor party to the DC. The PPI formed its own centrist coalition in the 1994 election, running with DC maverick Mario Segni’s Patto Segni; the PPI won only 11%. The PPI itself split between leftist and rightists in the 1995, with pro-Berlusconi right-wingers going off to form their own party (United Christian Democrats) and the PPI remaining under the leadership of a centre-left majority. Allied with smaller party and supporting Prodi, it won about 7% in 1996. The Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy (DL) was formed by the merger of the PPI, The Democrats (a party which included Romano Prodi) and Lamberto Dini’s Italian Renewal. Their common list did well in 2001, winning 14.5%. The DL gathered support from different ideological horizons, including social liberals (like party leader Francesco Rutelli, a former Radical), social conservatives, progressive left-wing Catholics (Christian left) and reformist liberals. The DL often compared itself to the US Democratic Party, an apt comparison.

Centre-left cooperation and electoral coalitions have existed since 1994. The most famous of these coalitions was The Olive Tree (L’Ulivo), founded by Prodi in 1995 and the centre-left coalition in the 1996, 2001 and 2006 elections (but also a common list in the 2004 Euros). Following the 2006 election, talk of a DS-DL merger increased. The creation of the PD was formalized in 2008, besides the DS and DL it also included six smaller parties (mostly moderate centre-left parties). Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome and a former DS leader, was an open primary in late 2007 with over 75% and became the first leader of the PD. Veltroni was competent albeit a bit boring and uncharismatic (although many liked to call him an ‘Italian Obama’), under his leadership he gave the PD a modern, reformist/Third Way and pro-market orientation. Veltroni, as the main opponent to Berlusconi in the 2008 election, won 37.5% while the PD itself won 33%. It was a very good result for the PD, which had succeeded in imposing itself as the major centre-left opposition force in an increasingly bipolarized system, but it was not enough.

The PD’s performance in opposition between 2008 and 2011 was fairly mediocre, hurt by uninspiring and stale leaders and internal divisions. The PD was defeated in regional elections in Abruzzo (2008) and Sardinia (2009), and its performance in the 2009 Euro and 2010 regional elections were disappointing at best. Veltroni quit following the bad defeat in the Sardinian elections in early 2009. He was replaced by Dario Franceschini (ex-DC unlike Veltroni, who was from the PCI), another stale and boring leader. Franceschini, however, lost the PD leadership during a leadership election in October 2009. He won 37% against 56% for Pier Luigi Bersani, a social democrat (ex-PCI) who had been a minister in past centre-left cabinets. PD moderates, led by former DL leader Francesco Rutelli, interpreted Bersani’s victory as a sign that the PD was being dominated by ex-DS/PCI cadres and moving into a left-wing direction. Rutelli and his allies quit the party in November 2009 to create the Alliance for Italy (ApI), which allied with the centre. The PD supported Monti’s government, although some on the party’s left often took issue with Monti’s austerity measures or economic liberalization reforms.

One of the PD’s problems since 2008 has been its internal diversity. The PD was meant to be a big-tent party which would move Italy towards a two-party system by uniting the various non-communist components of the anti-Berlusconi left and centre-left; including social democrats and ex-PCI left-wingers, social liberals, ex-DC progressives and liberal reformists. It has struggled to find a coherent ideology and identity besides ‘we hate Berlusconi’. Some, like Rutelli and Veltroni, wanted to model the PD on the US Democratic Party and differentiate it from the mainstream centre-left in the rest of Europe (SPD, PS, Labour, PSOE etc). Those who came from the PCI and the DS, however, wanted to integrate the PD with other European social democrats. The previous partisan allegiances of members (DC/PPI/DL, PCI/DS etc) are the main factional divides within the PD, although in recent years some factions and alliances within the PD have bridged old DC/PCI divides. In 2009, Bersani’s majority was backed by social democrats (around Massimo D’Alema) and most ex-DS members but also some moderates/centrists (Rosy Bindi, Enrico Letta). Franceschini was backed by most ex-DC moderates and centrists, social liberals but also by those like Veltroni or Rutelli who envisioned the PD as a big-tent American-like party. In 2010, Franceschini and former DS leader Piero Fassino joined Bersani’s majority, a move opposed by Veltroni and ex-DC/PPI moderates.

The domination of the party by an old guard of stale, boring and relatively uncharismatic leaders has been another of the PD’s main problems. Bersani, Franceschini, Rosy Bindi, Piero Fassino and above all Massimo D’Alema are widely seen as being stale ‘old guard’ leaders. In the open primary to determine the coalition’s top candidate for these elections, held in October 2012, there was a much-discussed contest between Bersani and the 38-year old mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi. Renzi is a rising star and reformist ‘modernizer’ within the party. In addition to his anti-establishment creed, his support for economic liberalization, economic reforms, debt reduction and labour market flexibility make him a bit of a pariah for the PD’s left. Renzi won 35.5% in the first round of the primaries, and 39% in the runoff against Bersani.

Ideologically, the PD is close to mainstream European social democracy. Under D’Alema’s leadership, the DS firmly integrated the European centre-left mainstream and often edged close to Tony Blair’s Third Way reformism by supporting orthodox fiscal policies including debt reduction and a balanced budget. In government, the left has often being moderate and reformist. Even if Bersani is identified with the PD’s left (though there is a significant minority further to his left within the PD), as minister under Prodi’s second cabinet he was reformist, leading the liberalization of television broadcasting, local public services, and energy as well as cutting red tape. The PD supported, not without some reservations, Monti’s reformist policies.

Bersani’s platform in this election is a bit anti-austerity, though it agrees with the need for debt reduction and fiscal responsibility. It feels that the austerity policies are not healthy and not conducive to growth, instead it prefers more interventionist Keynesian policies. However, Bersani does not support major changes to European treaties such as the Fiscal Compact although he does support Eurobonds (but most Italian politicians advocate for Eurobonds). The left’s platform supports raising taxes on the rich while reducing them on low and middle earners. The PD also wants to do away with the IMU, replacing it instead with a ‘super tax’ targeting those persons with private residences whose value exceeds €1.2 million. It claims that such a super-tax would alleviate the tax burden on single home owners and middle-class families.

The left, the PCI in the past and the PD today, has found its strongest support in the ‘Red Quadrilateral’ of central Italy: Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Marche and Umbria. The PD won 46.8%, 45.7%, 41.4% and 44.4% respectively in those regions in 2008. These regions are wealthy and not industrial powerhouses (despite a few major industrial cities), but as former territories of the Papal States, there is a strong anti-clerical and republican/socialist tradition. The anti-fascist resistance movement was also very active in central Italy during World War II. The left is also strong in Basilicata (a poor and conservative southern region) and in major urban areas including Turin (Piedmont) and Venice or working-class regions in Liguria. It is weaker in Lombardy, Veneto, Sicily and other southern regions.

The PD’s lists for the Chamber of Deputies include members of the Socialist Party (PS), which will run independently for the Senate in Latium, Campania and Calabria. In the Aosta Valley, the PD is backing the local left-leaning local/regionalist coalition which won the Chamber seat in 2008 (but the right-leaning local/regionalist coalition won the Senate seat).

Left Ecology Freedom (Sinistra Ecologia Libertà, SEL): The SEL is a left-wing (democratic socialist/eco-socialist) party led by Nichi Vendola, it is the smaller (but still relevant) member of the centre-left coalition led by Bersani’s PD.

Nichi Vendola is the ‘gay (ex-)atheist communist’ who has been regional president of Apulia, a conservative and Catholic region of the Mezzogiorno, for two terms since 2005. Vendola was a member of the Communist Refoundation Party (PRC) until 2009. The PRC had been founded in 1991 by PCI hardliners led by Sergio Garavini who opposed the PCI’s evolution into the PDS. The PRC cooperated with the centre-left in the 1994 and 1996 elections, and joined Prodi’s coalition in 2006 but it remained a very unreliable ‘ally’ throughout, often breaking governments over disagreements on economic or foreign policy. In 2007, the PRC broke with the centre-left and formed a left-wing alliance with a smaller communist party (itself a PRC breakaway) and the very leftist Greens; in the 2008 election, this coalition ended in an unprecedented disaster for the ‘left of the left’ winning only 3% nationally and no seats whatsoever. The 2008 disaster led to an internal power struggle, with the party’s hard left defeating incumbent leader Fausto Bertinotti (who had tried to move the party away from doctrinaire communism towards a New Left, anti-globalization and eco-socialist line). Bertinotti silently encouraged PRC reformists/New Leftists around Vendola, on the losing side (but with 47.6%) of the leadership struggle in 2008, to leave the party. Vendola’s faction, the MpS, left in January 2009. Running separately from each other in the 2009 Euros, Vendola’s red-green alliance won 3.1% against 3.4% for the the ‘paleo-communist’ Anticapitalist List led by the PRC.

The Greens and the Socialist Party left Vendola’s coalition in 2009. The PD and SEL have formed electoral alliances in most elections since 2009, although in some cases they went separate ways. In 2010, Vendola won a second term as regional president of Apulia thanks to the divisions of the local right. In 2011, Giuliano Pisapia, an independent close to SEL, became mayor of Milan in a major victory for the centre-left. The SEL rode on a wave of momentum in 2011, often polling up to 8%. Vendola is a competent and intelligent politician, who is also particularly charismatic (in short supply on the left) and eloquent.

Vendola ran in the 2012 centre-left primaries, winning a fairly disappointing 15% in the first round (third place) although his support proved crucial to Bersani’s easy victory in the runoff. Vendola had been acquitted on corruption charges in November.

Ideologically, Vendola disagrees with Bersani and the PD on some economic and fiscal issues. From outside Parliament, he was a a vocal critic of Monti’s austerity policies, which he saw as strangling the working-classes while serving the elites which created the crisis. Vendola has also frequently attacked the global financial system. While he supports European federalism ‘as the only way out of the crisis’ and is open to debt reduction, he is anti-austerity and has opposed parts of the Fiscal Compact which he feels are limiting the decision-making powers of democratically-elected governments. Social issues also feature prominently on the SEL’s agenda. Vendola is a longtime supporter of feminist and LGBT causes, and his party supports gay marriage. A devout Catholic country with the Roman Catholic Church a powerful actor in civil society, Italy lags behind on gay rights – no same-sex unions are recognized in Italy, the centre-left’s attempts to introduce civil unions in 2007 failed. The right (PdL, LN) are pretty uniformly socially conservative (opposing civil unions, adoption or marriage); the PD, with a significant socially conservative wing, does not support gay marriage although it supports civil unions and stepchild adoption.

Democratic Centre (Centro Democratico, CD): The small and rather irrelevant CD is a small moderate party. But as it will be the largest coalition party under the threshold, it will win seats in Parliament.

The CD was founded in late 2012 by Bruno Tabacci (ex-UDC and ex-ApI) and Massimo Donaldi (ex-IdV). Tabacci is a former maverick member of Pier Fernando Casini’s centre-right UDC, who joined Francesco Rutelli’s bland centrist Alliance for Italy (ApI) outfit. Any momentum which the ApI had its foundation in 2009 quickly petered out as it became the irrelevant third component of the stillborn ‘Third Pole’ centrist coalition. In late 2012, the ApI moved back to the centre-left and Tabacci ran in the primaries and came last with 1.4%. Tabacci teamed up with Donaldi, a defector from Italy of Values (IdV) to create the CD. Rutelli is not running and keeps insisting that ApI is not dead. The moderate and centrist CD includes chunks of the ApI and most of Donaldi’s Rights and Freedom outfit.

South Tyrolean People’s Party (Südtiroler Volkspartei, SVP): The SVP is only a regionalist party active in one region, but it is worth profiling given that it will win seats in the new Parliament.

The Italian province of South Tyrol (Südtirol/Alto Adige), part of the region of Trentino-Alto Adige, was part of the Austrian Empire until it was annexed by Italy in 1919. Unlike the southern province of Trentino which has an Italian majority and had a significant Italian population even under Austrian rule, South Tyrol still has a German majority (64%). Under fascist rule, there was an aggressive campaign of Italianization and state-sanctioned discrimination against German-speakers in the province. South Tyrol was annexed by the Nazis in 1943, but it was returned to Italy in 1946 following an agreement with Austria in which Italy granted self-government to the region. However, Italian immigrantion into South Tyrol (which had begun under fascism) and the lack of specific self-government for South Tyrol itself made the region’s status an international issue in the 1960s. Trentino-Alto Adige now benefits from extensive autonomy, and keeps nearly 90% of tax revenues.

The SVP was founded in 1945 to represent German-speakers (but also a small Ladin minority) in South Tyrol. The party leans to the right, although it is a diverse party which includes a significant left-leaning faction. It has governed South Tyrol since 1948, although its support has declined in recent years – falling below 50% for the first time in a provincial election in 2008. At the national level, the SVP used to be allied with the DC, but under the Second Republic it has usually aligned with the centre-left coalition which tends to be more favourable to autonomy. The SVP won 2 deputies and 3 senators in the 2008 election. It won about 44% of the vote in South Tyrol. Most of its competition now comes from right-wing German parties, notably The Libertarians (right-wing separatist).

The SVP, in coalition with the Tyrolean Trentino Autonomist Party (PATT) in Trentino, is running for the Chamber in Trentino-Alto Adige.

The centre-left coalition also includes Moderates for Piedmont (Moderati per il Piemonte) running for the Senate in Piedmont and Rosario Crocetta’s The Megaphone (Il Megafono) running for the Senate in Sicily.

With Monti for Italy (Con Monti per l’Italia) coalition led by Mario Monti (not candidate)

The Monti coalition will run in separate lists for the Chamber of Deputies but will run a single, common list for the Senate. Mario Monti, who is a senator-for-life, is not a candidate in this election but supports the coalition.

Civic Choice (Scelta Civica, SC): The ‘Civic Choice’ is a new centrist party formed to support Mario Monti and his reformist agenda.

Mario Monti is an economist and former European Commissioner (1994-2009) who became Prime Minister of Italy in November 2011, at the helm of a technocratic cabinet. Monti became Prime Minister in a period of crisis, on the verge of default. Monti’s reformist agenda included an emergency austerity package in 2011-2012 which significantly raised taxes and cut pensions. He has implemented various measures aimed at liberalizing and reforming the Italian economy, including introducing more competition in monopolized and noncompetitive sectors (taxis, pharmacies); a pension reform which pushed the retirement age to 66 and attacked ‘special retirement plans’; a labour market reform along the lines of Denmark’s flexicurity model which reduced guarantees for employees; and targeting fiscal evasion in Italy. Monti’s reforms have succeded in saving Italy from default and significantly reducing the country’s budget deficit; but his austerity policies have been criticized by the left and the Berlusconian right for having significantly increased unemployment and slowed economic growth in 2012 and 2013. Monti, as an individual, remains widely respected by the electorate, who view him as an honest man (a rarity in Italian politics at times) with a true desire to reform the Italian economy (despite disagreeing with his policy choices). His austerity policies, however, have become unpopular with most voters.

In the run-up to this year’s election, the recurring question was whether or not Monti would join the fray and run in the elections. Those who were the keenest on the idea where those who knew that they were destined to be an irrelevant sidenote in the election – namely the stillborn centrist ‘Third Pole’ with the UDC and FLI. These centrist parties were the most enthusiastic supporter of Monti’s government in Parliament and actively lobbied him to run. For those centrist parties, Monti was everything they could ever wish for: a centre-right leader who was not Berlusconi, and a leader with enough stature to take them places. After his government fell in December 2012, Monti announced just before New Year’s that he would be ‘supporting’ a coalition in the election (he cannot run himself).

The Civic Choice list for the Chamber of Deputies consists of various individuals, defectors and a small party. The party includes ‘Toward the Third Republic’ (VTR), a party which includes a group led by Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the former chairman of Ferrari and president of Confindustria (the employer’s organization). Some of Monti’s ministers including Andrea Riccardi (international cooperation/integration) Renato Balduzzi (health) and Enzo Moavero Milanesi (European affairs) are running in the election on the party’s lists. It has welcomed dissidents from both the PdL (Franco Frattini, Berlusconi’s former foreign minister, is not running but supports the SC) and PD as well as smaller parties.

Monti’s coalition is also supported by the European People’s Party (of which the PdL is a member), The Economist (a longtime enemy of Berlusconi) and L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s unofficial voicepiece. The European Union and Angela Merkel have been very supportive of Monti’s policies.

Monti is running a Europhile, reformist and economically liberal campaign. It has claimed, disingenuously, that is neither left, right or centre but rather that it is a different reformist alternative. In reality, it is a centrist/centre-right and pro-European liberal coalition. Monti’s platform supports continued fiscal rigor and reforms to liberalize the economy and open up even more noncompetitive industries to competition. He also wishes to tackle corruption and increase labour force participation by the youth and women (Italy’s labour force participation rate for the young and women is very low). He is an ardent Europhile, supporting further European integration and he fully adheres to the European Fiscal Compact although he too would support Eurobonds.

The gist of Monti’s agenda is broadly captured by The Economist‘s op-ed piece on ‘True Progressivism’ from October 2012. The Economist‘s article presents ‘True Progressivism’ as the modern alternative to both Keynesian social democracy and raw right-wing capitalism (which has spawned too much social inequality). The premise of ‘True Progressivism’ and Monti’s liberal reformist agenda is that excessive inequality, as it currently stands, hampers growth; hence the priority should be to attack monopolies and vested interests (which is what Monti has done with ‘closed’ industries in Italy), focus spending on the poor and the young rather than the elderly (raising the retirement age) and reforming taxes to eliminate deductions which benefit the wealthy and narrowing the gap between tax rates on wages and capital income (rather than the left’s ‘tax-the-rich’ planks). It is a broadly liberal platform, though with a twist – there is less emphasis on reducing the size of government or tax cuts across the board.

Union of the Centre (Unione di Centro, UDC): The UDC is the latest partisan embodiment of a plethora of various centrist (centre-right) parties, heirs of the right-wing of the former DC. The UDC is a coalition which includes a number of local and regional parties but whose hegemonic force is Pier Fernando Casini’s Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC).

Casini’s UDC (the party) was founded in 2002 by the merger of three parties; most significantly the Christian Democratic Centre (CCD), basically the right-wing of the DC which backed Berlusconi, and the United Christian Democrats (UCD), a pro-Berlusconi right-wing breakaway from the leftish PPI. CCD-UCD join lists in 1996 and 2001 had won 5.8% and 3.2% of the vote respectively. At its foundation, the UDC was the third largest party in Berlusconi’s coalition, surpassing the Lega. The UDC stuck with Berlusconi in the 2006 election (6.8%), but the party was sometimes a critical voice in cabinet. The CCD’s old leader and Berlusconi critic, Marco Follini, split from the UDC in 2006. Casini took an increasingly critical tone against Berlusconi after 2006.

For the 2008 elections, Casini’s UDC formed an independent list, the Union of the Centre which was basically the old UDC taking up a few random politicians and parties (including Bruno Tabacci’s White Rose) while the pro-Berlusconians joined the PdL. The centrist list won 5.6%, 36 deputies and 3 senators, a disappointing result for the party. After the election, Casini stayed in the centre. At the local and regional level, the UDC has allied both with the right and the left or gone their own way.

Casini was the driving force behind the creation, in 2010, of the ‘Third Pole’ (or New Pole), an attempt at a centrist alternative to both the left and the Berlusconian right. The Third Pole included Casini’s UDC, Fini’s FLI (see below), Rutelli’s ApI and Lombardo’s MPA. The longstanding pipe dream of the UDC and the post-DC centre has been to recreate the DC and regain its central, dominant role over politics. However, Italian politics under the Second Republic have become increasingly polarized between left and right and personalized around charismatic figures (Berlusconi mainly), Casini’s UDC lacked the clout and he lacked the charisma to take on the entrenched left and right. Furthermore, politics – both domestically and internationally – have changed since the First Republic’s heyday, and it is harder for a big tent centrist party (especially drawing its strength from its ties to the Catholic Church) like the DC to become the central force in politics. As such, the Third Pole quickly died out despite brief momentum in 2011. More or less, Monti’s coalition has replaced the Third Pole.

Ideologically, the UDC is a very socially conservative party (because of its close ties to the Church) but it has some interventionist economic positions because most of the UDC’s base consists of southerners, who tend to be more dependent on the central government. Indeed, as the First Republic faded away, the DC and its venal allies (particularly the PSI and PSDI) had seen their support shift to the south (while parties such as the Lega were taking their northern voters), where the networks of political patronage and clientelism had built a resilient electoral clientele which endured post-1994. The UDC’s support has been heavily southern and Sicilian. In 2008, the UDC won 9% in Sicily, 8% in Calabria and Apulia and 6.5% in Campania. Its best northern region was the Veneto (5.6%), it won only 4-5% in northern and central Italy.

Future and Freedom for Italy (Futuro e Libertà per l’Italia, FLI): The FLI is a centre-right party founded and led by Gianfranco Fini, the former leader of the neo-fascist MSI and later the national-conservative AN.

Gianfranco Fini, the dauphin of longtime Italian Social Movement (MSI) leader Giorgio Almirante, became leader of the MSI in 1987 and transformed the party, dropping its controversial neo-fascist past and shifting in a more palatable nationalist/conservative direction. The MSI, untainted by the First Republic’s scandals because of its exclusion from the system, came out strengthened from the system’s collapse. Fini launched the National Alliance (AN) to take the MSI’s place in 1994. Under Fini’s leadership, the AN became a close ally of Berlusconi’s coalition (despite disagreements with the Lega on federalism). It won 13.5%, 15.7%, 12% and 12.3% in the 1994, 1996, 2001 and 2006 elections respectively. Fini gradually kept moving the AN closer and closer to the mainstream right, leading some neo-fascists or other hardliners to leave the party. Fini became widely seen as Berlusconi’s heir-presumptive. The AN merged with the PdL in 2009.

However, Gianfranco Fini became increasingly critical of Berlusconi after the 2008 election. On the one hand, Fini had moved towards more liberal/progressive positions on some issues, including stem cell research, euthanasia, voting rights for foreigners and even immigration (even if Fini had authored a restrictive law on immigration under Berlusconi’s 2001-2006 government). There was also a power struggle at work between the two men. Fini disagreed with Berlusconi’s leadership style and particularly the organization of the PdL as a Berlusconian personality cult which ran on Berlusconi’s charisma and little (if anything) else. Fini wanted to prepare the right for the post-Berlusconi era and establish himself as the next leader of the right, he felt that the right needed to be renewed and moved closer to the European mainstream right a la Sarkozy and Cameron (Fini is a supporter of both).

In April 2010, Fini and his finiani supporters created an association within the PdL. The conflict between Berlusconi, backed by the PdL but also most ex-AN (who disagreed with Fini’s social liberal turn) and Fini kept increasing. At the end of July 2010, Fini’s supporters were excluded from the PdL. On July 30, 33 deputies and 10 senators split from the PdL to create the Future and Freedom (FLI) group in both houses. In November, it was transformed into a political party.

Fini’s FLI quickly joined the Third Pole with the UDC and other parties. However, the party’s initial momentum quickly died out. It has been severely weakened and politically marginalized by several divisions and defections. Some in the party, who were not too keen on burning all bridges with the PdL, have since rejoined the PdL and new defectors from the PdL have not compensated for their departure.

Ideologically, the FLI is on the centre-right. It is definitely very different from the the MSI or even the AN, even if it has retained its strong focus on national unity. In part, many of the FLI’s supporters are southern conservatives who are suspicious of the Lega and strongly support national unity. On economic issues, many of the FLI’s members are fairly interventionist and statist, in line with the MSI-AN’s more statist economic positions.

It is yet to be seen where the FLI’s electoral support will come from. If the MSI and the AN are any indication, the party will be strongest in the Latium region around Rome and in southern Italy. Indeed, the neo-fascist MSI found most of its support (during the First Republic) in southern Italy, where it was backed by shopkeepers, bureaucrats, some oligarchs and the ‘underclass’; but also in and around Rome, the capital city which had been promoted and developed by Mussolini’s fascist regime and where some bureaucrats or conservative shopkeepers remained nostalgic of the fascist regime. Rome’s current mayor, Gianni Alemanno (PdL), is a former fascist. The AN was the largest party in Rome and the Latium in the 1990s. In 1996, the AN won 29% in the Latium, 23% in Calabria, and 18% in Campania and Apulia. By 2006, the AN’s support in the far south had dropped off a bit, compensated by new voters in the north and centre (10-11% of the vote); but in remained strong in the Latium, as always (19%).

Five Star Movement (MoVimento 5 Stelle, M5S) led by Beppe Grillo (not candidate)

The M5S is the new movement which may shake up Italian politics, the party (or ‘movement’) which may achieve a significant electoral breakthrough this year. The party is fairly young, it was founded in 2009 by popular and successful comedian-turned-activist Beppe Grillo.

The M5S is a populist, anti-corruption, anti-establishment, anti-system and anti-elitist movement – basically a true populist ‘outsider’ party which wants to destroy the existing political system, which virulently attacks and opposes everything it sees. Besides this anti-system populism, the M5S is tough to place ideologically. The party’s ‘five stars’ stand for public water, public transportation, development, connectivity (internet freedom) and the environment – those are more or less the party’s main ideological orientations. At the outset, the M5S was classified as a left-wing or even far-left party. Indeed, the M5S is radical ecologist (of the ‘degrowth’ kind) and it has strongly supported maintaining public services and social justice.

At the core of the M5S is a vitriolic and foul-mouthed denunciation of the entire Italian political system. Italy’s political system is very flawed, with endemic political corruption being chief amongst Italy’s political problems. Many politicians, both left and right, have campaigned against corruption and been vocal critics of corrupt politicians or groups. What makes Grillo different is that he denounces the entire political system; for him, the system is rotten to its core and must be destroyed entirely. He represents career politicians as ‘parasites’ who live at the expense of taxpayers and bring nothing but ruin and corruption to the country, and voters must get rid of them. As such, the M5S feels that traditional representative democracy is dead, the party wants to replace it with direct democracy in which internet and new technologies would play a major part.

Beppe Grillo is not the formal leader of the party, and he is not a candidate in this election (because of a criminal conviction in the 1980s, apparently); but M5S is pretty clearly his party. Grillo, a former comedian, is a charismatic (others would say demagogic) populist leader, whose speeches consists of tirades and insults against the system and politicians. He also enjoys generating controversy by making bold pronouncements: politicians are worse than the mafia, and more recently a “call” on terrorists to blow up the Parliament.

‘Grillist’ lists started to flourish about a year before the M5S’ official creation; in the 2008 election, a ‘Grillist’ list had won 0.2% nationally. The party first gained notoriety in the 2010 regional elections when the party took 2-6% of the vote in some regions, enough to allow the right to win. In its early days, the M5S mostly attracted far-left voters, unhappy with the PD’s mediocre performance in opposition and left disoriented by the disarray of the communist left. It won 7% in Emilia-Romagna, a left-wing stronghold, and took 2 seats there. In the Piedmont, where it won 4%, it ‘stole’ votes from the left and allowed the Lega’s Roberta Cota to win the regional presidency. The party’s support may also have ‘spoiled’ the 2011 regional election in Molise, where the M5S won more votes than the right’s margin of victory over the left.

The party burst onto the scene in the May 2012 local elections, where it surprised almost everybody by performing extremely strongly in both major cities and smaller towns. While the PdL was annihilated at the polls, the M5S came out of nowhere to perform very strongly: it won 14% in Genoa (ahead of the PdL), 12% in Alessandria, 9% in Verona, and 10% in Monza and Piacenza. In the runoff, the biggest upset came from Parma, where the M5S’ Federico Pizzarotti had won 19.5% in the first round and qualified for the first round against the left (which came out far ahead of the pack with 39%). But in the runoff, Pizzarotti won 60.2% of the vote, trouncing the left. It owed its victory to the support of first round right-wing voters. But the victory in Parma and two smaller cities (Mira, Comacchio) put the party on the map. The M5S surged nationally, riding a wave of momentum. It regularly polled 15-20%, often second ahead of the PdL, throughout summer 2012.

In the October 2012 Sicilian regional elections, the party – despite a little-known candidate and a shoestring campaign dependent on Grillo’s antics (swimming across the Strait from the mainland) – won 18% in the presidential race and 15% in the list vote (becoming, in the process, the largest party in a divided landscape). The Sicilian elections confirmed that M5S was not merely a flavour of the month or a passing trend.

The M5S’ momentum has leveled off a bit during the actual campaign, but the party will nevertheless do very well on January 24-25. What explains the M5S’ surge to such heights?

The economic crisis and austerity has played a major role. The other side of Monti’s austerity measures have been a prolonged economic recession, increasing unemployment, particularly among the youth, lower pensions for retirees and even higher taxes for entrepreneurs or small businessmen (given that Italy’s tax burden is already very high). The austerity and the reforms (particularly tax increases, the IMU and pension reform) have created resentment and major social discontent. As in all economic crises, many Italians – especially the youth, the poor and low-income retirees – are suffering considerably.

What Grillo says about Italian politicians also resonates with many voters. There are many worthy politicians in Italy, but at the same time the observation that many (most?) Italian politicians are corrupt criminals, stale and boring party hacks, selfish career politicians, incompetent or self-absorbed egomaniacs holds some truth – Italy ranks as the third most corrupt country in the EU after Greece and Bulgaria and is rated as more corrupt than Brazil, South Africa, Romania and Turkey.

One of the main subjects of debate in Italian politics since Monti took over has been the privileges of la casta, a previleged caste of politicians, MPs, senior bureaucrats and public servants (who have lifelong pensions).

Corruption is nothing new in Italy, whose political system has long been riddled with political corruption, arch-corrupt politicians and links between organized crime and senior politicians (the DC, for example, had close ties to the mafia; the mafia is tied to both left and right-wing politicians in the south). But voters either accepted corruption as a part of life, sought to benefit themselves from political corruption or sighed powerless as corruption was something impossible to fully tackle. However, with the climate of austerity and a government demanding ‘sacrifices’ from all Italians, there has been a major upsurge in popular anger towards privileged political elites and those who abused the system and filled their pockets. Beppe Grillo’s virulent attacks on the entire political system and corrupt politicians everywhere has certainly resonated with many voters who want to express their frustration and anger.

The M5S benefited, especially in 2012, from the decrepitude of the Berlusconian right – the PdL was falling apart without Berlusconi there to hold together; the Lega lost all its credibility and its original anti-corruption populist appeal with the Bossi embezzlement shenanigans. In the 2012 local and regional elections, many right-wing voters abstained – turnout in the locals and especially in Sicily was abysmal by Italy’s high-turnout standards – but many right-wing voters also voted for the M5S, as the nature of the M5S’ victory in Parma shows. One must remember that the Lega, especially in its early days (1992) but even in later years, chased the anti-establishment protest vote which the M5S is now appealing to. Despite ideological disagreements between the Berlusconian right and Grillo – although both share a similar anti-tax rhetoric – the M5S has proven to be a good receptacle for angry right-wing voters, especially those who voted for the Lega in the past.

Grillo’s platform in this election is rather vague on some matters, but clearer on other issues. It is clearly anti-austerity, and also anti-Euro. The M5S opposes the common currency and is nostalgic of the “lovely old lira we could immediately devalue by 40% to 50%” which would make Italy, it claims, more competitive. Grillo promises to organize a referendum on exiting the Euro. He also opposes public funding for political parties and would naturally crack down on corruption and conflict of interest. On other issues, however, the manifesto is vaguer: to reduce the budget deficit, for example, Grillo’s party wants to ‘cut waste’ and introduce ‘new technologies’ to allow ‘public access to information and services without the need for intermediaries’.

Civil Revolution (Rivoluzione Civile, RC) led by Antonio Ingroia

The Civil Revolution is a left-wing anti-corruption list which includes Italy of Values (Italia dei Valori, IdV), the Communist Refoundation Party (Partito della Rifondazione Comunista, PRC), the Party of Italian Communists (Partito dei Comunisti Italiani, PdCI), the Federation of the Greens (Federazione dei Verdi) and the Orange Movement (Movimento Arancione). All these parties form a single list for both the Chamber and Senate. The coalition was formed in January 2013.

The coalition is led by Antonio Ingroia, an anti-mafia magistrate with no prior political or electoral experience.

Italy of Values (Italia dei Valori, IdV): IdV, whose heyday of political relevance has seemingly passed, is a uniquely Italian party which reflects the oddities of the Italian political system, especially since 1994. IdV is a centre-left/left-wing party, but its raison-d’être is fighting political corruption and promoting honesty and integrity. Its law-and-order orientation would make it an odd fit for the left in any other western European country.

The party was founded in 1998 by Antonio Di Pietro, a famous Milanese anti-mafia/anti-corruption magistrate who spearheaded the mani pulite investigations which brought down the First Republic in 1994. Di Pietro had already served as a cabinet minister in the Prodi I cabinet in 1996, and as a novice politician he became known for his vocal opposition to Berlusconi, who had used the breakdown of the First Republic to launch his political career but who later vilified those who brought it down as ‘communists’. In its early years, IdV cooperated with Prodi’s party, the Democrats; IdV ran with the Democrats in the 1999 Euros and they won 7.7%. However, Di Pietro opposed Prime Minister Giuliano Amato’s centre-left cabinet (Amato, a former PSI stalwart, had been investigated by Di Pietro in the past) and IdV stood alone in the 2001 election, winning 3.9% and falling just short of the threshold for PR seats.

Between 2001 and 2006 it slowly walked out of its isolation and joined The Union, the left-wing coalition. It won 2.3% in the 2006 election, but because of its alignment with the centre-left coalition it won 17 deputies. The party did not join the PD, but it was part of Walter Veltroni’s coalition in the 2008 election. It made sizable gains, taking 4.4% of the vote and 29 deputies and 14 senators. With Di Pietro’s virulent opposition to Berlusconi and his tough, uncompromising style against the government, IdV benefited from the PD’s underwhelming performance in opposition and enjoyed high levels of support between 2009 and 2011. It won 8% of the vote in the 2009 European elections and in the 2011 local election in Naples, IdV candidate Luigi De Magistris eliminated the PD candidate by the first round and crushed the PdL in the runoff. In 2012, Leoluca Orlando, a longtime anti-mafia icon in Sicily and former mayor of Palermo in the 1990s, won the local election in Palermo. The party originally backed Monti but joined the ranks of the opposition after the first austerity decree.

Luigi De Magistris, a left-wing (ex-PCI) former prosecutor in Catanzaro, emerged as a forceful rival to Di Pietro’s leadership of the IdV. De Magistris wanted to move the party to the left, somewhat at odds with the party’s membership in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and its nature as a big-tent party uniting anti-corruption activists of various ideological backgrounds (many deputies had a DC background). De Magistris pushed Di Pietro to align with the left, alienating some IdV deputies in the process – two IdV deputies even voted for Berlusconi’s cabinet in December 2010 and proved crucial to his government’s survival in that vote. The party’s momentum ended abruptly in 2012 with M5S’ emergence on the scene. M5S is like a more radical version of IdV, which rejects traditional party politics and brands all politicians as crooks.

IdV’s strong anti-corruption, moralistic and law-and-order stances are somewhat odd for a left-liberal or left-wing party; although in the context of Italian politics since 1994, anti-corruption politics is often associated with the left because of Berlusconi. On other issues, the party may find common ground with the right (on federalism) but in most other aspects it aligns with the left.

Luigi De Magistris and other IdV left-wingers left the party in October 2012 and founded the Orange Movement (Movimento Arancione).

The Communist Refoundation Party (Partito della Rifondazione Comunista, PRC) was, as related above, founded in December 1991 by PCI hardliners led by Sergio Garavini who opposed the PCI’s evolution into the PDS. Between 1992 and 2006, the PRC usually won in the vicinity of 5-6% nationally although it peaked at 8.6% in 1996. The PRC was unofficially allied to the centre-left coalitions in the 1994 and 1996 elections. The PRC propped up Prodi’s cabinet from the outside until 1998, when it withdrew its support and caused his government to collapse. Those PRC members, led by Armando Cossutta, who disagreed with the decision to withdraw from the government formed a new party, the Party of Italian Communists (Partito dei Comunisti Italiani, PdCI) which continued the alliance with the centre-left but never achieved much success electorally in doing so (1-2%).

The PRC reunited with the centre-left coalition ahead of the 2006 general election. It joined Prodi’s cabinet, and although it disagreed with the government on some foreign policy matters it never went as far as bringing it down (that was done by a venal centre-right ally, Clemente Mastella).In 2007, the PRC broke with the centre-left and formed a left-wing alliance (The Left – The Rainbow) with the PdCI and the very leftist Greens; in the 2008 election, this coalition ended in an unprecedented disaster for the ‘left of the left’ winning only 3.1% nationally and no seats whatsoever (the first Parliament with no communists since 1921).

The 2008 disaster led to an internal power struggle, with the party’s hard left defeating incumbent leader Fausto Bertinotti (who had tried to move the party away from doctrinaire paleocommunism towards a New Left, anti-globalization and eco-socialist line). Bertinotti silently encouraged PRC reformists/New Leftists around Vendola, on the losing side (but with 47.6%) of the leadership struggle in 2008, to leave the party. After Vendola left the party, the PRC allied with the PdCI to form a Federation of the Left (FdS), which has had limited success – Vendola’s SEL was a much more attractive force on the left.

The Federation of the Greens (Federazione dei Verdiis Italy’s main green party. Green politics in Italy, in contrast to its neighbors, has been a miserable failure since they kicked off in the 1980s. Most of green politicians who would lead a green party in Germany or France are members of the PD, where they form a sizable faction. The Greens have never managed to win over 2% of the vote on their own in any election (they first ran in 1987). They did have, at their origins, considerable success in the Veneto region – winning up to 7% in the 1990 regional elections there.

The party shifted to the far-left in the twenty-first century, abandoning their ertswhile moderate left-wing orientation and firmly aligning with the PRC. After the 2008 disaster, the Greens briefly joined Vendola’s coalition for the 2009 European elections, but fearing that they would stop being a miserable failure, they quickly decided to tie its fortunes to the moribund FdS. To mimic the French greens (which is rarely a good idea), they recently founded some kind of green superstructure – the Ecologists and Civic Networks.

Outside these five major actors, the most relevant also-ran outfit – out of over a million – is Stop the Decline (Fare per Fermare il Declino), a neoliberal/libertarian party which supports major debt and deficit reductions, tax cuts, federalism, economic liberalization and privatization. It is led by Oscar Giannino, a journalist. The party only made headlines recently, but for the wrong reasons: Giannino fabricated his resume by falsely claiming he had an Italian law degree and a masters from the University of Chicago’s prestigious School of Business.

What to expect

This election hasn’t worked out like the pundits wanted it to. This election was supposed to be the ’1994 election’ all over again, the election which marked a clean break with a political era and ushered in a new political era – the Third Republic. Berlusconi’s resignation in November 2011 and the subsequent unraveling of both his dominant right-wing coalition and his own party left many thinking that this election would mark the end of Berlusconi’s influence over Italian politics. The PdL and the Lega had basically been annihilated and left dying on the side of the road after the 2012 elections; as recently as October, the Sicilian elections had shown that the Berlusconian right was facing extinction.

The Italian political system since 1994 was rather unusual within western Europe. Most other western European countries have a traditional left-right political system, with relatively strong partisan and ideological traditions which have subsisted – albeit not unchallenged – for decades, despite trends towards ‘de-ideologization’ and greater convergence between the left and the right after the fall of communism. Even if charismatic politicians are powerful leaders in those countries, political legitimacy in those countries is based on ‘legal authority’ as described by Max Weber. Italy under the First Republic was even the epitome of such a system, given the strong power of political parties and the relative absence of dominant charismatic political leaders. And Italy, like western Europe, went through a clear process of ‘de-ideologization’ following the end of the Cold War; the clear left-right division was blurred a bit by the dissolution of the PCI and the legitimization of previously marginalized or irrelevant political forces (right-wing populism and nationalism with the MSI-AN, regionalist populism with the Lega).

In Second Republic Italy, however, despite the presence and relevance of a left-right cleavage and past ideological traditions; politics have been heavily structured around one man, Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi revolutionized Italian politics; he personalized a political system which under the First Republic had been extremely impersonal and driven by parties, not individuals. Berlusconi imported American-style campaigning techniques (TV advertising, mass mailings, focus groups) in Italy, and he radically changed the structure, direction and style of the Italian centre-right. He structured his parties – personal vehicles – along the ‘business-firm party’ model and relied extensively on his own personal charisma to lead his parties. Political legitimacy under the Italian Second Republic has been based, not entirely but in good part, on ‘charismatic authority’ rather than traditional modern ‘legal authority’.

The 2013 election was seen by many as the election which would change Italian politics, as profoundly as the 1994 election had changed Italian politics then. Berlusconi had lost all credibility and legitimacy in government between 2008 and 2011; his poor record, his governance style, his incessant buffoonery and antics, his sexual travails and corruption scandals had alienated most voters as Italy teetered on the edge of the cliff. Even if he returned to take the helm of the PdL for a final time, he would no longer be an asset to his party. The right’s collapse in 2012, combined with the rise of an anti-system receptacle of protest votes (the M5S) which was similar to what the Lega Nord had been in 1992, seemed to confirm that 2013 would see a major political realignment and the birth of the Third Republic. At that point, the right would ‘de-Berlusconize’ and find new bases and styles, perhaps with the ‘Third Pole’ of 2010-2011.

But Berlusconi has already proven almost everybody wrong. When everybody thought he was going to retire, he came back with a splash, truly like the proverbial phoenix rising from the flames one last time (or the Titanic’s stern rising one last time?). When everybody dismissed him, judging by his party’s abysmal polling in 2012, he came back with a roar.

The main headlines of this election have been “Berlusconi’s comeback“, not unlike his comeback from the lows of 2004-2005 in the 2006 election. From around 23-25% support for his coalition in early January, Berlusconi has boosted his support to 27-30% today. The surge is slightly less impressive than often portrayed. Part of the surge illusion comes from comparing apples and oranges: the Lega’s decision to back the coalition added 4-6% to its totals; before the Lega rejoined him, the PdL alone was polling at 15-17% alone. Today, the PdL is polling about 19-22% or so, the Lega has 4-5% support and the other parties poll around 3% altogether. Nevertheless, it is clear that Berlusconi has boosted his support in polls.

Berlusconi remains a master at campaigning, probably the best campaigner in Italian politics today. Like in 1994, he is a master at political communication; television remains his medium and he knows how to work it and his speeches interlaced with jokes and snide remarks are still successful. Although Berlusconi is far more unpopular with the wider electorate than in 2008, his well-oiled and well-run populist campaign have reignited latent support for the old Berlusconian right and has regained some lost supporters, who fell out with him in 2012 and turned to abstention or other parties.

Berlusconi’s somewhat outlandish pledges have also resonated well with a part of the electorate. His big promise to abolish and refund the hated property tax (IMU) decreed by Monti’s cabinet is popular with voters who feel strangled by even higher taxes. Berlusconi also knows to milk the popularity of his IMU promise to its maximum; he didn’t only promise to abolish it, he then promised to refund it and he sent out a mass mailing to households detailing his plan to refund the IMU.

Monti was always going to have an uphill battle in his attempt to recreate the pre-1994 vaguely centre-right moderate coalitions of boring politicians. Since 1994, Italian politics (like those in other countries) have become heavily personalized and the personality of the ‘top candidates’ for Prime Minister have played a major role in every election. More or less, successful candidates need to be charismatic, telegenic leaders who are able to communicate.

Monti was not that kind of candidate. Even without taking into account the unpopularity of his policies with most voters, Monti is a competent technocrat but he is a terrible politician. He is uncharismatic and has a fairly stale and boring style and demeanor. He’s awkward on television and is bad at communicating his platform.

If only The Economist, The Financial Times and Angela Merkel’s cabinet could vote, then Monti would win a landslide. His close association with these various groups, his strongest supporters, don’t play well in Italy. A fairly horrible campaign, a stale and unexciting technocrat selling policies which are unpopular with most voters and a close association with foreign actors which are distrusted or disliked at home has made this campaign a tough one for Monti.

The left has been the favourite to win this election since 2011. While the right ripped itself apart and while the M5S surged out of nowhere, the left was comfortably riding atop it all. It is not to say that the left, the PD in particular, was doing all that well. It too failed to excite many voters, given its mediocre leadership and its poor performance in Parliament since the last election. Nichi Vendola was a brief exception to this, briefly riding a wave of momentum to around 6-8% support in polls until last year. But his momentum has since petered out and the SEL will come out with a paltry 3-4% of the vote when all is said and done.

Pier Luigi Bersani, Italy’s next Prime Minister? (source: Yahoo news)

In part, the left – if it wins – will have won a Pyrrhic victory, with lower support than in the 2008 election. Not, by any measure, an emphatic endorsement of either the PD or its broader coalition. It will have won partly by default, partly by managing to remain above the fray and not tear itself apart like the right. It will not have won by assembling a large coalition of new or first-time voters excited by the prospect of a centre-left government or a Prime Minister Bersani. What has changed since 2008 is that the ‘threshold’ for victory is much lower, because of the fragmentation of the political landscape in 2013.

Bersani, like Monti, is a boring and stale politician who delivers sleep-inducing stump speeches. He also has the damaging image of being one of the PD’s ‘old guard’ party bosses who have prevented renewal and change on the centre-left. If Matteo Renzi, the young reformist mayor of Florence who threatened the PD establishment and challenged party orthodoxy on major issues, had been the left’s candidate, many believe he would have done much better in this election and would be riding to victory.

But while the Italian left is good at governing, it is absolutely horrible at actually winning elections. It once again showed off its time-honoured ability to turn sure victories into elections which are far too close for its comfort. The left tried to take the easy way out throughout the campaign by remaining above the fray and hoping that it would not get pulled down by the actions of the other actors. This strategy hasn’t really worked out. Grillo’s support didn’t evaporate during the campaign and Berlusconi reignited the right and started pulling down the left.

This election has confirmed the personalization of Italian politics since 1994. The two men who came out stronger during the campaign were Berlusconi, the slick and wily old politico who worked the crowds; and Grillo, the brash and histrionic outsider who fired up new crowds. The two men who didn’t come out stronger during the campaign were Monti, the technocrat who isn’t a politician; and Bersani, the boring ‘old guard’ politician and unremarkable former cabinet minister.

It should be noted, however, that control of the television is not the only route to success. Grillo’s campaign deliberately avoided many TV appearances, instead focusing on the internet/social media and traditional rallies in town squares across Italy. Grillo, with his “mad-as-hell” style, has managed to turn out crowds of thousands. His final huge rally in Rome turned out thousands.

Polls and predictions

Italian law bans the official publication of polls in the last two weeks before the election. The average of the last polls by all pollsters, on Feb 6-8, was as follows:

IBC/Centre-left 34.3% (32.2%-37.2%)
Centre-right 28.9% (27.4%-32.7%)
M5S 15.6% (12.5%-18.8%)
Monti 13.4% (10.2%-14.8%)
RC 4.3% (3.5%-5.9%)
Others 3.4% (1.3%-8.4%)

Polls by coalition, past year (source: Scenaripolitici.com)

All pollsters, throughout 2012 and the campaign, have shown the centre-left coalition leading. Only three pollsters (Euromedia, SpinCon, Piepoli) have had the centre-right coalition at over 30% in polls in 2013.

However, while the law bans the publication of polls, it does not ban polling and pollsters have continued polling in secret since February 8. These polls are disguised, dressed up and published ‘unofficially’ on various blogs or news outlets. One way, on NotaPolitica.it, has been to shift the focus from politics to “horse racing”; on YouTrend, the focus is now a running commentary on a Papal Conclave with a leftist cardinal from Piacenza (Bersani) and a conservative cardinal from Monza and Brianza (Berlusconi).

The horse race numbers on February 22 (by Piepoli) showed the ‘Bien Commun’ running on 36 minutes, ahead of the ‘Maison Liberté’ which is trailing on 30 minutes. Igor Brick (M5S) is up to 18.5 minutes, solidifying his advance on the Ipson team (Monti) which is down to 10.5; Galopin du Zacapa (RC) is disqualified, it only has 3.5 minutes. The papal conclave shows different results: the cardinal from Piacenza is at 33 supporters, his conservative rival from Monza and Brianza has 28 supporters (20 of which support him directly). The surprise in the conclave could be a strong showing by an exuberant chap from Genoa, denouncing the previliges of the clerical elites, he has 19 supporters; this places him well ahead of the icy cardinal from Milan who has only 14 supporters. The ‘inquisitor from Palermo’ has the backing of only 3 cardinals.

These conclaves and horses seem to confirm that Bersani’s centre-left has maintained its momentum and retains a lead over the right (but a poll has shown its lead down to only 1.5%), while Grillo is the late surger of this campaign and is heading to a strong third place showing with nearly 20% of the vote – well ahead of Monti, who will place a paltry fourth.

The expectation is that the centre-left coalition will come out victorious on Monday evening. The leaked polls still have it ahead. By nature of the electoral system, Bersani’s coalition – even on an underwhelming level of support – will win an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies. The Piepoli poll leaked above, obviously, predicts 340 seats for the left (302 PD, 28 SEL, 10 CD) against 141 for the right (111 PdL, 23 LN, 7 others). Monti would win 49 seats (36 SC, 11 UDC, 2 FLI) and M5S would take 87 seats. If Berlusconi staged an upset and won the election, regardless of the margin, it would also win a majority (over 340 seats).

Within the respective coalitions, the PD has coalesced almost the entirety of the centre-left coalition’s votes around it. In 2008, the PD had won 33% of the vote, a very good result. This year it could win around 27-30% of the vote, while Vendola’s SEL will come out with only 3-4%. Vendola likely peaked way too soon, and some of his erstwhile likely preferred the more radical and uncompromising M5S and RC.

On the centre-right, Berlusconi’s own party – the PdL – is not polling particularly well despite his ‘surge’. Most polls peg him at around 18-21% support, with a chance that Grillo could beat him to become the second largest party. The Lega Nord is consistently polling around 4-6%, which would be down from its 2008 result. The other parties in the centre-right coalition, collectively, poll around 3% support – but for each one of them, the race will be tough to either break 2% or become the largest centre-right coalition party below the threshold.

The leaked polls in the final days have shown late momentum for Grillo’s party, which will almost certainly finish at least in third place and place comfortably ahead of Monti’s coalition. Grillo has about 17-21% support in the polls, and he could even become the second largest party.

Monti’s coalition will probably be in for bad news for Monday. While it should manage to break into double digits, polling around 10-13% together, it will be in a distant fourth. Monti’s SC has managed to coalesce almost the entirety of the coalition’s support behind it, and should emerge with 7-10% support, while Casini’s UDC and especially Fini’s FLI will be crushed. The UDC could poll about 2-3% at most, while the FLI should stay in the 1% range. However, by virtue of being in a coalition with only three parties, the FLI will manage to eek out a few seats in the Chamber – but it will still be a horrible showing by Fini’s party.

For Ingroia’s Civil Revolution, it will be touch and go. Most polls show him barely below the 4% threshold, stabilizing at around 3-3.5% support, but there is an outside chance that he could be pushed over 4%.

The race will be for the Senate, where the majority bonus works at the regional level. The leaked Piepoli poll for the Senate showed that the left would fall short of a majority there (it needs 158 seats to win a majority), even with a 7 point led nationally over Berlusconi. It would win 148 seats (141 PD, 7 SEL) against 89 for Berlusconi (71 PdL, 18 LN), 42 for Grillo and 22 for Monti. If the right won an upset victory, it would probably not win enough to win an absolute majority in the Senate either.

There are a few major battleground regions, closely watched like in American elections, which will decide the senatorial race. One of those regions is Lombardy, traditionally a right-wing stronghold which is highly competitive this year and a major trophy for whoever wins it. A leaked poll on February 22 had the right with 40.5% against 39% for the left (9% Monti, 7% M5S). A ‘papal conclave’ leaked poll also had the right ahead recently, up 3.5% on the left.

The right is said to hold a comfortable lead in the Veneto, one of the most conservative regions. The papal conclave poll had it up 4 points there. Friuli-Venezia Giulia is also a battleground region, likely with a narrow lean to the left. If Piedmont were to go for the right on election night, the left would be in major trouble.

In the south, Sicily – traditionally a right-wing stronghold – is the main battleground region. The papal conclave poll had the right up 3 points there. But the race in Campania and Apulia is also closely contested. The same leaked poll showed a tied race in Apulia, while the left had a statistically insignificant 1 point edge in Campania.

Scenaripolitici sums up the various options for the Senate in a handy chart here. If the right wins only Veneto and Lombardy, the left would hold a tiny majority on its own. If it added Sicily to that, the left would lack a majority but could govern with Monti’s support. A victory in FVG or Apulia, in addition to those three regions, would make a left+Monti upper house majority shakier. If the right, in an upset, were to sweep all uncertain regions, it would hold only a tiny plurality over the left according to these scenarios and would be unable to form an upper house majority.

Therefore, if Berlusconi won, he would have the confidence of the Chamber but he would certainly lack the Senate. It is very hard to see Berlusconi reaching a deal with either the left or Monti (M5S won’t deal with anybody) in the Senate, given how the left/Monti hate Berlusconi and how he hates them in return. Berlusconi’s victory on Monday would probably mean a snap election very quickly, unless he achieves the impossible in the Senate.

Regional elections

There will also be regional elections in Lombardy, Lazio (Latium) and Molise on Sunday and Monday. All three are snap elections in which the regional president will be directly elected alongside the regional legislature.

Largest party by comuni in the 2010 regional elections, Lombardy (source: it.wikipedia.org)

Lombardy, Italy’s most populous region and the economic powerhouse of northern Italy (Milan), will be the big prize of these regional elections. It has been a right-wing stronghold since 1948, it only had a single left-wing regional president (1992-1994). Roberto Formigoni, one of the leading ex-DC figures in Berlusconi’s party (FI and later PdL), has been the region’s president since 1995. He has always won comfortable majorities, in the 2010 regional elections he was reelected with 56.1% against 33.3% for the centre-left candidate. Even in the 2005 regional elections, a ‘red wave’ year throughout Italy, he beat the left by about 10 points.

Lombardy is also the birthplace of the Lega Lombarda, and while the Veneto has usually been the Lega’s strongest region, the Lega’s leadership (Bossi, Maroni) comes from Lombardy and the Lega is a very powerful force. In 2010, the Lega won 26.2% (second largest party behind the PdL) on the list vote and swept the mountainous provinces of Bergamo and Sondrio. The Lega briefly held the regional presidency, between 1994 and 1995.

The left has been weak in the region for decades, but the Second Republic proved especially tough for the centre-left. The left is strongest in the low-lying border provinces of Mantova, Cremona, Lodi and Pavia; it also has substantial support in Milan’s working-class suburbs (the old ‘Red Belt’ where the PCI was dominant) but Berlusconi and the Lega made major inroads in those areas since 1994.

Formigoni was forced to resign when one of his allies was arrested on accusations he bought votes from the ‘Ndrangheta (Calabrian mafia) and extorted favours and public building contracts.

One of the points in the Berlusconi-Lega coalition deal in January was that the PdL would support Roberto Maroni’s candidacy for the regional presidency. If he wins, the Lega would control the regional presidencies of the three largest regions in northern Italy: Piedmont, Lombardy and the Veneto. Maroni’s left-wing rival (also supported by RC) is Umberto Ambrosoli, a lawyer. The Monti’s coalition candidate is Gabriele Albertini, a PdL MEP and the right-wing mayor of Milan between 1997 and 2006. Silvana Carcano is the M5S’ candidate.

The race is extremely competitive this year. The last official polls had Ambrosoli (PD) with a statistically insignificant 1 or 2 point edge over Maroni (LN-PdL) with Carcano (M5S) at around 10% and Albertini (Monti) with about 7% support. A final leaked poll showed Maroni’s horse a short distance behind Ambrosoli’s horse, 41-39. But another recent leaked poll had Maroni up 44.5 to 42 over the left.

Lazio (Latium) includes Rome and surrounding provinces and it is the third most populous region in Italy. Unlike Lombardy, the Lazio has been a hotly contested ‘swing’ region since 1948, with close DC-PCI contests under the First Republic and similarly close left-right battles since 1994. The right, with Renata Polverini (a trade unionist linked to a right-wing union, UGL), regained the region from the left in 2010. Polverini won 51.1% against 48.3% for Emma Bonino, a former European Commissioner and leader of the Italian Radicals. The left had won the region in 2005, defeating Francesco Storace (AN) who had himself defeated a left-wing incumbent in 2000.

The left enjoys strong support in the province of Rome, both in the capital itself and in industrial suburban towns surrounding the city to the north and east. The right is usually strongest in the Roman hinterland, particularly strong in the coastal Latina province – a province built and promoted by Mussolini. The fascist regime has had a strong influence over regional politics. Mussolini’s grandiose imperial dreams meant that he developed, modernized and promoted Rome and its hinterland and envisioned to turn a fairly marginal region into the lavish capital of a reborn Roman Empire. Even if Mussolini’s imperial projects failed, his regeneration of Rome and the Lazio were rather successful. Electorally, after the end of the war, fascist nostalgia was particularly strong in the region – the MSI was strong, and after 1994, the AN was the dominant right-wing party in Rome and the Lazio (with strong support, peaking at nearly 30% and rarely dipping below 20%).

Polverini was forced to resign amid a scandal over the alleged embezzlement of public funds by regional councillors who used those funds to buy cars, holidays, lavish dinners and even a bawdy masked ‘toga party’. This scandal came at a particularly inappropriate time, given the austerity and calls on ‘sacrifices’ by regular Italians. It reinforced views of politicians as corrupt and overpaid.

The left’s candidate is Nicola Zingaretti, the PD president of the province of Rome. The right’s candidate is former regional president Francesco Storace, leader of the hard-right La Destra. The centre is backing Giulia Bongiorno, a finiani FLI deputy; the M5S candidate is Davide Barillari. Zingaretti is the favourite to win, the last polls had him with about 45% against only 28% for Storace.

The tiny southern region of Molise is a rural, conservative and devout Catholic region. Under the First Republic, it was one of the DC’s best regions – the DC won an absolute majority in the regional council in every election between 1970 and 1990. Since then, the left has been stronger in the region – partly because Antonio Di Pietro’s IdV has been rather strong in his native region. The left won the regional presidency in 1995 and 2000, but the 2000 election was later invalidated and the right won the 2001 election. The right’s Angelo Michele Iorio (FI/PdL) was reelected in 2006 and 2011. In the 2011 election, Iorio won 46.9% against 46.2% for the left – a close election in which the M5S’ 5.6% likely allowed the right to win. The election was overturned in 2012.

Iorio is running again. The left’s candidate, backed by IdV, is Paolo Di Laura Frattura. While the UDC is backing Iorio, Massimo Romano seems to be a local centrist candidate. Polls are hard to come by, but Scenaripolitici’s poll showed Iorio running one point ahead of the left with Romano in third on 21%.

Conclusion

Italian politics are almost always a mess, this year they’re an even bigger mess (hence why this post is absurdly long!). The polls, the trends and common wisdom seem to indicate that Bersani and the left will pull out an underwhelming, Pyrrhic victory on Monday evening. But the left had been supposed to pull out a comfortable victory in the 2006 election, but Berlusconi ended up almost winning the election which was decided by less than one percentage point. The ‘Berlusconi comeback’ this year and the left’s shrinking lead in the last stretch of the campaign has left-wingers in Italy and abroad worried about the prospect of a Berlusconi upset, like in 2006. But the circumstances seem different this year, and even the leaked polls are not showing any last minute Berlusconi surge – if anybody is in a position to do extremely well and surprise everybody on Monday, it’s Grillo, not Berlusconi. Besides, even if Berlusconi was to win on Monday, he would lack a senatorial majority and would find it impossible to govern.

The Italian left in government has usually been moderate, reformist and hardly radical. What seems to worry foreign investors and Monti’s foreign fanclub is Vendola’s presence in the centre-left coalition. Few are worried about Bersani, who was a reformer while in Prodi’s second government and will likely govern in a way which will not ruffle feathers and upset his European partners or investors. However, they fear that Vendola, who is anti-austerity and unambiguously left-wing, could be in a strong position to influence the government and push it in a left-wing direction. Vendola, for example, supports a Hollande-like super tax on high-income earners, which is totally unpalatable for foreign investors and the markets.

Monti’s foreign fanclub is resigned to a left-wing victory, but their best-case scenario is one where Bersani lacks a majority in the Senate and is forced to come to an agreement with Monti. Monti doesn’t dislike the PD or the left, he just dislikes Vendola and some left-wingers in the PD who are closely tied to the left-wing trade union CGIL. A Bersani-Monti deal for a senatorial majority is not impossible, in fact it is probably even likely. But Vendola is opposed to any deal with Monti and could find it hard to go along with such a deal, which would likely mean that Monti would retain a certain degree of influence over economic policy and would pressure Bersani’s government into supporting further economic liberalization and austerity measures. Then again, with the PD coming out as the hegemonic force on the centre-left, he could afford – though it could prove costly later – to break off the alliance with the SEL altogether and team up with Monti.

Italy’s election on Sunday and Monday could prove of capital importance to the future of the country and its political system. Besides, Italian politics are always fun to follow.

Local elections galore: Brazil, Chile, Finland and Sicily 2012

A whole slew of local (or regional) elections were held on October 28. There were mayoral runoff elections in Brazil, municipal elections in Chile and Finland and a regional election (for governor and regional legislature) in Sicily (Italy). This post tells you everything you need to know about these elections and what they mean for each of these countries.

Brazil

The first round of municipal elections were held in Brazil on October 7, 2012. I covered the first round in lots of details here. On October 28, there were mayoral runoff elections in all those municipalities with over 200,000 voters where no mayoral candidate had won 50%+1 of the vote two weeks before. Municipal city councils (câmaras municipais) and mayors in all cities with less than 200,000 voters and a few major cities (Rio, Belo Horizonte, Recife, Porto Alegre) were elected on October 7.

Here is the updated table of parties, with mayors (after the second round) and municipal councillors across Brazil:

PMDB 1,025 mayors (-176) and 7,963 councillors (-512)
PSDB 702 mayors (-89) and 5,255 councillors (-641)
PT 635 mayors (+77) and 5,181 councillors (+1,013)
PSD 497 mayors (+497) and 4,662 councillors (+4,662)
PP 468 mayors (-83) and 4,932 councillors (-197)
PSB 440 mayors (+130) and 3,555 councillors (+599)
PDT 314 mayors (-38) and 3,660 councillors (+135)
PTB 295 mayors (-118) and 3,571 councillors (-363)
DEM 278 mayors (-218) and 3,272 councillors (-1,529)
PR 276 mayors (-109) and 3,190 councillors (-344)
PPS 123 mayors (-6) and 1,861 councillors (-298)
PV 96 mayors (+21) and 1,584 councillors (+347)
PSC 83 mayors (+26) and 1,468 councillors (+322)
PRB 78 mayors (+24) and 1,204 councillors (+423)
PCdoB 56 mayors (+15) and 976 councillors (+364)
PMN 42 mayors (nc) and 605 councillors (+15)
PTdoB 26 mayors (+18) and 534 councillors (+205)
PRP 24 mayors (+7) and 581 councillors (+177)
PSL 23 mayors (+8) and 761 councillors (+241)
PTC 18 mayors (+5) and 484 councillors (+153)
PHS 17 mayors (+4) and 544 councillors (+193)
PRTB 16 mayors (+5) and 418 councillors (+157)
PPL 12 mayors (+12) and 176 councillors (+176)
PTN 12 mayors (-4) and 429 councillors (+29)
PSDC 9 mayors (+1) and 446 councillors (+95)
PSOL/PCB/PSTU 2 mayors (+2) and 56 councillors (+16) incl. 49 PSOL, 5 PCB, 2 PSTU
Others 240 mayors (-2)

The most important mayoral runoff battle was in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and economic capital. The incumbent mayor, Gilberto Kassab (PSD) was retiring. The battle opposed José Serra (PSDB), a former mayor/governor/cabinet minister and two time presidential candidate and education minister Fernando Haddad (PT), handpicked by former President Lula. In the first round, Serra won 30.8% against 29% for Haddad, relegating one-time favourite Celso Russomano (PRB) into third with 21.6% support. Russomano did not endorse any candidate, while fourth-place finisher Gabriel Chalita (PMDB) backed Haddad.

Fernando Haddad (PT) 55.57%
José Serra (PSDB) 44.43%

As predicted by the polls, Haddad won by a significant margin. His victory is the result of a number of factors: Lula’s popularity, even in traditionally right-leaning  middle-class São Paulo (in this case, Haddad’s moderate image and Dilma’s large popularity with middle-class Brazilians likely helped too) and Serra’s unpopularity stemming from his inability to accept that maybe it’s time for him to leave politics. While the PT had fairly mixed results in other large cities and state capitals across the country, they did win the race which in the end mattered the most: São Paulo. Lula’s ability to get his candidate elected – because Haddad’s success is in large part due to his mentor (he started out at 5% in the polls) – is a major success for the former President who was turned into the behind-the-scenes boss of the PT.

The PSDB had good results in small and medium-sized towns in the state of São Paulo, but the loss of the state capital must still be a major blow to the party. It is a particularly severe blow to José Serra, whose presidential ambitions for 2014 were likely killed by his defeat (though he is more and more delusional that we shouldn’t put it past him to run for something again, even if under his friend Kassab’s PSD banner rather than the tucano banner). The PSDB chose a poor candidate in Serra, when they had a fairly strong and talented bench. The country’s largest centre-right opposition party will need to find new blood, new talents and new ideas if it is to stand a chance in 2014 and beyond.

O Globo has an interesting map with results by precinct in São Paulo. The patterns are unsurprising: Haddad utterly dominated the traditionally petista working-class and low-income outskirts/suburbs of the city, while Serra was strongest in the upper middle-class bourgeois areas downtown. In the first round, Russomano and Chalita’s strength in the petista outskirts of the city had held down Haddad’s vote share, but in the runoff he certainly really maximized his votes. Compared to the 2010 presidential election, he improved on Dilma’s showing in the petista areas and made sizable gains in more middle-class areas where the centre-right is usually quite strong.

Salvador (Bahia), however, was a major blow for the PT. The state of Bahia has been governed for two terms by a PT governor, which has allowed the party to gain a strong institutional base at all levels of government in the state. However, governor Jaques Wagner (PT)’s approval ratings have been down recently. Holding a narrow advantage in the first round, federal deputy ACM Neto – the grandson of the state’s former conservative dynastic boss – won the runoff by a sizable margin over PT candidate Nelson Pelegrino. This victory, however, is certainly the only source of comfort for the crippled right-wing Democrats (DEM) in this election. They suffered embarrassing defeats almost everywhere else, putting the party’s continued existence into serious doubt.

ACM Neto (DEM) 53.51%
Nelson Pelegrino (PT) 46.49%

The first round in Curitiba (Paraná) saw the surprising defeat of incumbent mayor Luciano Ducci (PSB), backed by the state’s ambitious PSDB governor Beto Richo (himself a former mayor of Curitiba). The runoff opposed Ratinho Jr. (PSC), the son of a popular talk show host and TV personality and former federal deputy Gustavo Fruet (PDT), backed by the PT (despite being a former tucano). Fruet, backed by Dilma and her popular chief of staff Gleisi Hoffmann (the PT’s likely gubernatorial candidate in the state in 2014), handily defeated Ratinho Jr. and his anti-establishment campaign.

Gustavo Fruet (PDT) 60.65%
Ratinho Jr. (PSC) 39.35%

Manaus (Amazonas) had fairly interesting results in the first round, largely because of the unexpected strong showing from former PSDB senator Artur Virgílio Neto (PSDB) who placed way ahead of senator Vanessa Grazziotin (PCdoB, backed by the PT). After a strong first round, Artur Neto – who lost reelection to the senate in 2010 – was easily elected. This is a fairly unwelcome defeat for the PT.

Artur Virgílio Neto (PSDB) 65.95%
Vanessa Grazziotin (PCdoB) 34.05%

The runoff in Fortaleza (Ceará), which opposed Roberto Cláudio (PSB) – the candidate backed by governor Cid Gomes (PSB) and his brother Ciro Gomes (PSB, a former presidential candidate/governor/mayor/cabinet minister) – and Elmano de Freitas (PT), backed by term-limited PT mayor Luizianne Lins was one of the most closely disputed battles between the PT and the PSB in Brazil. The PT and PSB, traditional allies for over twenty years, are slowly drifting away from one another. The PSB governor of Pernambuco, Eduardo Campos, is often talked about as a potential presidential candidate in 2014 – perhaps even in a super-ticket with the opposition PSDB. Strong from a big victory in Recife in the first round, this race as well as that in Cuiabá were major tests for the PSB and Eduardo Campos’ presidential ambitions. The PSB emerged victorious in a close race.

Roberto Cláudio (PSB) 53.52%
Elmano (PT) 46.98%

Boosted by the support of popular state governor Simão Jatene (PSDB), federal deputy Zenaldo Countinho (PSDB) emerged victorious in Belém (Pará). He defeated popular state deputy and former mayor Edmilson Rodrigues (PSOL) by a nice big margin.

Zenaldo Countinho (PSDB) 56.61%
Edmilson Rodrigues (PSOL) 43.39%

As mentioned above, Cuiabá (Mato Grosso) was another major PT-PSB battle with clear national implications. Again, it was the PSB, whose candidate benefited from the backing of powerful senator Blairo Maggi (PR) and senator, which emerged victorious against the PT candidate, backed by the PMDB governor.

Mauro Mendes (PSB) 54.65%
Lúdio (PT) 45.35%

As expected, former mayor Carlos Eduardo Alves (PDT) easily regained his old seat in Natal (Rio Grande do Norte). One of the countless scions of a very powerful and influential oligarchic dynasty in the state – his cousin Garibaldi Alves Filho (PMDB) is a cabinet minister and his uncle is a former governor – he was opposed to Hermano Moraes, the PMDB candidate backed by his other cousin, PMDB house leader Henrique Eduardo Alves.

Carlos Eduardo Alves (PDT) 58.31%
Hermano Moraes (PMDB) 41.69%

Teresina (Piauí) mayor Elmano Férrer (PTB), backed by the PMDB, lost reelection to former mayor and state deputy Firmino Filho (PSDB).

Firmino Filho (PSDB) 51.54%
Elmano Férrer (PTB) 48.46%

São Luis (Maranhão) mayor João Castelo (PSDB) lost reelection to Edivaldo Holanda Jr. (PTC), a result which is a good post for Embratur president and former federal deputy Flávio Dino (PCdoB), a major rival of the local Sarney dynasty.

Edivaldo Holanda Jr. (PTC) 56.06%
João Castelo (PSDB) 43.94%

In other races across the country:

The PSB’s Jonas Donizette (backed by the PSDB) defeated the PT’s Marcio Pochmann with 57.69% in Campinas, the third city in the state of São Paulo. In Ribeirão Preto (São Paulo), incumbent mayor Dárcy Vera (PSD, backed by the PMDB) narrowly defeated the PSDB’s Darcy Nogueira with 51.97%. In other cities in the state, the PT enjoyed a solid win over the PSDB in Guarulhos and gained Santo André – though on the other hand, it lost its traditional stronghold of Diadema and the PSDB won a significant victory in Taubaté.

In Florianópolis, the capital of the southern state of Santa Catarina, state deputy César Souza Jr. (PSD) – backed by PSD governor Raimundo Colombo – defeated Gean Loureiro (PMDB), the candidate backed by the city’s two-term PMDB mayor and senator and former governor Luiz Henrique da Silveira (PMDB). He won 52.64% against 47.36% for Loureiro. However, the PMDB was successful against the PSD in the state’s largest city, Joinville, where the PMDB’s Udo Dohler won 54.65%. The PSDB enjoyed a landslide over the PSD in Blumenau.

What do these results mean for the 2014 presidential and federal elections in Brazil? The PT itself comes out strong, especially with Haddad’s victory in São Paulo even though its record elsewhere is more disappointing. President Dilma retains very strong approval ratings and she would probably enter a reelection campaign in 2014, even against strong PSDB and PSB candidates, as the favourite. Lula’s hand was strengthened by the results in São Paulo, but to date there have been no public spats between Lula and his former protege (Dilma) and a Lula primary challenge in 2014 remains unlikely.

The opposition remains weak and the PSDB is in dire need of newer generations or new(er) ideas, but it does have some strong hopes for 2014. The early favourite for the opposition is Minas Gerais senator Aécio Neves (PSDB), who was boosted by the victory of his ally Márcio Lacerda (PSB) in Belo Horizonte by the first round and whose candidates were otherwise quite successful in the state (with a few exceptions). His defeat in São Paulo means that José Serra will probably not run for president in 2014, and Paraná governor Beto Richa (PSDB)’s potential ambitions took a hit with his candidates’ defeats in Curitiba, Londrina and other cities in Paraná. São Paulo’s governor Geraldo Alckmin, who ran for president against Lula in 2006, is popular but he will certainly prefer to run for reelection in his state, where he would be the favourite to win a second term.

The PSB emerged much stronger from these elections, and the party won almost all its high-profile targets: Recife, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Cuiabá and Campinas. These results will serve to boost Pernambuco governor Eduardo Campos’ presidential ambitions for 2014. It is not yet certain whether or not the PSB will break all bridges with the PT in 2014 and endorse Eduardo Campos for president (or if he will prefer to wait until 2018, for example); but the odds seem to be that Campos will run in 2014. Again, there has been talk of the PSB and PSDB forming some sort of super-ticket with Campos and Aécio (though the ‘order’ of the ticket could be a source of division between the two) in 2014. Regardless, the 2014 election promises to be an exciting and closely disputed election.

Chile

Municipal elections were held in Chile on October 28. All mayors and municipal councillors are directly and separately elected to serve four-year terms, there are no term limits. Mayors are elected by FPTP, while the municipal councils – which are composed of 6, 8 or 10 councillors based on the size of the city, seem to be elected through some kind of open-list PR. There are 345 mayors and 2,224 municipal councillors.

In 2010, Sebastián Piñera became the first right-of-centre candidate to be elected president of Chile since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship in 1990. His election ended twenty-years of rule by the centre-left coalition, namely the broad-based and heterogeneous Concertación coalition which is composed of christian democrats, social democrats and liberals. However, more than halfway into his term (he cannot seek immediate reelection in 2013-2014), Piñera’s approval ratings languish below 40%. The successful rescue of 33 trapped miners in a mine in northern Chile back in August 2010 had made his approvals go through the roof, but over two years later, the shine has definitely worn off.

In 2011, Piñera faced a major student movement which protested the country’s free-market and for-profit secondary and post-secondary education system. Chile’s education system, which dates back to Pinochet’s regime, is dominated by the private sector which runs most high schools and universities. Government spending on education accounts for only 4.4% of the GDP (the UN recommends 7% for developed nations), the limited public education system is run by individual municipalities and the government makes wide use of school vouchers. The protests demanded the end of profit in higher education, currently banned by the law but nonetheless widespread; increased state support for universities; more state spending in education; tougher state supervision and control of secondary education and limiting the extent of the voucher system. Piñera’s government handling of the student crisis proved unpopular and he appeared hostile to the movement’s demands – in fact, he proposed to legalize for-profit post-secondary education. By now, the student movement has dissipated somewhat, though the remnants of the movement have apparently radicalized.

He also faced unexpectedly strong public discontent over the HydroAysén hydroelectric project in Patagonia. This huge energy project plans to build five new hydroelectric dams in Patagonia, aiming to meet the country’s rising energetic needs. The public has been largely opposed to this project, decrying the environmental and agricultural impacts of the huge project on the region’s fragile ecosystem and local agriculture.

However, the opposition – the Concertación coalition – is not in the best of shape. The old disparate coalition is increasingly divided and lacks new ideas. The student movement could be seen as being indicative of a larger desire for major sociopolitical change in Chile, where the negotiated transition from military rule to multi-party democracy allowed strong economic growth and development but kept intact some vestiges of the old regime: the Senate’s composition, the electoral system or the education system. Many on the left are eager for more profound change including a constituent assembly and a new “socioeconomic model”. The Concertación, while in power, proved either unable or unwilling to confront issues such as education, energy or economic inequalities.

The Concertación, as in the 2008 municipal elections, was divided going into the election. The Socialists (PS) and the Christian Democrats (PDC) remained united under the banner of the Concertación, but the two other parties of the old coalition – the liberal PRSD and the centre-left PPD – allied with the Communist Party (PCC) under the coalition Por un Chile Justo. The PRSD has openly stated that it believes that the Concertación coalition has done its time and that it is time to move on. The PPD and PRSD had already fought the 2008 elections separately from the PS and the PDC. The left, since the 2009-2010 election, must now wrestle with a new actor: the El Cambio por Ti coalition and the Progressive Party (PRO) of former left-wing independent presidential candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami. Marco won over 20% in the first round of the 2009 presidential election, though he has largely been unable to translate his personal votes into strong support for his new coalition.

The governing centre-right coalition, the Coalición, composed of Piñera’s RN and the formerly pinochetista right-wing UDI, remained united.

This was the first election in Chile were voting was no longer mandatory. In the past, registration was voluntary but voting was mandatory; now registration is automatic (the result has been the registration of 4.5 million Chileans, largely young who had not registered to vote in the past) but voting is voluntary. Turnout was very low, around 40-45%. This low turnout reflects, again, growing dissatisfaction with politics. Few voters trust their politicians, institutions and political parties; the youth feeling particularly left out and disappointed by politics.

Results of the 2012 Chilean mayoral elections by municipality (source: uselectionatlas.org)

The government website is a horrible mess, but it appears that, nationally, the right won 37.5% of the vote and 121 mayors while the Concertación won 29% and 106 mayors. The PPD-PRSD-PCC coalition won 13.7% and 62 mayors. Enríquez-Ominami’s coalition won only 3% and 7 towns. Independents accounted for 11% of the national vote and were victorious in 40 municipalities. In 2008, the right won 40.7% against 28.7% for the Concertación and 9.7% for the PPD-PRSD.

These results are an unexpected success for the opposition, despite its disunity; and a setback for the governing right-wing coalition. The right was likely hurt by the low turnout, the opposition’s base being far more motivated to turn out. Prominent right-wing incumbents were defeated in high-profile races in major municipalities, including a lot in the Santiago metropolis.

In Santiago itself, incumbent mayor Pablo Zalaquett (UDI) was defeated by Carolina Tohá (PPD), the daughter of a former Allende cabinet minister and herself chief of staff to President Michelle Bachelet. Zalaquett, formerly mayor of the suburban town of La Florida, had won a first term in 2008. His management of the 2011 student protests in the city had been controversial. He won 43.89% against 50.63% for Carolina Tohá.

The middle-class suburb of Providencia in the Santiago metropolis had been the stronghold of Cristián Labbé (UDI), who had been a close ally of Augusto Pinochet, since 1996. Voters had backed him because of his reputation as a good administration, despite his close association with the military regimne. His defeat this year in the hands of an independent backed by the Concertación, Josefa Errázuriz, was a major symbolic defeat for the right. Errázuriz won 56.06% against 43.93% for Cristián Labbé, who was seeking a fifth term in office.

Another upper middle-class suburb of Santiago, Ñuñoa, also saw the defeat of a four-term right-wing incumbent, Pedro Sabat (RN). Maya Fernandez Allende (PS), a granddaughter of Salvador Allende, won 44.9% against 44.7% for Pedro Sabat.

In Recoleta, Daniel Jadue (PCC) defeated the incumbent UDI mayor and a former right-wing mayor, Gonzalo Cornejo, who ran as an independent.

In Concepción, the major city of southern Chile, held by a retiring right-wing incumbent, Álvaro Ortiz (PDC) won 55.15% against only 37.25% for the UDI candidate. The opposition also gained Punta Arenas in the far south of the country.

The right held Valparaíso (UDI), Puento Alto (RN), Las Condes (UDI) and La Florida (UDI). The opposition held Maipú (PDC) and Peñaloén (PDC).

Speculation about the 2013-2014 presidential election has been building up for quite some time. The Concertación, unwilling to confront its internal problems and high risk for more divisions in 2013, has been playing a game of wait-and-see until former President Michelle Bachelet (PS), Piñera’s predecessor who left office with sky-high approval ratings, decides whether or not she wants to run for another term. Bachelet remains very popular, even if some of her record is now being criticized. She would certainly be capable of holding the Concertación together for another go-through and polls indicate that she would be the favourite for the presidency. If she does not run, the opposition does have other fairly strong candidates but no clear frontrunners. Some of these other names include Andrés Velasco, an economist and Bachelet’s popular finance minister; the new mayor of Santiago Carolina Tohá and the PDC mayor of Peñaloén Claudio Orrego. Some senators are also lining up.

The right has four potential candidates: defense minister Andrés Allamand (RN), economy minister Pablo Longueira (UDI), labour minister Evelyn Matthei (UDI) and public works (former mines and energy) minister Laurence Golborne (independent). Allamand and Golborne are the two most prominent candidates in this field, and probably the two who stand the best chances in a presidential election. Golborne, an independent figure, became very popular following the rescue of the 33 miners trapped underground in August 2010, and he remains one of the most popular ministers in the government. If he did run, Golborne would likely be the favourite in a primary and could potentially stand a good chance against the opposition in the presidential race.

Finland

Municipal elections were held in Finland on October 28. There are are 9,674 seats in 304 municipalities. These elections come after legislative elections in April 2011 which saw a very strong result by Timo Soini’s right-populist and eurosceptic True Finns (PS) party, which won 19%. PS was excluded from government, but the new six-party coalition led by Jyrki Katainen from the centre-right/liberal KOK has taken a hardline in Eurozone negotiations, a clear result of PS’ growing power. Finland has gained a reputation as a “hardliner” in the Eurozone when it comes to Greece and Spain, it was the only country to demand collateral in exchange for helping to rescue Greece and Spain and it favours rigid requirements for the use of the new European Stability Mechanism (ESM). The SDP, the main junior partner in the six-party government, which had been hurt – like other parties – by PS in 2011, has now adopted a much tougher stance on the euro. Most Finns remain supportive of the EU and the euro, but there is rising frustration and dissatisfaction with European integration. Some feel that they are punished at home by austerity measures while rewarding profligate countries like Greece or Spain.

Finland’s economy remains stronger than other economies in the EU: it still has an AAA credit ranking, its deficit is much smaller than the EU’s 3% deficit limit and the country’s debt (around 45-50%) is better than a lot of other European countries. However, growth has slowed – almost to a halt in 2012 (+0.2%) – in part because of Nokia’s troubles; and it is set to remain rather low in coming years. Some have urged the government to reevaluate its austerity (spending cuts, tax increases) policy in the wake of slow growth, but the government appears unwilling to deviate from its path.

In the context of these municipal elections, the government – the KOK in particular – has been pushing a municipal reform which would greatly reduce the number of municipalities by merging a lot of them, arguing that such a reform is needed to create more efficient larger units. At the same time, however, the government parties have reiterated that there would be no forced mergers, but the threat is still lingering out there. The principle of municipal autonomy is dear to many voters, especially those in rural areas who fear that rural areas will be hollowed out by the government’s policies (which would impact local services such as healthcare). The opposition Centre Party (KESK), whose support comes predominantly from rural Finland which would probably stand to lose the most from any reform, has opposed the government’s municipal reform. However, a number of KOK mayors from affluent suburbs have opposed the mergers of their own municipalities. This indicates a small NIMBY phenomenon at work in municipal reform: politicians broadly agree that larger units would be more efficient, but few are keen on having their own municipalities be merged into a larger unit.

Turnout was 58.3%, down from around 61% in the 2008 local elections. The results table below compares the party’s results to their 2008 local election result and then their 2011 legislative election result.

KOK 21.9% (-1.6%, +1.5%) winning 1,735 seats (-286)
SDP 19.6% (-1.7%, +0.5%) winning 1,729 seats (-337)
KESK 18.7% (-1.4%, +2.9%) winning 3,077 seats (-440)
PS 12.3% (+7%, -6.7%) winning 1,195 seats (+752)
Green 8.5% (-0.4%, +1.3%) winning 323 seats (-47)
VAS 8% (-0.8%, -0.1%) winning 640 seats (-193)
SFP-RKP 4.7% (nc, +0.4%) winning 480 seats (-30)
KD 3.7% (-0.4%, -0.3%) winning 300 seats (-51)
Others 2.5% (-0.9%, +0.8%) winning 195 seats (-103)

The governing parties all won fairly good results in these elections, even if slightly down on the last local elections in 2008. The True Finns (PS), compared to the 2008 local elections, are the clear winners. While the PS is well on its way to establishing itself as a major player in Finnish politics in the years to come (if that was not already obvious), its result in these elections are a far cry from the 19% the party won in the 2011 legislative elections but also fall short of what polls had predicted. While there are grounds for calling PS the big “winners” of this election – which is what most foreign media outlets have done – it should certainly be noted that these results are quite underwhelming for the party. The party’s leader, Timo Soini, admitted that these results were not what he had hoped for though he said that he would keep fighting and that the Eurozone meltdown would eventually “prove him right.”

The country’s three traditional parties – KESK, SDP or KOK – which had all suffered (especially KESK) from PS bursting onto the scenes in 2011 – recovered some of their lost support. KESK itself reestablished itself as one of the three major parties in Finland, and it held its solid rural base. It is the largest party in around 200 of the 304 municipalities and it has – by far – the most local councillors (over 3,000), most of them from small rural municipalities. KESK’s traditional support and strength in most small towns in rural Finland likely hurt PS a bit – some potential voters (and maybe PS voters in 2011) preferring to back the traditionally dominant party in local elections.

The government’s tough (“hardline”) policies in the Eurozone, such as demanding collateral from Greece and Spain, might have successfully checked the rise of the populist eurosceptic right, for the time being. A series of controversial homophobic or racist statements by PS MPs and candidates has also been cited as a reason for PS’ relatively “weak” result this year. Again, while PS has established itself as a major player in Finnish politics, its momentum from 2011 might have been stopped by the government parties and the KESK (which has moved towards more Euro-critical stances since 2011) successfully regaining lost support.

The other, smaller, parties had fairly good results. The Greens suffered some loses but largely did fairly well, and their support did not collapse in Helsinki as it had been expected. The left (VAS) lost some ground, especially in their traditional working-class strongholds in northern Finland, but it retained over 600 councillors and did well in Helsinki. The Swedish party (SFP-RKP) managed to mobilize their base and retain their base in the predominantly Swedish municipalities on the western and southern coast. The Christian Democrats (KD) lost some ground, but they still have 300 seats.

Stability prevailed in most major cities. In Helsinki, KOK won 26.9% and 23 seats (down 3) while the Greens did not collapse as some had predicted: they remained second with 22.3% (down about 1%) and 19 seats (-2). The SDP won 15 seats (16.8%, losing 1 seat) while VAS and PS both made gains, winning 10.1% and 9.4% respectively. In Finland’s second-largest city, the affluent Helsinki suburb of Espoo, KOK won 36% against 16.7% for the Greens. The KOK and SDP tied with 18 seats apiece in Vantaa, a less affluent suburban town north of Helsinki.

Outside of metro Helsinki, the KOK was the largest party in Tampere and Turku while KESK remained on top in the northern city of Oulu. In Tampere, the KOK and SDP ended up nearly tied (17 and 16 seats respectively) with the Greens suffering some loses. In Turku, KOK won nearly 26% against a bit over 20% for the SDP, though both lost ground compared to 2008. In Oulu, KESK won 27% against roughly 20% for KOK and 14% for VAS.

You can explore results in all other municipalities on this website.

Sicily (Italy)

Regional elections were held in Sicily on October 28, 2012. Since 2001, the regional President is directly elected by popular vote. The Regional Assembly of Sicily is composed of 90 members, 80 of which are elected through the largest remainders method of PR in Sicily’s 9 provinces with a 5% thresholds. The other 10 members are elected on a “regional list” (a kind of general ticket/plurality at-large voting), the regional president gets one seat and the runner-up in the presidential ballot gets a seat – the other 8 are usually given to the winning presidential ticket as a sort of “majority bonus”; if the presidential ticket has already achieved a majority (as was the case in 2008 in Sicily), the eight seats are given to the runner-up’s presidential ticket.

Sicily is an autonomous region with a special status, granted immediately after the war in 1946 (other Italian regions without a special statute only received an elected legislature in 1970). This means that the Sicilian regional government keeps 100% of the taxes it levies, though it must fund healthcare, education and public infrastructure by itself (Sicily does get some additional central government funding to help it out). In a context of debt/economic crisis in Italy, Sicily has been pointed out as a bad example: its regional government is notoriously bloated and profligate; spending tons, paying generous pensions, employing (directly or indirectly) over 100,000 of the population’s 5 million inhabitants. Sicily’s economic situation is catastrophic, the region is teetering on the verge of default because of its huge debt. This article from the New York Times back in July is particularly interesting.

Sicily is a conservative stronghold in Italy. Since 1947, the centre-right has held the regional presidency for all but two short years (1998-2000, during a particularly divided and unstable regional legislature), and it national elections it has backed the right – most recently Silvio Berlusconi – by big margins. In the 2001 Italian elections, Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition had swept the entirety of the island’s 61 seats. In the 2008 regional elections, the right-wing candidate for president won 65% against barely 30% for the centre-left.

Sicily is a poor region, even today. Its unemployment rate, probably nearing 15% even on official records, is much higher than the national average. During the twentieth century, Sicily was a land of emigration - North Americans (and South Americans) can certainly attest to the huge number of Sicilians (and other southern Italians) who immigrated to the United States or Canada. Until the 1960s, the island’s economy was predominantly based around agriculture (fruits, wines) and structured around large estates led by distant bosses and employing throngs of poor landless labourers. After Italian unification at the end of the nineteenth century, the central government – allied with the local landowners – resisted moves towards any kind of agrarian reform. To defend themselves against rural banditry and their own landless labourers, the landowners employed local thugs to protect their property – the roots of the modern mafia.

The mafia grew in power and influence in Sicily, and they filed the vacuum between the people and the state. During Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, the mafia was chased into hiding by Mussolini’s regime, which saw the mafia as a threat to its power. However, when the Allies invaded Sicily (and Italy) in 1943, they allied with the mafia and allowed the mafia to return to a prominent role in the immediate post-war era. The dominant force of centre-right politics during the ‘First Republic’, Christian Democracy (DC), allied itself with the powerful Catholic Church, the conservative landowners and the mafia and became the dominant party in Sicilian politics. The alliance between the DC and the mafia created a clientelistic system of political patronage which has survived to this day in Sicily and elsewhere in southern Italy. The mafia ensured the success of the DC at the polls and checked the rise of the Communist Party (PCI), which in Sicily organized restless landless peasants by demanding wide-reaching social and agrarian reform. In return, the DC state made sure that the mafia’s business interests were protected and supported. The ‘First Republic’ and the close alliance between the DC and the Sicilian mafia collapsed with the Tangentopoli scandals and Mani Pulite investigations of the early 1990s in Italy.

While the PCI had some success in coastal municipalities with fishermen and in some rural communities with more radical landless peasants, Sicily has been a conservative stronghold and has consistently voted for right-wing parties. The roots of this conservatism comes from the lack of strong communities and communitarian feelings in southern Italy. Until 1946, southern Italy had been ruled almost exclusively by autocratic regimes who maintained formal feudal structures into the early nineteenth century and which subsequently based their power on support from the rural landowning elite. This history, compounded with the emergence of the mafia as a potent force in the 1850s, diluted any feelings of society. Southern Italy society is fairly atomized and individualistic, there is a strong “anti-cooperative” mindset which has kept the PCI and other left-wing parties traditionally weak. The relation of the average Sicilian or southern Italian with corruption and the mafia is different than in other places. To a certain extent, corruption is accepted as part of the political process.

In the ‘Second Republic’ era of Italian politics, which is coming to an end as we speak, Sicily has remained true to its conservative traditions. In 1994, Berlusconi’s new right-wing anti-establishment party, Forza Italia, found strong backing in Sicily and the island has since been one of the Berlusconian right’s strongholds. However, other centre-right players are important in Sicily. The old DC tradition has not entirely died out in Sicily, which has given strong results to the various centre-right successor parties of the DC – Casini’s UDC won over 9% of the vote in Sicily in the 2008 elections, well above its national result. Between 2001 and 2008, Sicily’s regional president was a right-wing Christian democrat, Salvatore Cuffaro, who is currently living in jail (for aiding the mafia). As the ‘First Republic’ faded away, the DC and its venal allies had seen their support shift to the south, where the networks of political patronage and clientelism had built a resilient electoral clientele.

There is a small regionalist movement in Sicily, though it is debatable to what extent these parties are actually fundamentally ‘regionalist’ or autonomist and to what extent they are merely empty kleptocratic shells founded by political bosses to further their political interests. Sicily’s post-war separatist movement, the MIS, has certainly died out. Nevertheless, Sicily’s regional president between 2008 until his resignation this year, Raffaele Lombardo, is the leader of one of these confusing regionalist parties – the Movement for Autonomies (MPA). In 2008, Lombardo and the MPA were allied with Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition (the PdL) but relations quickly turned sour. The MPA left the Berlusconi government in November 2010, prior to that point Lombardo had already pushed the PdL and the UDC out of his government (in 2009). The MPA is currently aligned with the UDC and Gianfranco Fini’s FLI, as part of the vague centrist ‘pole’ which seems increasingly stillborn.

Raffaele Lombardo’s resignation because of his suspected ties to the mafia and other corruption scandals earlier this year forced this snap regional election. Sicily, again, is a conservative region where the right has dominated regional politics since World War II. However, Italy’s political system – the ‘Second Republic’ – is going through a period of radical change, similar to that period between 1992 and 1994 which saw the old ‘First Republic’ system collapse. Silvio Berlusconi and his countless run-ins with the law meant that he had no credibility in the eyes of his European partners to deal with Italy’s huge debt problem which has brought the country to the verge of bankruptcy. He resigned in November and Italy has been governed by Mario Monti, a “non-party technocrat” since then, with the lukewarm support of the left and the right until general elections in April 2013. Monti’s government has implemented stringent austerity measures and made some steps towards necessary reforms.

Berlusconi has been in-and-out of politics since November 2011. A few weeks ago, he said that he would not run in the 2013 election (after saying that he would) but shortly thereafter he denounced Monti, Germany and the judges who sentenced him for tax fraud and indicated that he would remain the playing field and threatened to bring down the government. His party, the PdL, has been ripping itself apart. Centrists including Angelino Alfano, Berlusconi’s anointed successor, are eager to get Berlusconi out of the picture. But there are rumours that Berlusconi could stage a return, leading a new anti-establishment populist/eurosceptic party along the lines of Forza Italia in 1994.

The opposition Democratic Party (PD) is hardly in better condition. It has struggled in opposition because of lacklustre old leaders who lacked charisma or even political talent; but also because of its very disparate and heterogeneous nature as a big tent anti-Berlusconi coalition uniting former communists and former left-leaning Christian democrats. To the left, it has faced a re-energized post-communist coalition – the SEL (Left, Ecology and Freedom) led by the popular and charismatic Nichi Vendola, the regional president of Apulia. The PD and the SEL will hold a primary in late November to determine who will lead the coalition into the 2013 elections, and the race is very tight between the current PD leader, Pier Luigi Bersani (ex-PCI) and the young centrist mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi.

Since this summer, Italian politics have been shaken up by the 5-Star Movement (M5S), a populist movement led by popular comedian Beppe Grillo. A popular and powerful rabble-rousing orator, Grillo has lashed out at the “corrupt political establishment” and branded all parties and politicians as crooks. In the polls, the M5S has surged to nearly 20%, often placing second ahead of the PdL (the PD retaining a lead with an anemic 25% or so). The M5S’s roots are on the far-left, but it has de-emphasized traditional ideology in favour of populism and a broad anti-establishment rhetoric. The party has also positioned itself against austerity and has taken to fairly virulent eurosceptic/anti-EU rhetoric. In the process, it has certainly attracted the votes from many unhappy right-wingers, including supporters of the Lega Nord (LN) who feel disgusted with the LN after corruption scandals touching the old boss, Umberto Bossi.

The Sicilian regional election opposed some interesting characters. The PD’s presidential candidate was Rosario Crocetta, a MEP since 2009. Crocetta is openly gay and a former communist (he was a member of the hardline PRC until 2000 and the moderate PdCI until 2008), and became famous as a courageous anti-mafia crusader. He has faced numerous threats on his life from the mafia. The PD, however, formed an alliance with the centre-right UDC rather than Vendola’s SEL in Sicily.

The PdL candidate was Nello Musumeci, a former MEP. Musumeci is not a member of the PdL, his political roots lay with the old post-fascist National Alliance (AN) and with a small right-wing autonomist party in Sicily. The candidate of the incumbent right-wing autonomist administration was Gianfranco Micciché, who is the former leader of the local branch of PdL in Sicily who decided to break with the national party. Lombardo later broke with Micciché’s party, the Great South/Force of the South, as well.

The M5S candidate was Giancarlo Cancelleri. Beppe Grillo campaigned actively, notably by swimming across the straits from Calabria to Messina. The party claimed that it spent only

Turnout was only 47.41%, down from 66.68% in the 2008 regional elections. 47% is extremely low turnout for Italian standards, and likely indicates that the right (PdL primarily) have lost a lot of former suppporters to the ranks of abstention (in addition to parties such as the M5S). The low turnout must also reflect disgust with politics from many voters, who resent the tough austerity and have seen their share of corrupt politicians lining their pockets, politicians engaging in orgies and wild festivities and old party hacks with the charisma of wet pizzas. The results in Sicily were:

President

Rosario Crocetta (PD-UDC) 30.48%
Nello Musumeci (PdL) 25.73%
Giancarlo Cancellieri (M5S) 18.18%
Gianfranco Micciché (MPA-GS) 15.42%
Giovanna Marano (SEL-IdV) 6.06%
Others 4.13%

Regional Assembly

Crocetta Regional List 30.4% winning 39 seats (30 provincial, 9 regional)
PD 13.4% (-5.4%) winning 14 seats (-5)
UDC 10.8% (-1.7%) winning 11 seats (nc)
Crocetta List 6.2% (+6.2%) winning 5 seats (+5)

Musumeci Regional List 24.4% winning 21 seats (20 provincial, 1 regional)
PdL 12.9% (-20.6%) winning 12 seats (-23)
Popular Constructions (PID) 5.9% (+5.9%) winning 4 seats (+4)
Musumeci List 5.6% (+5.6%) winning 4 seats (+4)

M5S 14.9% (+13.2%) winning 15 seats (+15)

Micciché Regional List 20% winning 15 seats
PdS-MPA 9.5% (-4.3%) winning 10 seats (-5)
Great South 6.0% (+6%) winning 5 seats (+5)
FLI 4.4% (+4.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Ppa – Piazza Pulita 0.1% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Marano Regional List 6.6% winning 0 seats
IdV 3.5% (+1.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SEL-PRC+PdCI-Greens 3.1% (-1.8%) winning 0 seats (nc)

All others 3.5% winning 0 seats

Results of the regional list/presidential vote by commune (source: it.wikipedia)

The Sicilian election was quite something. Rosario Crocetta’s victory means that conservative Sicily will have a gay communist (who hates the mafia) as President, which is something. On a more serious basis, Crocetta’s victory is an historic victory for the left in Sicily, which has practically never governed the island’s regional government since it was created in 1947. However, Crocetta’s victory, while still remarkable, is more a reflection of the utter disarray and chaos of the Sicilian – and Italian – right rather than the phenomenal success of the left. Crocetta’s vote share, 30.5%, is roughly on par with the 30.4% won by the PD’s Anna Finocchiaro in the 2008 election, an election which had been a total disaster for the Sicilian left (its candidate had won 41.6% in the 2006 regional election). This very underwhelming and anemic result for both the centre-left coalition and the PD in particular (it won only 13% on the party-list vote, down from an already awful 18.8% in 2008) reflects the state of the Italian left: a favourite to win the next election, but only because the right is sinking faster than the Titanic hitting the iceberg. The PD’s lackluster job in opposition, its uncharismatic leaders and its own internal divisions have meant that it has not benefited much from Berlusconi’s departure and the subsequent disintegration of the once-mighty Italian right.It has been asked by some observers if the victory of a PD-UDC rather than a PD-SEL coalition in these elections will have an impact on the direction of the PD, which is currently committed to an alliance with Vendola’s SEL rather than the UDC. It remains to be seen, but it must be noted that the UDC and the PD have practiced different alliance strategies from region to region, notably in the 2010 regional elections. In some places, the UDC allies with the right, in others it goes its own way and in other regions it allies with the PD. The PD, in some places, goes with the left and SEL but in other places it goes without SEL.

The right, particularly the PdL, was the clear loser of this election. It entered the race divided, and the division of the vote was one of the factors which allowed the left to score an historic victory which is a very, very embarrassing defeat for the right. Together, the two candidates won 41.15% – which would still be terrible for the right which had won all of 65% (!) in the 2008 regional election. The PdL suffered a huge defeat, winning only 13% on the party-list vote, which is down nearly 21 points on what it had won on the 2008 list-vote. This result reflects the collapse of Berlusconi’s once-mighty party as Berlusconi’s successive shenanigans (economic crisis/near default, style of governance, series of corruption scandal, underage sex) finally took their toll on the PdL, beginning in 2011 and accelerating to a point of no-return over the past year. The PdL’s disastrous result in Sicily probably does not help out Angelino Alfano, who is from Sicily, in these PdL primaries scheduled for December.

The M5S and Beppe Grillo, despite a shoestring campaign and a little-known candidate, were the major winners in Sicily. The M5S topped the poll in a very divided party-list vote and its candidate won third place with a very strong 18.2% (it seems like it placed first in the city of Palermo). Grillo’s party, regardless of whether one loves them or hates them, is definitely here to stay. In Sicily, they proved that their support is, for the moment, fairly deep and solid; showing up even in a regional election with very low turnout. Crocetta lacks a majority in the new Regional Assembly, which will make governing difficult for him. The M5S has refused to work with the new majority, in keeping with Grillo branding all exisiting parties as corrupt entities which should be swept away.

Italy’s economic/debt crisis has proven to be the trigger to the collapse of the ‘Second Republic’ party system as we know it. This exciting (or depressing, your choice!) era in Italian politics is similar to the previous political revolution which brought down the First Republic between 1992 and 1994: the Tangentopoli. Old parties are discredited and unappealing, the right and the left are both trying to totally revinvent themselves, old politicians are all seen in a very negative light and new parties led by inflammatory populists and powerful orators are bursting onto the scene. The M5S is following in the footsteps of Umberto Bossi’s Lega Nord in the early 90s and Silvio Berlusconi himself in 1994. It is feeding off the carcasses of the old parties, and presenting itself as a brand-new, anti-establishment/anti-corruption party which promises a radical break with the old system of Italian politics. 2013 may prove to be, nineteen years after Berlusconi’s first big victory in 1994, the birthdate of a ‘Third Republic’ in Italy.

Happy U.S. election day (and night) to all readers!

Molise (Italy) 2011

Regional elections were held in Molise, a region of Italy, on October 16 and 17, 2011. The directly-elected president of the region alongside the 26-seat regional council were up for reelection. The last elections took place in 2006 and were won by Angelo Michele Iorio of the right-wing coalition with 54% of the vote.

Molise is Italy’s newest regions – created out of Abruzzo in the 60s – and is the second least populated region in Italy. It is a small, rural and poor province in southern Italy. During the First Republic, Molise was a very conservative province and often gave the right-wing DC its best results in the country. The party on its own won over 50% of the votes and an absolute majority in all regional elections between 1970 and 1995. Under the Second Republic, however, Molise’s political profile has changed somewhat to become something of a swing region. In 1995, the left won the regional elections by a tiny margin over the right but in the games of alliances, the left-wing president was toppled in 1998 by Iorio, who aligned with the right before himself being removed in 1999 in favour of the left. The left won the 2000 elections by 0.4%, but these elections were cancelled when a court ruled that there had been irregularities concerning the Green list in the elections. Iorio won the re-vote in 2001 by 58% against 42% for the left’s Giovanni di Stasi. In 2006, he was reelected with 54%. But at the same time, Molise voted for the left coalition (although by very small margins) in both 2006 and 2008. A lot of this is due to the strong local implantation of Italy of Values (IdV), the anti-corruption party led by Molise favourite son and ex-magistrate Antonio di Pietro. IdV won 28% in the 2008 general elections, coming out far ahead of the mainstream PD which won only 18%.

This election wasn’t really on the radar and thus not played out as important a political test for embattled Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as the local elections earlier this year – marked by a big left-wing victory – but they were still interesting. Turnout was 59.79%, down from 65.1% in 2006.

Direct vote for president
Angelo Michele Iorio (Right-PdL) 46.94% winning 3 seats
Paolo Di Laura Frattura (Left-PD) 46.15% winning 1 seat
Antonio Federico (M5S) 5.6%
Giovancarmine Mancini (La Destra) 1.29%

Overall regional council vote
Right 56.37% winning 15 seats
Left 40.49% winning 11 seats
M5S 2.27%
La Destra 0.86%

The race for president, which in these regional elections is the most important contest, was surprisingly close and decided by 1505 and less than one percent. This is quite surprising considering Iorio’s apparent local popularity and the right’s much more pronounced success in elections to the regional council. This is a good result for the left, but a potential victory ‘spoiled’ by the strong showing of the Five Star Movement (M5S), a left-populist movement led by popular anti-corrpution blogger and and comedian Beppe Grillo. Grillo’s M5S had already ‘spoiled’ the 2010 regional election in Piedmont by taking away votes which would otherwise have pretty logically gone to the left. A pretty disappointing ‘close but no cigar’ election for the left.

The regional council vote was marked by some pretty amazing fragmentation, and also a pretty stark difference to the presidential race. On the right, the PdL emerged as the largest party with only 18.9% (5 seats), with strong showings from the local ‘Progetto Molise’ (9.5%), the UDC (6.8%), the Alliance of the Centre (6.7%) and the regionalist Great South (6.5%). On the left, it was even more fragmented. Overall, the left won 40.5%, quite a bit below Frattura’s showing in the presidential contest. The PD won only 9.9%. IdV did very poorly considering that Molise is the party’s home turf. It won 8.8%. Perhaps the party’s perceived shift to the left with the likes of newly-elected Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris (who favours a closer alliance with Nichi Vendola’s SEL) has been poorly received by voters in di Pietro’s native region. An IdV Senator from Molise recently criticized the IdV’s left-wing shift. Francesco Rutelli’s Alliance for Italy did well with 6.3%, as did the small Socialist Party which won 4.6%. Vendola’s SEL won 3.9%, the communist Federation of the Left took 2.8%.

Italy referendums 2011

Abrogative referendums were held in Italy on June 14, 2011. Article 75 of the constitution allows voters or five regional councils to propose the full or partial abrogation of a law through referendum. However, for an abrogative referendum to be successful, turnout must be over 50% or the vote will be deemed invalid. That means that opponents of the repeal of the laws in question more often than not abstain in mass and allow the referendum in question to fail, while those who do vote overwhelmingly favour the repeal of the laws. The last such referendum in 2009 saw paltry 23% turnout on questions related to electoral legislation. The last abrogative referendums which were valid were in 1995.

After Silvio Berlusconi’s defeat in the local elections two weeks ago, the referendums were another major test to the now unpopular cavaliere. The first question was about repealing a law allowing for the privatization of public services such as water distribution. The second question dealt with profits made in water distribution by private investors. The third question repealed a law allowing for the construction of nuclear power plants in Italy. The fourth question repealed Berlusconi’s immunity law which allows for the immunity of sitting ministers and of the President of the Council facing criminal charges. Berlusconi had passed this law so he wouldn’t have to attend his trials, notably in the Rubygate scandal.

Given how hard it is for turnout in these things to come close to 50%, let alone meet the threshold, the road ahead for the opposition was tough. But the winds have suddenly changed on Berlusconi, rather dramatically. A bit more than a year ago, the 2010 regional elections still gave the right victory. But the local elections in May, with the left gaining Milan and holding Naples, showed a major change in the popular mood. Berlusconi’s erratic flamboyant populism, which has always worked wonders for him, blew up in his face during the local elections. Voters turned soured on his populism, seeing his scaremongering rhetoric on Muslims and gypsies as cover for his corruption and a bad economic situation. That represents a major sea change, and maybe the beginning of the end for Berlusconi. The referendums gave another major blow to Berlusconi. Voters got motivated to go out, and around 57% of Italians voted for a final turnout of 55% when Italians abroad are counted. Berlusconi himself didn’t vote, spending his weekend at his luxurious mansion in Sardinia.

Berlusconi’s supporters stayed home, so all four referendums passed with 95.3%, 95.8%, 94.1% and 94.6% in favour respectively. But that still means that nearly 57% of Italian voters voted against Berlusconi. That is important, and that is a real boost for the opposition and a real disaster for the government. Berlusconi is a shrewd, intelligent politician who has come back from the dead more than once in his political career. He is the personality driving Italian politics since 1994, so he has had his ups and downs. But with his trademark flamboyant populism blowing up in his face, this could represent a major blow. The left itself still needs to find itself a strong voice. The PD’s leader Pier Luigi Bersani remains a pretty poor leader who has trouble leading the PD to a break through. Instead, left-wingers are increasingly attracted to the New Left outfit (SEL) of Nichi Vendola, the charismatic and popular president of Apulia.

Italy municipal 2011

Municipal and provincial elections were held in Italy on May 15-16 and 29-30. Roughly 135 major municipalities and eleven provinces were up, most notably the second and third largest cities in Italy – Milan and Naples. Given how personalized Italian politics is (around Silvio Berlusconi, of course) since 1994, these elections were yet another referendum on Berlusconi. Berlusconi, of course, has been taking hates with ‘Rubygate’, ‘bunga-bunga’, his judicial ‘reforms’ and various other things.

Milan and Naples were the most symbolic contests. Milan has been the symbol of Berlusconi’s Italy, having been ruled by centre-right mayors since 1993, and is widely considered to be the centre of Berlusconi’s electoral machinery and his home base. Naples was counted on by the right as the certain pickup, to complete the right’s recent clean sweep of Naples province and the region of Campania. Naples has been ruled by the centre-left’s Rosa Russo Iervolino since 2001. Other major cities up for re-election in the runoffs included Trieste (PdL incumbent) and Cagliari (PdL incumbent). The left held Turin and Bologna easily in the first round two weeks ago.

The contest in Milan pitted the left’s Giuliano Pisapia against incumbent mayor PdL Letizia Moratti, in office since 2006. Giuliano Pisapia is a lawyer and former parliamentarian for Proletarian Democracy and the Communist Refoundation, and surprisingly won the PD primary despite not being a PD member thanks to strong support from Nichi Vendola’s Left-Ecology and Freedom (SEL) party. Berlusconi, himself the top candidate on the PdL list in Milan, rambled on about how Milan would be overrun by Muslims, Roms and gays if Pisapia won and derided Pisapia as a communist. Moratti, in a debate, falsely accussed Pisapia of having a conviction for a car theft. That accusation, later proven to be false, may have served to turn the table against her. In the first round, Pisapia won 48% against 41.6% for Moratti, with the UDC’s Manfredi Palmeri taking 5.5% and Mattia Calise from Beppe Grillo’s grouping taking 3.2%. Turnout was 67.6%, a number which declined only slightly to 67.4% during the runoff.

In Naples, the centre-right’s Giovanni Lettieri came out ahead two weeks ago, but with a disappointing 38.5% against a divided left. The PD’s Mario Morcone placed third with 19.15% against 27.5% for Luigi de Magistris, a former prosecutor and candidate of the Italy of Values (IdV) party. Raimondo Pasquino, the UDC/FLI candidate won 9.7% and Clemente Mastella of UDEUR won 2.2%. The results of the first round, in which turnout was 60.3%, placed Lettieri in a surprisingly feeble position if the left could unite its forces.

Here are the main runoff results:

Milan
Giuliano Pisapia (SEL-PD) 55.1%
Letizia Moratti (PdL) 44.89%
turnout 67.38%

Naples
Luigi De Magistris (IdV) 65.37%
Giovanni Lettieri (PdL) 34.62%
turnout 50.57%

Trieste
Roberto Cosolini (PD) 57.51%
Roberto Antonione (PdL) 42.49%
turnout 51.55%

Cagliari
Massimo Zedda (PD) 59.42%
Massimo Fantola (PdL) 40.57%
turnout 62.23%

The first round saw major left-wing gains, but the runoffs saw a left-wing landslide in most of the towns and provinces up for election. In Milan, Pisapia was able to win the bulk of the UDC and Beppe Grillo’s voters, while Moratti increased her showing by only 3% from the first round. The fearmongering campaign of the PdL, accusing Pisapia of all sorts of things and talking about the gays and Muslims taking over the place backfired badly. The first round results made a left-wing victory likely in Milan, but the crushing margin was not expected and, at any rate, it remains a major symbolic blow to Berlusconi in the city which has been the symbol of right-wing Berlusconian Italy since 1993. In Naples, turnout dropped roughly 10% (turnout also dropped a lot in Trieste and Cagliari), and judging from the results there was a major enthusiasm GOTV gap between left and right. The narrative of the media between the two rounds talked extensively about how the first round had been a blow to the right, a narrative which probably motivated left-wingers to deal a blow-out blow in the runoff but demotivated right-wing voters. Lettieri won less in the runoff than in the first round, which means that not only did he fail to pickup any new voters from the centre-right UDC/FLI or UDEUR, but he also failed to hold on to a few of his first round voters. De Magistris won a landslide, all the more impressive and disastrous for the right considering how Naples was the right-wing target. The left also picked up Trieste and Cagliari, two right-wing cities, the latter of which has apparently been held by the right since World War II. La Repubblica‘s graphic tells me that the left-right balance, 73-54 in the left’s favour before these elections, turned 83-36 in the left’s favour this year.

Italian Regionals 2010

Results by provinces (regional elections)

13 of Italy’s 20 regions voted in regional elections on Sunday, March 28 and most of Monday, March 28 to elect their regional President and regional Council. All the regions which voted on the 28th and 29th are “ordinary status” regions – that is regions with less autonomy than those “home rule regions” (Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Aosta Valley and Friuli-Venezia Giulia) who in return keep only 20% of taxes levied. These regions were first established as autonomous entities with some legislative autonomy in 1970, and the Regional Council was originally elected entirely by proportional representation and the President of the Region was elected by council (like in France). Since 1995, regional Presidents have been elected in a separate ballot and a “majority bonus” has been added to the electoral system for Regional Councils.

Abruzzo voted in the last regional elections in 2005, but a “special election” was held in 2008 following the resignation of the incumbent. Molise also votes off-sync because of a similar situation in 2000/2001 or something.

The President is elected on an entirely separate ballot, and only a plurality suffices for him/her to be elected. Four-fifths of the regional councillors are elected by proportional representation in the context of provinces (the small number of seats in some provinces is another boost for stable majorities) where the threshold is 3% unless a list is “connected” to a “Presidential list” which has won 5% in which case it can get seats even if under 3%. The remaining fifth of seats are given to region-based “Presidential lists” which are linked directly to the Presidential candidate. This is a simplistic and cursory explanation of a very complex (typical Italian politics, I guess) electoral law. This also only applies to 8 of the 13 regions, since Calabria, Campania, Marche, Apuli and Tuscany have adopted slightly different systems.

The last election for the 5-term Regional Councils were held in 2005, when Berlusconi was in power but under an earlier cabinet. 2005 was the height of Berlusconi’s unpopularity, which did subside and led to his narrow defeat in 2006. Coming into 2005, the right was defending 8 (or 7 of the 13 up in 2010) regions against 6 for the left. Coming out of the 2005 elections, the left held 12 (or 11 excluding Abruzzo. Abruzzo is now held by the right following the 2008 election there) against only 2 (Lombardy and Veneto) for the right. 2005 was highwater mark for the right, and not a ‘normal’ or ‘average’ regional election. Turnout had been 71.4% in 2005.

In a campaign dominated by Berlusconi’s hyper-activity in the context of the campaign, the vote became a major test for Berlusconi ahead of the 2013 general elections and a mid-term plebiscite on his term. He has a 44% approval rating, but his coalition continues to lead voting intentions by a large margin. The right downplayed expectations, with major hopes on 2 regions: Calabria and Campania in the south, traditionally on the right. It also played hard in Piedmont and Lazio (which includes Rome). In Veneto and Piedmont, the right’s presidential candidate are both members of Umberto Bossi’s far-right regionalist Lega Nord, a close but very demanding ally of Berlusconi in Rome. Bossi obviously has his eyes, along with former AN leader Gianfranco Fini on the post-Berlusconi era.

National results:

Turnout was 64.2%, the lowest for such an election in a long time and significantly lower than in 2005. Here are the total results by coalition of the list vote for Regional Councils.

Right 47.58% winning 6 regions (+4)
Left 44.79% winning 7 regions (-4)
UDC 5.57%
5 Star Movement 1.77%
Others 0.29%

The major point of this election is the victory of the right. Despite Berlusconi’s declining numbers, and a situation (poor economy, personal and political scandals against Berlusconi) going, one would think, fully in the left’s direction, the right has managed to win, a narrow win, but a win in unfavourable times, one would think, for Berlusconi’s right. The Italian left, which has problems of its own, such as lack of strong leadership (or of a leader with Berlusconi’s charisma and media appeal) and its inability to build momentum behind a fledgling and divided PD, has taken another defeat in an election it was supposed to win.

Within the right, the historic result of the Lega Nord (12.28%) is the major point of interest, and it provides a lot of the right’s support because support for Berlusconi’s PdL (26.78%) has declined since elections 2008-2009, but not to the benefit of the PD (26.1%), which stagnates at its 2009 level. Strong with 12% of the vote, and two regional Presidents, Umberto Bossi, with his eyes already on Berlusconi’s succession, will become a very demanding coalition partner. He has already demanded more fiscal autonomy for the north, and it is unlikely to be his last demand from Berlusconi. And with the votes behind him, Bossi has, to date, a very favourable outlook for the future. Bossi’s success is a dark spot on Berlusconi’s success in these elections.

On the left, there is not much movement since 2008-2009. While Antonio di Pietro’s anti-corruption Italy of Values (IdV) has seen its strength (8% in the Euros) subside a bit to fall to 7.27%, the PD stagnates at its 2009 level of 26.1%. The Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) of Apulian regional President Nichi Vendola wins 3%, ahead of the 2.74% won by the Communist Refoundation-led and dominated Federation of the Left. Francesco Rutelli’s splinter Alliance for Italy isn’t off to a very inspiring start with merely 0.58% of the vote.

The UDC doesn’t poll great, and it obviously isn’t going ahead much in its pursuit of a centrist governing alternative. But its support was likely helpful for the right and left in the regions where it didn’t run independently (in all regions where it didn’t run independently, it supported the eventual winner in all regions but Piedmont). It’s strategy of ‘geometrically variable alliances’, with left here and right here seems to be sustainable for the UDC in the future, and it could give idea to Bayrou across the border in France.

The success of the 5 Star Movement, led by the popular comedian Beppe Grillo, is also notable. It’s success comes on the back of young disaffected voters (or left-leaning young voters) who, with Grillo’s new movement, registered a vote against the PDL-PD party system and against the stock of politicians, uninspiring to them and many, on left and right alike. The high number of non-voters is also a sign of discontent with Berluconi, but discontent also with the current Italian left.

Overall, Berlusconi wins, and that’s undeniable, but the division of the left and the left’s inability to present itself as something new and stand for change plays an important role in his victory. Furthermore, his victory is clouded by the Lega’s very strong showing, something which will likely spell trouble in the future for Berlusconi.

Here are the results by region. Indicated in brackets are the number of seats won by the presidential candidate’s coalition.

Apulia (Puglia)

Nicola Vendola (SEL-PD) 48.69% (47)
Rocco Palese (PdL) 42.25% (27)
Adriana Poli Bortone (IS-UDC) 8.71% (4)
Michele Rizzi (PdAC) 0.35%

Nichi Vendola, a gay communist, had won the first ever primary elections in Italy in 2005 ahead of the regionals, and his victory against the right’s incumbent in a conservative and very Catholic region had been a major surprise then. Vendola remains outside of the PD, and he is now the leader of a new party (he left the Communist Refoundation Party in 2008 following his defeat in a leadership v0te) called Left Ecology Freedom (SEL). He easily won the PD primaries and faced two candidates: the unknown candidate of the PdL and UDC Senator Adriana Poli Bortone, leader of a local Apulia-based outfit called Io Sud (I South). Vendola has seemingly managed to build up a strong base in Apulia, which is somewhat surprising, but in southern Italy, which is quite pro-incumbent, the candidate often matters more than party.

The left scores 46.05% on the council vote (46 seats), against 44.22% for the right (26 seats) and 9.43% for the UDC (4 seats). Vendola’s SEL wins 9.74% and 11 seats.

Basilicata:

Vito De Filippo (PD-UDC) 60.81% (19)
Nicola Pagliuca (PdL) 27.92% (10)
Magdi Allam (Io amo Italia) 8.72% (1)
Marco Toscano (MPI) 0.7%
Florenzo Doino (PCL) 0.21%

Basilicata, although located in southern Italy, has tended to the left since the beginnings of the so-called Second Republic (likely due to its poverty, Basilicata is one of the south’s poorest regions), but it conserves certain traits common to southern Italian politics, such as pro-incumbency. De Filippo, elected by a large margin in 2005 (67% of the votes) has been re-elected by a smaller but similarly large margin. Magdi Allam, a famous ex-Muslim Italian journalist and UDC MEP (now famous for his strong views against Islam and his defense of Judeo-Christian values) won 8.7% and one seat, though the UDC was associated with the left. In fact, most politicians on the left in this region are former members of DC, which was strong in the region and throughout southern Italy.

The left has 67.56% of the votes in the council election (16 seats) against 27.24% for the right (9 seats) and 4.26% for Magdi Allam’s I Love Italy-Io Sud coalition which wins one seat. Behind De Filippo, the UDC won 7.39% of the vote and 2 seats but IdV won 9.93%.

Calabria:

Giuseppe Scopelliti (PdL-UDC) 57.76% (29)
Agazio Loiero (PD) 32.22% (16)
Filippo Callipo (IdV) 10.02% (3)

Calabria, a traditionally conservative region in southern Italy, switched to the left in 2005 but it has returned to the right by a large margin. The incumbent, who was seeking a second term, found an IdV candidate on his way, possibly the result of Loiero’s problems with the judiciary recently (though he was acquitted of corruption for lack of proof). However, the popularity of the right’s candidate, who is the popular mayor of Reggio Calabria probably explains a lot more about the right’s crushing victory in the region.

On the local vote, the PdL has 26.39% of the votes against 15.79% for the PD. A “non-party” list which supports Scopelliti (such lists are quite common in Italian regions) won 9.94%. In an old stronghold of Christian democracy, the UDC has 9.39% (far ahead of IdV, only 5.39% for its lists despite over 10% for its candidate – who was a famous and popular local businessman).

Campania:

Stefano Caldoro (PdL-UDC) 54.25% (38)
Vincenzo De Luca (PD) 43.04% (21)
Paolo Ferrero (PRC) 1.35%
Roberto Fico (5 Star Movement) 1.34%

Incumbent Antonio Bassolino (PD), a popular former mayor of Naples is retiring after 2 consecutive terms. First elected in 2000, he won re-election in 2005 by a large margin (61.6% against 34.4% for the right) for a region which typically leans to the right. However, with Bassolino leaving office with a relatively poor second-term record and the left faced with a former Socialist (PSI, a party which was socialist in name only in later years) cabinet minister, it had little hope going into the vote. The presence of a candidate for the so-called 5 Star Movement, a party launched by popular Italian comedian Beppe Grillo and which builds up on young voters’ discontent with the PD-PDL party system.

The right has 58.6% of the votes for the regional council (38 seats) against 38.5% for the left (21 seats) and 1.56% for the PRC. The old UDEUR, which semi-died after precipitating Prodi’s fall in 2006, made a comeback in their stronghold with 3.35% region-wide and 2 seats on the right’s slate. Caldoro, who is actually a member of the Nuovo PSI allowed a Nuovo PSI list to take 5.79% of the vote and 4 seats. The far-right La Destra, associated with the right nowadays, wins one seat with barely 1% of the vote. On the left’s slate, Franceso Rutelli’s new party, Alliance for Italy won 3.04% but no seats.

Emilia-Romagna:

Vasco Errani (PD) 52.06% (32)
Anna Maria Bernini (PdL) 36.72% (15)
Giovanni Favia (5 Star Movement) 7.0% (2)
Gian Luca Galleti (UDC) 4.2% (1)

Emilia-Romagna, a part of the Red Quadrilateral of central Italy, is a stronghold of the left. Vasco Errani, seeking a third term, had won 62.7% of the vote in 2005 faced no trouble from the right. But the campaign was rather fair play, and the candidates of both major coalitions and the UDC held a joint press-conference at one time before the election. These factors plus youth discontent with the Italian political system probably gave fuel to the Beppe Grillo movement, which, with 7% of the vote and 2 seats, wins its best result in the country.

The PD dominates the list vote with 40.64% and 18 seats, with the left standing overall at 51.92% (22 seats) against 38.31% for the right (14 seats), 6% for Grillo and 3.75% for the UDC. In a region where the Communist Party used to dominate, the PRC and its allies win only 2.79% of the vote and is left with 1 seat. However, the Lega Nord, breaks through into central Italy with a record 13.67% and 4 seats in the region, more ‘central’ than ‘northern’.

Lazio

Renata Polverini (PdL-UDC) 51.14% (44)
Emma Bonino (PD-Radical) 48.32% (29)
Marzia Marzoli (Rete) 0.53%

The race in Lazio, which includes Rome, was the big race. Piero Marrazzo (PD) was elected in 2005, defeating the right’s incumbent Francesco Storace (now leader of La Destra) with 50.7% of the votes against 47.4% for Storace. Marrazzo resigned in October 2009 before a sexual scandal was going to break, leaving the region without a leader and the left without a candidate. A number of names were evoked for the PD’s candidacy, including Walter Veltroni, before former European Commissioner and leader of the Radical Party Emma Bonino got the spot. She faced right-wing trade unionist Renata Polverini (who had problems handing in her candidacy on time, fixed in time by Berlusconi’s government). Despite leading in all polls and early returns, Polverini defeated Bonino probably on basis of the votes of Rome’s suburbs (Bonino won the province of Rome itself). The right’s victory here is a major gain, given that it includes Rome.

The right has 51.38% (30 seats) against 48.29% for the left (28 seats) in the list vote. A surprising thing is that Polverini’s ‘non-party list’ dominates the list vote on the right with 26.33% and 17 seats against only 11.86% for the PdL. Storace’s La Destra, with 3.99%, wins 2 seats in a region which has traditionally been the base of Italy’s post-fascist movements (MSI and later AN). On the left, the Panella-Bonino/Radical list wins 3.3% and 2 seats, though the PD with 26.28% wins it for the left. IdV, with 8.61%, also does well.

Liguria:

Claudio Burlando (PD-UDC) 52.14% (25)
Sandro Biasotti (PdL) 47.85% (15)

A repeat of the 2005 race between Burlando and Biasotti in a region polarized between two different political regions: the east around Genoa, far more industrial, on the left; and the west, wealthier and less industrial on the right. Biasotti had been President between 2000 and 2005 until he was defeated 46.6-52.6 by Burlando in 2005. The same pattern repeated itself in 2005 with a similar margin and similarly divided map, but the left won. Liguria wasn’t one of the right’s major targets, so losing it won’t be considered bad for it.

The left has 52.72% (17 seats) against 47.27% (14 seats) for the right’s coalition in the list vote. Lega Nord, with 10.22% polls below national average (but higher than in the 2009 Euros), but Liguria, although northern, isn’t a strong region for the Lega Nord, which does better in mountainous areas. It remains funny to see the LN doing better in Emilia-Romagna, a ‘central’ region than in Liguria, more northern.

Lombardy:

Roberto Formigoni (PdL) 56.1% (49)
Filippo Penati (PD) 33.27% (28)
Savino Pezzotta (UDC) 4.68% (3)
Vito Crimi (5 Star Movement) 3%
Vittorio Agnoletto (PRC) 2.36%
Gianmario Invernizzi (FN) 0.57%

Lombardy, and its 9.6 million inhabitants, is Italy’s most populous regions and includes the industrial capital of Italy, Milan. Lombardy is also a stronghold of the right, and had been one of the right’s two regions won in 2005. Formigoni, now seeking a fourth term, won 53.9% against 43.2% for the left in 2005. There were some judicial problems with Formigoni’s candidacy for a fourth term, given that the law limits Presidents to two terms for directly-elected Presidents (Formigoni was indirectly elected in 1995). He argued that the law was not in force in 2000, when he was elected, but his victory may be overturned. Yet, he dominates by a huge margin: 56% against a mere 33% for the left’s candidate, hurt by Grillo’s candidate at 3%, the PRC at 2.4% and the UDC at nearly 5%. Formigoni’s 8-seat majority bonus includes Nicole Minetti, a former showgirl and Berlusconi’s dental hygienist…

On the list vote, the right has 58.15% (41 seats) against 33.34% for the left (27 seats) and 3.84% for the UDC (3 seats). In Umberto Bossi and the Lega Lombarda’s birthplace, Bossi’s party wins a record 26.2% of the vote and 18 seats, pushing the LN ahead of the PD (22.89%), although the PD holds more seats (21) than the LN. The party also wins strong results in its base in the Pedemontana of Lombardy: 42.4% in Sondrio, 36.9% in Bergamo, and even up to 17.25% in the province of Milan.

Marche:

Gian Mario Spacca (PD-UDC) 53.17% (25)
Erminio Marinelli (PdL) 39.71% (14)
Massimo Rossi (PRC) 7.11% (2)

Marche is largely within Italy’s Red Quadrilateral, and has been held by the left since the first direct elections for President in 1995. First elected in 2005, Spacca had defeated the right with 57.8% of the vote then. However, the independent candidacy of a communist, which managed to poll a respectable 7%, probably due to the fact that the communist candidate (supported by the PRC and its allies as well as Vendola’s SEL) is a former provincial president (Ascoli Piceno, where he polled 9.1% of the vote).

On the list vote, the left has 53.36% (25 seats) against 40.12% for the right (14 seats) and 6.51% for the communists (2 seats). Lega Nord, with a record 6.32% and 2 seats breaks through in a region which is quite far from the party’s bases in the north, showing that the Lega is slowly breaking through in central Italy. On the left, Rutelli’s Alliance for Italy wins 2.01% and 1 seat while IdV does well with 9.06% and 4 seats.

Piedmont:

Roberto Cota (LN-PdL) 47.32% (36)
Mercedes Bresso (PD-UDC) 46.90% (22)
Davide Bono (5 Star Movement) 4.08% (2)
Renzo Rabellino (Lega Padana) 1.67%

Piedmont, which usually leans to the right despite the left’s strength in Turin, was narrowly gained by the leftist Mercedes Bresso from the right’s incumbent Enzo Ghigo in 2005 with 50.9% against 47.1% for the right. Piedmont was a key region for the right, but one where the right’s top candidate was from the Lega Nord: in this case, Roberto Cota, the leader of the Lega’s local branch. Despite polls favouring the left and early results also favourable to the left, Bresso ended up losing by a very narrow margin to Cota, though the swing to the right in Piedmont was not as large as in some other places, probably a result of some voters (notably UDC voters, the UDC supported Bresso despite her atheism) on the centre-right being reticent about voting for a Leghista candidate. Another factor which contributed to Bresso’s defeat was the strong showing of the 5 Star Movement, whose 4% probably hindered Bresso as most voters, one would assume, are left-leaning.

In the list vote, the left is ahead with 47.54% (21 seats), but the right with 46.98% has more seats (24). The 5 Star Movement, with 3.66%, wins two seats while the bunch of fascists, eurosceptics and others behind Rabellino win 1.8% and obviously no seats. On the right, the Lega Nord wins 16.74% and 9 seats, a good result for a region where the Lega is weaker (compared to Lombardy and Veneto). On the left, the UDC, with 3.92% wins only 2 seats, a rather bad result for them.

Tuscany:

Enrico Rossi (PD) 59.73% (32)
Monica Faenzi (PdL) 34.44% (19)
Francesco Bosi (UDC) 4.59% (2)
Alfonso de Virgiliis (Radical) 1.15%
Ilario Palmisani (FN) 0.69%

Tuscany is at the core of Italy’s Red Quadrilateral, and has been a stronghold of the PCI first and the post-1992 left. It is also the region where the various communist parties formed after the PCI’s collapse have found their strongest support, a base which allowed them to run independently of the left in 2005 and win 7% of the vote. The incumbent, Claudio Martini, re-elected in 2005 with 57.37% of the vote against 32.8% for the right, was retiring in favour of Enrico Rossi. With 59.7%, he wins the left’s second best result after its crushing victory in Basilicata.

The left does even better on the list vote with 60.7% and 19 seats, while the right has 33.6% and 13 seats and the UDC has 4.8% and 1 seat. Tuscany uses an absurdly complex electoral system, which seems to shut out all other parties on the left than the PD (42.2%), including IdV (9.4%) and the communists (5.27%). However, IdV gets 5 other seats somewhere while 3 go to the communist list (PRC). On the right, Lega Nord wins a record 6.48% and gets 2 seats.

Umbria:

Catiuscia Marini (PD) 57.24% (19)
Fiammetta Modena (PdL) 37.70% (10)
Paola Binetti (UDC) 5.05% (1)

The small inland region of Umbria, sandwiched between the Lazio and Marche, is sometimes called the “Mezzogiorno of central Italy” and falls entirely within the Red Quadrilateral. The left’s incumbent, Maria Rita Lorenzetti, who won 63% in 2005, is retiring after 2 terms. The PD’s candidate, the young Catiuscia Marini had no trouble succeeding her in a very left-wing region. With 57%, she trounces the right which polls 37.7% (still higher than its 33.7% in 2005).

On the list vote, the left polls 58.91% (13 seats) against 36.7% for the right and 4.38% for the UDC. The PRC achieves an honourable result of 6.86% and 2 seats, while a socialist list on the left’s slate wins 4.16% and 1 seat. On the right, again a breakthrough for Lega Nord, which wins 4.33% and 1 seat in its weakest region (where it’s organized, at least).

Veneto:

Luca Zaia (LN-PdL) 60.15% (37)
Giuseppe Bortolussi (PD) 29.07% (19)
Antonio De Poli (UDC) 6.38% (4)
David Borrelli (5 Star Movement) 3.15%
Silvato Polo (Veneti Independensa) 0.5%
Paolo Caratossidis (FN) 0.36%
Gianluca Panto (Partito nasional veneto) 0.35%

A conservative, generally rural and Catholic region, Veneto was one of the right’s two victories in 2005, thanks in part to the popularity of its incumbent, Giancarlo Galan who won 50.6% of the vote against 42.4% for the left. However, after 3 terms in office, Giancarlo Galan was forced to step aside by the right in favour of a candidate from Lega Nord (very strong in the region), Luca Zaia who is also Berlusconi’s incumbent Agriculture Minister. Zaia, who is also very popular, including with traditionally left-wing voters, was seen by all on the right as the best candidate and Galan was forced to step aside. Galan’s forced retirement led to an independent UDC candidacy around former MEP and incumbent deputy Antonio De Poli, who polled a respectable but disappointing 6% (some polls had given him over 10%). Zaia is the only candidate of the right to win over 60% of the vote.

The right has 60.7% on the list vote (31 seats) against 29.32% (18 seats) for the left, 6.46% (4 seats) for the UDC and 2.57% for the 5 Star Movement. The Lega Nord in Veneto wins its best result ever with 35.15% and 18 seats, far ahead of the PdL which has only 24.74% and 13 seats. The party even wins a staggering 48.5% in the province of Treviso, an old stronghold of the local LN and also Zaia’s home province.

Provincial and communal elections:

Four provincial elections (L’Aquila, Caserta, Viterbo, and Imperia) were also held as well as a number of communal elections in cities including Venice. In the four provinces up, all were ruled by the left except Imperia. Now, all are ruled by the right. In L’Aquila, which suffered a large earthquake over a year ago, the right has won a lot of support in the province thanks to its rebuilding efforts, and L’Aquila logically switched to the right, with the right winning 53.4%. In Caserta, the right won 64.4%, picking up the province from a retiring PD incumbent. In Viterbo, the right won 54.7%, also picking up an open seat. In Imperia finally, the right, with 59%, holds an open seat. Full results on La Repubblica.

A vast number of municipalities held elections, in fact all regions except the special status had some municipalities up for re-election. La Repubblica states that of the major cities up, the left was defending 44 and the right 28 (2 were held by the centre and 1 was held by an independent ‘civic’ list). After the first round, the left has 15 against 18 for the right and 40 will go into a runoff.

The race in Venice was the most watched of all, with incumbent PD mayor Massimo Cacciari retiring. The right’s candidate was none else than Berlusconi’s popular and bubbly Public Administration Minister, Renato Brunetta. He faced the left’s Giorgio Orsoni. In a somewhat surprising result, Orsoni defeated Brunetta with 51.1% against 42.6% for Brunetta, a result which will be a bright spot on a bad day for the left.

Other than that, the left picked up Lecco while the right picked up Chieti and Andria. A majority of municipalities will hold a runoff on April 11 and 12. Trentino-Alto-Adige holds local elections on May 16 with runoffs on May 30. Full results on La Repubblica.

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