Monthly Archives: February 2013

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.

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Guest Post: Armenia 2013

I did not plan to cover the Armenian elections, but I am incredibly fortunate that one this blog’s readers, Chris Terry, agreed to do a guest post on the election. Chris works as a Research Officer for the Electoral Reform Society in the United Kingdom and was in Armenia as an election observer for the OSCE. He offers fascinating insights into the country and this election. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.

Armenia held a presidential election on February 18, 2013. I served as a Short Term Observer (STO) for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for the election meaning that I was in Armenia from the 14th until the 21st of February, during which period I observed the elections, including voting, counting and tabulation of votes on Election Day. In addition to the usual commentary you’ve come to expect from this blog I’ll also include my own reflections on the fairness of the election.

Armenia is a presidential republic. The President is elected for a five-year term renewable once in a two round system. Parliament is elected by a MMP system with 41 constituencies and 90 PR seats. Armenia has never had a peaceful exchange of power.

Background

Armenia appears on some of the oldest maps in the world, and Armenians trace their history back more than 4,000 years with the first country called ‘Armenia’ being formed in 190 BC. Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion (in 301 AD), and the Armenian state church, the Armenian Apostolic Church is very powerful. 93% of Armenians belong to the Church, which a very ritualistic, Ancient feeling sort of Christianity.

Armenians are also fiercely proud of their language which has its own unique alphabet of 38 letters. Armenian is an Indo-European language but sits on its own unique branch. Of the other Indo-European languages it shares the most in common with Greek.

Armenia has shifted borders, and at times completely disappeared from maps, during its history. At times it has been a Great Power, at its greatest extent the Kingdom of Armenia ruled from Damascus and the Mediterranean all the way to the Caspian Sea. Large portions of Turkey have also traditionally been in Armenia. The national symbol of the country is Mount Ararat, which is, of course, located in eastern Turkey, though on a clear day the mountain can be seen towering above the horizon from almost any point in modern day Armenia. Armenia itself has also been surrounded by Great Powers itself. To its south lies Iran, and Armenia has been part of various Persian Empires. To its west lies Turkey, and to its north lies Russia. Armenia has the odd feel of a country at a crossroads between Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia all at once.

Recent Armenian history has been tragic. Armenian sovereignty essentially ended in 1375. The country then shifted between Ottoman, Persian and Russian control. The Apostolic Church took on a role not only as a religious organisation but as a unifying authority for all Armenians, an organisation essentially heading a national liberation movement. Modern day Armenia essentially corresponds to a province of the Russian Empire known as the ‘Province of Yerevan’ (the country’s modern capital).

Ottoman Armenians were subject to what Armenians and many scholars view as genocide by the Young Turk government of Turkey from 1915 until 1923. Turkey virulently denies that the events were genocide, however between 600,000 and 1,800,000 Armenians died and 20 countries recognize it as such. The genocide also led to the movement of very large movements of Armenians out of the region, forming the Armenian diaspora. The genocide still looms large in the Armenian national conscious and Armenians often call it simply, the Great Crime.

Today there are more Armenians outside the country (5 to 7 million) than in it (approximately 3 million). The diaspora is tight knit and has a tendency to strongly lobby governments over recognition of the genocide and aid for Armenia. Armenia is also largely dependent on money from the diaspora. Armenian diaspora members you may be familiar with include the metal band System of a Down, the former French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, the Kardashian family and Cher. California (home to a large number of members of the diaspora) has also had an Armenian-American Governor, George Deukmejian (R, 1983-1991).

After the collapse of the Russian Empire during the Russian Civil War, Armenia was briefly able to become independent in 1918. Almost immediately Armenia began a war with Azerbaijan over the disputed areas of Kazakh-Shamshadin, Zanghezur, Nakhchivan and Nagorno-Karabakh. These areas all had a largely mixed population, but the truth is that both groups had lived side by side each other for centuries. The Caucasus was an ethnic patchwork of Azeris, Armenians, Georgians, Russians, Persians, Turks, and Caucasian Albanians (unrelated to the country in the Balkans) amongst others. Armenian and Azeri academics have often traded attempts to undermine each other’s nations, with Azeris, for instance, attempting to classify prominent medieval Armenians as Caucausian Albanians instead. Census figures are also used in this battle, but are flawed for the reason that in this period large numbers of Azeris were nomadic, going from highland to lowland and back again between summer and winter. Therefore many regions would have an Azeri majority at some points of the year and an Armenian one at another. Relations with Azerbaijan are also complicated by the fact that Azeris are closely related to Turks, and Azeri is a Turkic language. Armenians therefore have a tendency to label Azeris as Turks, with all the implications with regard to the Genocide that that implies. Yet Azeris and Armenians are more similar than they would like to admit and during the Soviet period lived side by side. The current Armenian President, Serzh Sarsyan (note: there are many Sargsyan’s in Armenia, the name is like ‘Smith’ in Anglo-Saxon countries, the current PM many other political figures share this name but are unrelated) has spoken in interviews with international journalists of the many Azeri friends he had as a child growing up in Nagorno-Karabakh, whilst still insisting that Armenians and Azeris could not live in one state.

Armenia and Azerbaijan were both incorporated within the USSR on its formation. The Soviet response to the ethnic patchwork of the Caucasus was to create a series of bizarre internal borders. A Soviet Republic of Armenia was created and so was a Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. Within Azerbaijan they created the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, a self-governing region where Armenians were the majority. Nagorno-Karabakh was an enclave of Azerbaijan. They also created the exclave of Nakhichevan which lies between Armenia, Turkey and Iran.

During the Gorbachev era Karabakh politicians and activists started agitating for Karabakh to be transferred from Azerbaijani sovereignty to Armenian sovereignty. A series of tit for tat for pogroms across the region also began. Armenian nationalism was particularly strong and Armenia became the first country to secede from the Soviet Union on the 21st of September 1991, three months before the USSR’s end after an independence referendum.

As in 1918, war almost immediately broke out with Azerbaijan. Originally this took the form of a guerrilla conflict by Armenians in Karabakh being supported by the Armenian state, but Armenia eventually entered the war directly. Due to the position of Nagorno-Karabakh as an enclave Armenia had to invade Azerbaijan proper. The war was complicated by internal political instability within Azerbaijan. The events leading up to the installation of the current President of Azerbaijan, Heidar Aliev, were particularly problematic for the Azeris, essentially amounting to a military coup many military units simply vacated Karabakh in preference for Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. Towards the end of the war Armenian soldiers were able to simple walk into empty Azeri villages. Both sides committed atrocities in the conflict. The conflict was eventually left essentially frozen, with a ceasefire called at what the Armenians considered to be defensible borders for Karabakh. The two sides rejected a plan for Russian peacekeepers and maintain an uneasy border. Exchanges of gunfire are still common across the border. Last year nine soldiers, five Azeri and four Armenian, were killed in exchanges across the border. As the war is only on ceasefire and no treaty has been signed it is technically still ongoing.

Karabakh is a self-declared republic, but it is unrecognized, even by Armenia. In reality, Karabakh is under occupation by the Armenians, and Armenia is occupying 14% of the territory of Azerbaijan. Armenia also occupies a very large portion of Azerbaijan outside Karabakh. Indeed, in terms of area more of the occupied region came from Azerbaijan proper than from Karabakh. While officially a self-governing republic in reality Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied territories are governed as an Armenian province.

As a result of the war, Armenia finds itself under economic blockade from two neighbours, Azerbaijan and its closest ally, Turkey. For a small (the smallest in the region) landlocked country like Armenia this is economically disastrous. Armenia was one of the wealthiest of the Soviet Republics, and had a high standard of living by Communist standards. It is now the poorest country in the region; around 30% of Armenians live below the poverty line. Armenia has the potential to be quite wealthy. As it exists at the crossroads between Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East Armenia could be an important component of a trade route. However, when Azerbaijan struck oil in the Caspian Sea, for instance, they decided to route it through Georgia. Armenia has therefore had to promote good relations with its most powerful direct neighbour, Iran, and regional superpower Russia in order to have any meaningful trading partners.

Politically, Armenia’s first President was Levon Ter-Pertrossian. A nationalist activist and president of the Pan-Armenian National Movement, Ter-Petrossian had an uneasy Presidency. His re-election in 1996 was marred by widespread fraud, which harmed his credibility. Ter-Pertrossian was forced to resign from the Presidency due to a combination of this, the poor economic situation and his advocacy of an unpopular peace settlement with Azerbaijan. He was replaced by his Prime Minister, Robert Kocharian in what essentially amounted to a palace coup by his own ministers.

Kocharian was a former President of Nagorno-Karabakh, and his election marked the ascendance of what was known as the ‘Karabakh party’ an informal group of politicians who had gained prominence in the war. In 1999 a group of armed men entered the Armenian parliament and killed 8 men. Amongst the dead was Vazgen Sargsyan, the Prime Minister, Karen Demirchyan, the speaker of parliament, and a former First Secretary of Soviet Armenia, and several other MPs. The events rocked Armenia. It was later revealed that Kocharian and Aliev were close to a deal on Nagorno-Karabakh at the time and this was essentially scuppered. The perpetrators of the attack are unclear. A popular theory is that Russia hoped to stop the deal, but as the talks were being conducted in secret at the highest level it is unclear how they would know.

Kocharian stepped down in 2008, in line with term limits. He was replaced by his PM, Serzh Sargsyan. Sargsyan’s election was accompanied by massive opposition protests. The opposition alleged fraud and as many as 100,000 Armenians took to the streets. Hundreds were injured and eight were killed.

In 2011 there were more large scale protests in Armenia. These protests lasted for 10 months and demanded a mix of democratic and socioeconomic reform.

In these elections Sargsyan made his bid for a second term of power.

Political Parties

Armenia’s parliament has six political parties. They are:

The Republican Party of Armenia (RPA). Seats in parliament: 69. The RPA is often described as a ‘national-conservative’ party, but as in similar countries such ideological boxes do not really apply. It was described by The Economist as “a typical post-Soviet “party of power” mainly comprising senior government officials, civil servants, and wealthy business people dependent on government connections”. The RPA is the party of both Sargsyan and Kocharian. The Republican Party had originally been a small ally of Ter-Pertrossian’s Pan-Armenian National Movement which grew in strength due to the involvement of many of its members in the Karabakh war, often directly on the front line as volunteer troops. Entire RPA detachments were formed during the war.

Prosperous Armenia (PA). Seats in parliament: 37. It was founded and is led by Gagik Tsarukian, a local oligarch, and PA is essentially his personal vehicle. PA is a conservative and pro-business party. PA has a mixed relationship with the RPA. Before the parliament elections last year the PA and RPA worked in coalition but PA has since left the governing coalition. However they worked closely together in the local elections late last year and many observers see signs of a rapprochement between the two parties. PA did not run or support any Presidential candidate in this election, saying that it did not expect a clean election.

Armenian National Congress (ANC). Seats in parliament: 7. It is the successor of the Pan-Armenian National Congress and is led by former President Levon Ter-Pertrossian. The ANC is not technically a party, but rather a coalition of multiple parties. Since his ousting Ter-Pertrossian has tried to make a name for himself as a democratic opponent of those who ousted him and the ANC is a prominent opposition voice. The ANC’s internal parties are known for often squabbling amongst themselves, however. Ter-Pertrossian ran in the 2008 election winning 21.5% of the vote, coming second. The opposition protests around the election were primarily ANC led and other opposition parties were critical of them. The ANC did not run a candidate in this election, with Ter-Pertrossian claiming to be too old. However, one of the constituent parties of the ANC, the Freedom Party, nominated a candidate, Hrant Bagratyan, who had served as a PM of Ter-Pertrossian between 1993 and 1996.

Rule of Law. Seats in parliament: 6. Usually seen as a centrist party, Rule of Law is the junior coalition partner of the RPA. Despite this it has a sometimes fractious relationship with the RPA. For instance its leader, Artur Baghdasaryan claimed ‘serious ballot stuffing’ during the 2005 constitutional referendum. Rule of Law did not run or support a Presidential candidate in the election, even though Baghdasaryan had come third with a respectable 17.7% in the 2008 Presidential election.

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), also often known by its Armenian name, Dashnakhsutyun. Seats in parliament: 5. The ARF is Armenia’s oldest party and the only one to pre-date independence from the Soviet Union. The ARF was founded in 1890 in Tbilisi, now in Georgia. It is a party that combines socialism and nationalism. The ARF is the best organised of the Armenian parties apart from the RPA, and possibly the only one apart from the RPA with deep links into Armenian society. The ARF is probably the party which most corresponds to Western notions of what a party should be with a clear ideology. However it is a polarizing party, which inspires passionate activists but equally passionate detractors. However the ARF has not shown itself beyond working with the government at times. The ARF receives a lot of financial support from the Armenian diaspora and maintains organisations wherever the diaspora is in large numbers. In some countries it runs in elections. Indeed in Lebanon it currently has two MPs and two ministers. The ARF’s candidate, Vahan Hovhannisyan got 6.2% of the vote in 2008. In true ARF style he then resigned his position as Vice-President of the National Assembly in objection to the handling of the election but his party still refused to participate in the ANC-led protests with the ARF accusing Ter-Pertrossian of an attempted coup.

The Heritage Party. Seats in parliament: 5. Heritage is the party of Armenia’s first foreign minister, Raffi Hovannisian. The US-born Hovannisian had poor relations with Ter-Pertrossian and resigned from the government. Heritage’s slogan is ‘national by roots, liberal by economic principle’ (in the European sense of ‘economically liberal’). Heritage is a free market and pro-democracy orientated party and possibly the most strongly opposed to the government. Hovannisian is also known for some irredentist sentiments regarding lost Armenian territories in both Azerbaijan and Turkey. In 2008 Heritage did not run a candidate, preferring to support Ter-Pertrossian, though Hovannisian was against this decision. The ANC and Heritage have strained relations, possibly reflecting historical problems between their leaders. Heritage played a notable role in the 2011 protests, with Hovannisian going on hunger strike at one point. His party has a noticeably youthful activist base. He stood in the election, though officially as an independent not as a Heritage candidate, and most polls had him in second place.

Candidates

After nominations and one withdrawal, seven candidates stood for election:

Serzh Sargsyan was the incumbent candidate, standing for the Republican Party of Armenia. Said to be an affable fellow, Sargsyan has been referred to as a ‘natural leader’. A Karabakhi by origin, Sargsyan led the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Self-Defence Forces Committee and organised several battles in the war and is considered a founder of Armenia’s military. He was a close ally of the prior President, Robert Kocharian, and his handpicked successor. The two had rose in power in tandem together with Sargsyan serving as Kocharian’s defence minister and then PM before his election in 2008. Polls, although highly untrustworthy, had Sargsyan on between 60 and 70% of the vote.

Raffi Hovannisian, standing as an independent but leader of the Heritage Party. Born in the US to two members of the diaspora, Hovannisian was a lawyer by training who moved to Armenia in the wake of the devastating 1988 earthquake which killed up to 50,000 people. Hovannisian served as the first foreign minister of Armenia. Hovannisian is said to be extremely charismatic. Members of my STO team in Armenia attended a rally of Hovannisian supporters on the 16th of Feb, the last day of campaigning. They described the rally as very American-esque with Hovannisian effectively working the crowd. Polls had Hovannisian broadly between 10 and 30% of the vote, the only candidate besides Sargsyan in double figures.

Hrant Bagratyan, standing for the Freedom Party, a component party of the ANC. Bagratyan was PM of Armenia from 1993 and 1996. My interpreter told me at one point that Bagratyan came across as very boring on the campaign trail, often quoting long lists of statistics. Polls generally had Bagratyan around the 5% mark.

Paruyr Hayrikyan. The leader of a minor party, Hayrikyan gained substantial attention for the election when he was shot in the chest. Hayrikyan’s candidacy was very pro-Western and he accused the Russians of being behind the attack (though the true perpetrators are unknown). Hayrikyan could have postponed the election by two weeks but eventually decided not to (to the relief of electoral observers with pre-booked flights). Polls generally had Hayrikyan around the 5% mark.

Andrias Ghukasyan. A radio host and political activist in Yerevan, Ghukasyan spent the entire election campaign on hunger strike, protesting outside parliament with a large banner saying ‘stop fake elections’. Ghukasyan was highly critical of electoral observers and suggested that all they did was legitimize Armenian elections. This was probably related to the OSCE’s report on the 2008 elections which found the elections to be free and fair, despite the following protests.

Vardan Sedrakyan. An academic specializing in epic poetry. Sedrakyan campaigned on a nationalist platform.

Arman Melikyan. The head of a NGO working on immigration and refugees, Melikyan eventually stated that he had spoilt his own ballot in protest.

The last three candidates had negligible support in public opinion polls.

Campaign

The presidential campaign was notable primarily in terms of its absence. Arriving in Armenia on the 14th of February it was hard to believe there would be an election four days later. The streets were empty of activists, political posters or any signs or campaigning. What campaign there was focused primarily on personality. The issues such as they were, were the state of democracy in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh (an issue on which everyone in Armenia agrees, and so which was primarily a contest of ‘who can agree hardest’) and other foreign and security issues. The economy, probably the biggest real issue in a country that is the poorest in the region and which is being blockaded from two sides.

Media in Armenia is generally considered as biased towards the ruling elite, with the President’s brother-in-law in charge of its regulation. Pro-opposition TV stations have been shut down. However, TV did not black out coverage of the opposition, though I am unaware of what the tone was in that coverage, though the OSCE stated that the public and most popular television channel, H1, showed bias against opposition parties and candidates.

Concerns were also raised about the ruling party’s abuse of administrative resources. In some areas public buildings were used as campaign offices, for instance.

Result

Final results from Armenia’s Central Electoral Commission:

Serzh Sargsyan (Republican Party of Armenia) 58.64%
Raffi Hovannisian (Heritage) 36.75%
Hrant Bagrantyan (Freedom Party) 2.15%
Paruyr Hayrikyan (Union for National Self-Determination) 1.23%
Andrias Ghukasyan (Independent) 0.57%
Vadran Sedrakyan (Independent) 0.42%
Arman Melikyan (Independent) 0.24%

Additionally 50,988 invalid votes (3.36%) were cast. It is difficult to tell how many of these are protest votes and how many are problems with the ballot. Armenian electoral law requires a very precise ‘V’ sign to be made to vote for a candidate. While this sign is marked quite clearly on the ballot paper and is in the polling booth in such a way that while filling out your ballot you look directly at it, this does still mean it is plausible many voters could have used other signs. However it is worth noting that this figure is an increase of more than 10,000 invalid votes from the prior Presidential election despite a significant fall in turnout.

Turnout was 60.05%, significantly down from 72.14% in 2008. There were noticeable regional disparities in turnout with turnout in Yerevan (the capital) at 53.99%, and turnout in Ararat Province at 73.92%.

For the purposes of the election results are collated by the 41 parliamentary constituencies. A man of results by constituency can be seen below, having been shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia:

Results of the 2013 Armenian presidential election by parliamentary constituency (source: Wikipedia)

Hovannisian’s result is a surprisingly good performance, nearly 40% of the vote. Compared to opinion polls Sargsyan has done worse than expected and so have Bagratyan and Hayrikyan. That suggests that Hovannisian pulled votes from both Sargsyan and from his fellow opposition candidates. As his candidacy gained steam, the opposition seem to have informally united around Hovannisian as the candidate with the best chance of beating Sargsyan.

Hovannisian won seven constituencies in all. The rest were all won by Sargsyan. The three constituencies in the northeast of the country all cover Shirak province. Shirak is home to Armenia’s second largest city, Gyumri. I had a friend stationed in Gyumri who reported that in the polling station he was in during counting the polling station staff were clearly nervous as the results came in and it became increasingly clear Hovannisian was ahead. The chairman of the polling station even rang her husband, who was working at a different polling station to check whether this was happening elsewhere. My friend stated that the polling station staff questioned whether this would mean that the financial tap to Gyumri would be cut off completely.

Hovannissian also did well in Yerevan, winning 3 of its 12 constituencies and allowing Sargsyan a majority of the vote in only one district. One of the three constituencies was not previously known to the OSCE as an opposition stronghold, however another organisation had decided to place international observers in all of its polling stations throughout the entire day, from opening of the polling station until counting. The seventh constituency is that covering Vanadzor, Armenia’s third largest city.

The pattern that emerges therefore is that Hovannisian did best in urban areas. Several factors may explain this. Firstly urban districts tend to be home to younger, better educated, wealthier populaces. Secondly, Hovannisian’s activist base was much smaller than Sargsyan’s but found it much easier to campaign in the cities where more voters can be reached. Thirdly, life is easier on electoral observers in cities because there are shorter distances between polling stations and therefore less time to travel. Therefore more polling stations can be monitored. Yerevan polling stations also had to deal with the international press.

Fairness of the Election

I was stationed in Constituency 9 in Yerevan. Constituency 9 covers Kentron, the centre of the city, meaning that, purely through the luck of the draw (4 STOs were stationed in Kentron, out of 250 and you have no choice where you are stationed) I found that the hotel I was staying in was in my district and within a ten minute drive of all my polling stations. Throughout the day I did not witness any proof of fraud. However I did see something which I thought was questionable, which I will now recount.

In my area there were two polling stations in one building very close together. As we approached these polling stations there were very large crowds outside. We entered and observed the voting. As we observed the voting we noticed a suspicious looking man milling around the entrance. We approached him and asked what he was doing. He responded that he was waiting to vote. However he did not seem to be in line but instead chatting with voters as they came in. He had no ID or accreditation (which party and non-party observers must have). When we made the move into the second polling district of the polling station we spoke to the proxy in that station of Hovannisian. He seemed very pleased to see us as we entered.

Throughout the day we had spoken to polling station staff, candidate proxies and observers. However getting information had proven difficult. Our feeling was that people were afraid of speaking up in front of us. Hovannisian’s proxy in this station, however, had very good English. He told us that the large crowds outside were due to busing. Large crowds all turned up at once because the Republican Party was busing around voters to polling stations where they knew there was a problem with the ink (polling station staff had to stamp each voter’s internal passport. The ink was supposed to disappear after 12 hours, but there were reports that in some cases it could be rubbed off with a wet napkin). Whilst he told us this we noted that it had indeed become very quiet in contrast to the incredible clamour that had preceded (and had been very unusual throughout the day). We also noted that the same suspicious man from earlier was still there. We had been at this polling station for more than an hour. It seemed unlikely he was waiting to vote as even in the busiest circumstances I don’t thing I saw anyone waiting to vote for more than 5 minutes!

Conversations with other teams were similar. Many saw circumstantial evidence which seemed to imply busing. One person I spoke to reported that people had run away as they saw them approaching one polling station with their interpreter telling them that someone had yelled a warning that observers were coming. One team’s driver spotted carousel voting (a particular type of voter fraud where someone stands outside a polling station with marked ballots, they give a marked ballot to a voter, who hides it under their shirt. The voter then walks in, takes a ballot, votes using the marked ballot, and then brings out the unmarked ballot. The voter then gives the unmarked ballot to the person they took it from, who then marks it for future use. The voter is then given money for this). One team I spoke with said that a voter they had spoken to had had problems voting due to an administrative problem at one of their polling stations, but at this point she revealed that she was a civil servant and had been told that she would be fired if she could not produce proof she had voted (through the ink mark in her internal passport).

The OSCE preliminary report on the election states that “The 18 February presidential election was generally well-administered and was characterized by a respect for fundamental freedoms. Contestants were able to campaign freely. Media fulfilled their legal obligation to provide balanced coverage, and all contestants made use of their free airtime. At the same time, a lack of impartiality of the public administration, misuse of administrative resources, and cases of pressure on voters were of concern. While election day was calm and orderly, it was marked by undue interference in the process, mainly by proxies representing the incumbent, and some serious violations were observed.” In a sense, I think this is fair. The OSCE cannot be seen to be criticizing elections like these without proof, reports like mine, are, ultimately circumstantial. Certainly my report would not hold up in a court of law!

Yet this perhaps illustrates a problem with electoral observation. At a certain point it becomes very difficult to detect fraud. Ballot box stuffing and the like has become passé. I agree with the OSCE that the election was well-administered. The polling station staff I saw were exemplary. If there was fraud, that was not where it was, rather it was outside the polling station in many cases. There is an argument that electoral observation simply makes fraud more sophisticated. To some extent the accusation that observation legitimizes flawed elections may have some worth. The OSCE’s press conference on the elections was actually hijacked by some Armenian activists who briefly took the stage to scream for the OSCE to ‘stop legitimizing fraudulent elections in Armenia’.

Defenders of the official result may point to opinion polling and exit polling, with which the result is broadly in line. However the exit poll is attributed to ‘Gallup’ but in fact was carried out by a Swiss company called Gallup International Association, which is involved in a legal dispute with the better known Gallup, inc. Opposition politicians have labelled GIA ‘fake Gallup’.

I must also admit concerns about the official turnout figure. While I was in a low turnout area, I find it hard to believe that Yerevan reached the official figure of 53.99% turnout based on what I saw on the day which was exceedingly quiet. The whole election had been quiet. My entire impression of Armenians and the electoral process was that they really did not care about the election at all. This is not even considering the problems of the voting list. In the run up to the election the opposition were claiming that up to 700,000 voters on the voter list were out of the country. It is true that many Armenians have left the country since independence in the search for work. Many have gone to Russia, for instance. While 700,000 seems an overestimate, my feeling based on what the OSCE said was there was some truth behind this. To my mind this implies that turnout was artificially raised.

That said, I do not think that the entire result is fraudulent. Rather there has been a biasing of the result rather than complete falsification in my view. Most votes counted are probably perfectly valid. I certainly do not believe that Hovannisian has ‘won’ the election which is what the opposition are claiming.

At the time of writing Hovannisian has spent two days on the trot protesting in Freedom Square in central Yerevan. I saw some of the protests myself as my hotel was literally around the corner. Hovannisian’s protests, a couple of thousand strong, do not compare to Ter-Pertrossian’s approx. 100,000 protesters in 2008 however. On the 21st of February, Hovannisian and Sargsyan met to discuss the situation. Hovannisian has stated he will disclose the details of the meeting on the 22nd of February saying that “We are committed to our victory and the Armenian people will have their victory tomorrow in Liberty Square at 5 pm.”

Assuming the result stands, which I think is more likely than not right now, the next Armenian elections will be the parliamentary elections in 2015.

Ecuador 2013

Presidential and legislative elections were held in Ecuador on February 17, 2013. The President of Ecuador is elected for a five-year term renewable once (under the 2008 constitution), through two-round voting. The Vice President is elected on a ticket with the winning presidential candidate. The country’s unicameral legislature, the National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional), will now be composed of 137 members. 116 of these members are ‘provincial deputies’ elected multi-member constituencies corresponding to the 24 provinces with the three largest province (Guayas, Pichincha, and Manabí) subdivided into four or two (Manabí) districts. 15 are ‘national deputies’ elected on a national list while the remaining six members are elected in three districts representing Ecuadorians living abroad. Deputies are elected by open-list proportional representation (panachage is allowed but dissuaded); the national seats are allocated using Webster’s method, the remaining seats are now allocated using the d’Hondt method. Not many voters understand this system, which explains why 26.8% of ballots in the 2009 legislative election were blank or null votes.

Background

Ecuador has been ruled by a succession of authoritarian strongmen, military leaders, oligarchs, charismatic populists, right-wing businessmen and a surprisingly high number of insane madmen. Most of these successive leaders have been a disastrous mix of incompetents, autocrats, kleptocrats, or venal self-interested leaders. Politicians and political parties throughout the country’s history have formed a sort of aloof elite, disconnected from the wider Ecuadorian society which remained poor and alienated from the central government. Indeed, until the late 1970s, illiterates could not vote so Ecuadorian politics and elections was a game played by only the literate elites. Since 1979, there has been a proliferation of political parties, most of which have tended to be either ephemeral personal vehicles for ambitious politicians or weak groupings of various strongmen and politicians without any consistent ideologies.

These posts in a forum thread about the elections offer a phenomenal explanation of Ecuadorian history and politics. It has informed most of my commentary and analysis in this article.

Almost nothing is ever consistent in Ecuadorian politics, but one thing which has been consistent since 1830 has been a very marked and potent regional divide. Ecuador is divided into three natural regions: the Costa, the Sierra and the Oriente (Amazon). The Costa includes those provinces lying to the west of the Andes, including the country’s largest city and economic capital Guayaquil. The Sierra consists of the Andean and Interandean highland provinces, including the capital city, Quito. The Oriente or Amazon, the least populated region, consists of the Amazon jungle provinces. Most of the country’s indigenous population (at least 7% of the population) lives in the Oriente although they have always had a significant presence in the Sierra (but never in the Costa).

The regional divide in Ecuadorian politics has usually opposed the Costa (Guayaquil) and the Sierra (Quito), these two regions and their respective major cities being traditional rivals since independence. The coastal region’s economy, driven by cocoa and banana plantations, has usually been export-oriented. In contrast, the Sierra’s highland agricultural economy has usually been focused on domestic production. The Costa is commonly described as the ‘wealthy’ region against the ‘poorer’ inland regions, but this is a gross oversimplification. Although the Costa bourgeoisie and Guayaquil bankers gained significant influence over the country’s economy and politics (at the expense, oftentimes, of Sierra landowners), large swathes of the coastal regions remained deprived and marginalized.

In the decades which followed independence, the traditional Latin American political struggle between conservatives and liberals took place along regional lines in Ecuador. The protectionist, clerical and autocratic conservatives were backed by the Catholic Church and Sierran landowners who supported protectionist measures. The anti-clerical and pro-free trade liberals, who seized power from the conservatives in 1895, were supported by the Costa’s liberal bourgeoisie, who supported free trade. The liberal era lasted until the 1920s.

Beginning in the 1930s, Ecuadorian politics was a familiar succession of short-lived civilian rulers, fiery populists and military coups. One of the more prominent populist leaders of this era was José María Velasco Ibarra, who served as President on five occassions between the 1930s and the 1970s (1934-1935, 1944-1947, 1952-1956, 1960-1961, 1968-1972) although he only completed a full four-year term only once. Ibarra was a charismatic populist who captivated the masses, but he had no clear ideology of his own and he accomplished little during his various stints in power (unlike fellow populists leaders such as Perón or Vargas). In the early 1960s, he used nationalist and anti-American (pro-Cuban) rhetoric, which led the military to remove him from office in 1961 before taking power for themselves in 1963. Under a new constitution, Ibarra returned to office in 1968, but he became the hostage of the military which had intervened to guarantee him full powers over an opposition congress in 1970.

To prevent a fiery populist leader, Assad Bucaram, from winning the presidency, the military staged a coup in 1972; installing a left-nationalist regime similar to that of Juan Velasco Alvarado in Peru. This military regime was replaced by another military junta in 1976, which prepared for re-democratization (which came with a new constitution in 1978).

Since 1978-1979, Ecuador has been a fragile and troubled multi-party democracy. Jaime Roldós, the young nephew of Assad Bucaram (the leader of the populist Guayaquil-based CFP party) won the first post-junta elections in 1978-1979. Roldós, much to the chagrin of the outgoing junta, defeated the regime’s conservative candidate, Sixto Durán Ballén, endorsed by the Sierra-based right-wing Social Christian Party (PSC).

Roldós quickly broke with the demagogic and populist Bucaram and began to implement an ambitious progressive agenda (social reforms, rural literacy) before his untimely death in a suspicious airplane crash in May 1981. With Roldós and Assad Bucaram’s death within months of each other, there was a contested battle for the leadership of the populist movement in the country. Ultimately, Abdalá Bucaram (Roldós’ brother-in-law), an histrionic and insane populist, proved a more able political leader than Osvaldo Hurtado, Roldós’ VP (and new President). Bucaram created his own party, the Ecuadorian Roldosist Party (PRE) as his own personal vehicle. During this time, the country’s economy was in a dire state. Hurtado renegotiated the country’s high public debt with the IMF and implemented austerity measures.

León Febres Cordero, an avid neoliberal businessman backed by the right (led by the PSC), won the 1984 elections; defeating Rodrigo Borja, the candidate of the left-wing Democratic Left (ID) in a runoff. LFC’s neoliberal austerity policies, including cutting subsidies for basic foodstuffs and reducing price controls, led to social protests. Any economic gains by his policies were destroyed by the international collapse in oil prices and later by a 1987 earthquake which crippled the country’s economy. Otherwise, LFC had a disastrous record: he confronted the congressional opposition (which often ended in physical violence, which was not unusual in Ecuador’s legislature), attempted to get rid of Abdalá Bucaram by forcing him into exile in Panama and getting Noriega to torture him (but this backfired as Abdalá Bucaram used it to boost his political capital), tried to abduct a general who denounced corruption, and committed numerous human rights abuses to destroy a small guerrilla movement.

Rodrigo Borja, a left-winger, defeated Abdalá Bucaram with 54% in the 1988 runoff. Borja’s presidency restored political and economic stability after LFC’s disastrous presidency, but he had his hands tied by an opposition congress (governed by a PSC-PRE coalition) which dropped the corruption charges against LFC and Bucaram (Borja had charged both of them with corruption after taking office), allowing Bucaram to return to the country from yet another Panamanian exile. The ID was unable to hold the presidency in the 1992 election, whose runoff featured an internecine right-wing battle between Jaime Nebot (PSC), LFC’s heir apparent; and Sixto Durán Ballén (who created a new right-wing party, PUR), who opposed LFC’s takeover of the PSC. The two right-wingers made the runoff benefiting from an amusing explosion of the populist vote between Abdalá Bucaram (PRE), Assad Bucaram’s son Averroes (CFP) and other candidates. Durán Ballén defeated the abrasive Nebot easily.

Durán Ballén delegated most tasks to his vice president, who had been LFC’s neoliberal finance minister. The government’s economic liberalization agenda faced widespread opposition and it too had to face off with an opposition congress which went out of its way to destroy the government.

Abdalá Bucaram, on his third attempt, finally won the presidency in 1996. He defeated Jaime Nebot (PSC) with 54.5% in the runoff. Abdalá Bucaram is truly a larger-than-life figure; he was a literally insane guy with a Hitler mustache who called himself el loco (the madman) and made good use of his histrionic style. Elected on a populist and demagogic platform consisting of foul-mouthed rants against the ‘oligarchs’. Bucaram apparently tried his hand at other jobs while being president: he started a singing career (releasing a crazy album) and appointed himself president of a football club in Guayaquil. His administration, naturally, was a train wreck. Like many populists of his kind, he got into office and implemented policies which he had campaigned against (in this case, economic liberalization). His government was also marked by widespread corruption and nepotism. Having alienated everybody around him, Bucaram was impeached by congress only six months into his term. Invariably, he fled to Panama.

The new president, Fabian Alarcón (leader of a small populist party and president of congress, Bucaram’s VP was forced to give up the presidency after a few days), called a constituent assembly which produced a new constitution in 1998. His presidency was marked by economic problems (falling oil prices) and more corruption. Jamil Mahuad, a former mayor of Quito running for the right-wing christian democratic DP, won the 1998 elections. He defeated Álvaro Noboa, a banana magnate and the richest man in Ecuador, who ran as Bucaram’s proxy for the PRE. Mahuad took 51.2% in the runoff against Noboa.

His term began smoothly, with congressional support for further privatizations and economic liberalization measures. But the economy worsened, with soaring inflation (up to 96% in 2000), the fall of world oil prices and a sharp drop in the value of the sucre (the national currency). Mahuad faced increasing opposition from both the left and the right. In January 2000, Mahuad ‘dollarized’ the economy by abandoning the sucre and adopting the US dollar. A few weeks later, he was overthrown in a coup led by Lucio Gutiérrez, a officer close to the leftist-nationalist sectors of the military. But the military stepped in to remove and arrest Gutiérrez, placing Mahuad’s VP, Gustavo Noboa, in the presidency in his stead. He successfully managed the dollarization of the economy and granted amnesty to the putsch leaders, including Gutiérrez.

Throughout the 1990s, Ecuador’s indigenous population had become a forceful actor in civil society through the formation of CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador), an influential organization which defended indigenous interests and led protest movements against controversial government decisions. In 1996, CONAIE founded its own political wing, Pachakutik, which has had mixed electoral success at best. In the 2002 election, CONAIE strongly supported Lucio Gutiérrez, who is indigenous himself. Gutiérrez ran on a very left-wing populist and nationalist platform, strongly opposed to neoliberalism. He placed ahead of a very divided field in the first round, with Álvaro Noboa – now running on his own being fed up with Bucaram’s antics – placing second. Other candidates included León Roldós (Jaime’s brother), former president Borja, a PSC candidate and Abdalá Bucaram’s brother Jacobo. Gutiérrez, denounced by Noboa as a communist, won 54.8% in the runoff.

Elected as a leftist, Gutiérrez made a political 360 and governed as a right-winger – implementing an IMF austerity package and endorsing free trade with the US. Gutiérrez lost the backing of the left and his erstwhile indigenous allies, and failed to get much support from LFC’s PSC which focused its effort on a weird vendetta against Gustavo Noboa. Gutiérrez tried to hold on to power by allying with the PRE and stacking the courts (illegally) with supporters. Gutiérrez was finally removed from office in April 2005, following protests organized by a mass civilian movement with military support.

The 2006 election was another closely fought affair. Álvaro Noboa, the wealthy businessman running a bizarre messianic campaign, placed first in the first round, while Rafael Correa, a former minister in the outgoing government who ran a very leftist, anti-establishment campaign placed second. Lucio Gutiérrez’s brother Gilmar managed a healthy third place, while moderate leftist León Roldós placed a disappointing fourth after being seen as an early favourite. Noboa ran a poor campaign, and Correa easily defeated him in the runoff with 56.7%.

Correa’s immediate agenda was twofold: constitutional reform and economic reform. He wanted to call a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, a goal made tricky by the fact that his party – the Allianza PAIS – had not run candidates in the concurrent 2006 congressional elections. However, he managed to get congressional approval for a referendum to call a constituent assembly. Over 86% of voters approved Correa’s plan to call a constituent assembly in a 2007 referendum which was followed by elections to a constituent assembly in September 2007 in which Correa’s Allianza PAIS won an overwhelming majority (80/130 seats). The new constitution, approved by voters in 2008, strengthened the powers of the executive and allowed for an interventionist state as a guarantor of various collective rights (including environmental rights).

Many populist leaders throughout Ecuadorian history have campaigned (and won) on leftist, anti-austerity/anti-neoliberal and nationalist platforms; but few (if any) actually governed as such. Correa has proven to be the exception, being elected and governing as a leftist. Economically, Correa has supported interventionist economic policies aimed at alleviating poverty, supporting small businesses and farmers with micro-loans and guranteeing universal access to public education and healthcare. Notably, Correa significantly increased spending on the bono de desarrollo humano (BDH, human development grants) which are state grants provided to poor mothers, the elderly and the disabled. The BDH was created by Mahuad in 1998, but Correa significantly boosted the grants: from $11.5-15 to $30, later $35 and now $50. Correa also increased spending on healthcare, education (from 2.5% to 6% of GDP) and housing bonds. Correa’s economic and social policies have been financed in good part by windfalls from higher oil prices

Correa was reelected by the first round in 2009, winning about 52% of the vote against 28% for his closest rival, Lucio Gutiérrez.

Correa has played an active role on the foreign stage, emerging as one of the leading figures of the Latin American left alongside Hugo Chávez (Venezuela) and Evo Morales (Bolivia). In 2009, Ecuador joined the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), a regional cooperation organization which is Chávez’s brainchild. With Chávez’s failing health, Correa – an ambitious leader who is still quite young and energetic – hopes to become the leading figure of the Latin American left and ALBA. In August 2012, Ecuador’s embassy in London granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, wanted on sexual assault charges in Sweden where he could face extradition to the United States over the WikiLeaks case. The Assange asylum case was likely an attempt by Correa to boost his standing on the world stage, cementing his reputation as an opponent of ‘American imperialism’. His administration has refused to support any free trade deals with either the US or the EU and in 2008, the country defaulted on its sovereign debt.

Correa faced increased opposition and criticism, from both the left and right, in his second term. In 2009, the country experienced rolling blackouts caused by droughts which had depleted hydroelectric reserves. In September 2010, Correa survived a coup attempt by the police (which opposed a new law on promotions). The police took Correa hostage after he had unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a resolution to the crisis, but he was later saved by the army. The coup attempt was likely supported and organized by Lucio Gutiérrez.

Correa has been a vocal critic of the Ecuadorian media, which he claims are controlled by corrupt businessmen who seek to undermine his presidency; for example branding the critical media “corrupt, mercantilist …ink-wielding contract killers”. It is true that, upon becoming president in 2006, most of the media was hostile to Correa and in the hands of the opposition. Since then, he has worked to increase state control over the media, either by creating new state-owned media sources or seizing or shutting down privately-owned media. In July 2011, Correa won a libel action against a columnist for an opposition newspaper (El Universal) and even sentenced the columnist and three newspaper directors to jail (they were pardoned by Correa following international outcry). A new law in place for this election bars the media from ‘direct or indirect promotion’ of any candidate, opinion, voting preference or ideology. Since 2006, Ecuador fell from 56th to 119th in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index. Opponents and journalists have thus found Correa’s support for Julian Assange (in the name of free speech) to be quite hypocritical.

Constitutional amendments which have increased the president’s power over the courts (among others) were approved in a referendum in May 2011, the opposition denounced the amendments as presidential “power grabs”.

In 2012, the government faced a large protests organized by CONAIE. The indigenous organization criticized the granting of mining concessions to a Chinese company without prior consultations with indigenous communities and in apparent disregard of environmental impacts. The movement petered out rather quickly, the government alleged that CONAIE had been bought by foreign corporations and the right.

Candidates

Rafael Correa ran for a third term in office, the second under the new 2008 constitution. Despite the vocal opposition of the right and even some on the left, Correa has remained extremely popular throughout his two terms. His approval rating has hovered around 80%. His Vice President since 2007 has been Lenín Moreno, a paraplegic man whose work in office to improve the conditions for disabled persons in the country is widely respected and recognized. He is retiring this year. Correa picked one of his ministers, Jorge Glas, a technocrat with low name recognition, as his new running mate. There is a chance that Correa, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a fourth/third term in the next election and who has said that he does not wish to change this constitutional provision, is promoting Glas to succeed him.

Correa is the candidate of the Allianza PAIS (PAIS, which means country in Spanish, offically stands for Patria Altiva I Soberana or Pround and Sovereign Fatherland). Originally a minor personalist vehicle founded for Correa to contest the 2006 election, the party is now the dominant political party in Ecuador. Left-wing critics of the administration claim that the new king’s party has been taken over by opportunists and recycled politicians with ties to the old regime. Indeed, Vinicio Alvarado (Correa’s public administration secretary) supported both Abdalá Bucaram and Jaime Nebot in the past. To build itself up as a major party, Allianza PAIS actively recruited veteran politicians and local caciques including many with links to populist or right-wing parties such as the PSC.

Correa’s main opponent was Guillermo Lasso, a Guayaquil businessman. Lasso is the former head of the Banco de Guayaquil and is closely tied to the economic capital’s business milieus, although he has held appointed political positions in the past: appointed governor of Guayas province and a short time as Jamil Mahuad’s minister of the economy. Lasso describes himself as a centrist liberal (on economic matters); Correa has painted him as a right-winger who would bring the country back to the ‘old regime’. Lasso was quite desperate to present himself as a centrist and play down his more conservative positions (he is a self-avowed admirer of José María Aznar’s reforms in Spain between 1996 and 2004) or past (he is a member of the Opus Dei and WikiLeaks alleged he was an informant for the US embassy). Lasso was the one who originally proposed to raise the BDH grants to $50, which Correa took up and got approved by the National Assembly. His platform included abolishing nine taxes, hiring more police officers, less bureaucracy and state intervention in the economy to promote job creation and private enterprise and a constitutional ban on immediate reelection.

Lasso is backed by a new coalition, Creando Oportunidades (Creating Opportunities, CREO – creo is the first person singular conjugation of the Spanish verbs for believe [creer] and create [crear] in the present). Lasso’s candidacy is also endorsed by a bunch of old parties, including the ID (which actually lost its registration), the PSC (moribund since LFC died in 2008 and Jaime Nebot left the party), and whatever is left of the old Liberal Party (PLRE) – which is to say nothing. Guayaquil mayor Jaime Nebot’s party, MCMG, also enthusiastically supported Lasso. The popular mayor of the country’s largest city, Nebot has been one of Correa’s main opponents, but he does not seem to have national ambitions.

Former president Lucio Gutiérrez, who ran for president in 2002 (won) and 2009 and had his brother run in 2006, ran for a third time. Gutiérrez, a former leftist military officer who led the 2000 coup against Jamil Mahuad, is an indigenous Ecuadorian from Napo province in the Oriente. His 2002 presidential campaign was very left-wing, nationalist and populist; his disastrous presidency between 2003-2005 was the complete opposite. Gutiérrez was originally endorsed by CONAIE and Pachakutik in 2002, but they quickly disowned him when he reversed his ideological direction once in office (CONAIE also feared Gutiérrez was trying to kill them off); and although both movements have opposed him since then, Gutiérrez retains very strong support with indigeneous Ecuadorians in the Oriente (and some mixed-blood voters in the Sierra) who feel that Gutiérrez embodies their desires for social advancement. In the 2009 election, in the absence of a credible right-wing candidate, Gutiérrez placed a fairly ‘strong’ distant second with 28%. He won over 50% of the vote in the Oriente, including over 70% in his native Napo and won encouraging results on the Costa and in the Sierra. He has been one of the administration’s most vocal critics, and he is suspected of having played a major role in the 2010 coup attempt.

Gutiérrez, the boss of the ‘January 21 Patriotic Society Party’ (PSP), has seemingly fully embraced his transformation into a right-wing populist. His platform included the imposition of visas on all foreigners, a census on all foreigners living in Ecuador (there are many Colombian refugees fleeing the conflicts in Colombia in the border provinces), allowing all citizens to carry firearms, withdrawal from ALBA, large tax cuts and various other crazy populist proposals.

Álvaro Noboa, who ran for president in 1998, 2002, 2006 (runoff) and 2009 ran for a fifth straight time. Noboa is said to be the wealthiest man in Ecuador, having made his fortune in his family’s banana empire. He is a rather controversial man, with serious accusations of child labour and labour abuses on his banana plantations and charges of tax evasion (he could be owing over $99 million in taxes). Most argue that he has used his immense personal wealth to buy votes. Noboa’s political career began in the 1998 election when he ran as Abdalá Bucaram’s puppet for the PRE. He quickly broke with Bucaram and started his own personality cult, the Institutional Renewal Party of National Action (PRIAN) and has run under that banner in the last three elections. The 2006 election was the peak of his career, placing first in the first round and heading to the runoff against Correa. Originally expected to win, Noboa was trounced in the runoff. He won only 11% in the 2009 election, the PRIAN having started to disintegrate and lose its shine after the 2006 election.

In 2006, Noboa had run on a right-wing populist, pro-business and vaguely neo-liberal platform. He could be considered a right-winger, though like most Ecuadorian politicians of his generation he has no coherent ideology. For example, this year, Noboa’s campaign branded itself as ‘centre-left’ and supported various populist inanities including tax cuts for everybody, cutting the retirement age, recruiting Rudy Giuliani to fight crime and other things.

The youngest contender was Mauricio Rodas, an outsider running for his new party – the United Society for More Action (SUMA) – and presenting himself as a progressive centrist. He is also backed by the Sierra-based Evangelical Indigenous Federation, an evangelical conservative grouping which had backed Gutiérrez in 2009.

Alberta Acosta was the candidate for left-wing opponents of Correa. Acosta is an economist who was originally a close supporter of Correa and his government’s Revolución Ciudadana, he served as energy minister in 2006-2007 and then as president of the constituent assembly until 2008. At that point, Acosta broke with Correa. Left-wing opponents of Correa have criticized his government’s recent turn on environmental policies (originally rather green, Correa now supports oil drilling in parts of the Amazon and issued controversial mining concessions to a Chinese company), his autocratic tendencies and his confrontational relation with left-wing social movements. Correa has shown little tolerance for vocal criticism, quickly denouncing critics as lackeys of foreign interests or even saboteurs.

Acosta is the candidate of the Plurinational Unity of the Lefts (Unidad Plurinacional de las Izquierdas), a coalition with includes Pachakutik/CONAIE (the CONAIE has been quite critical of the government since 2007), the MPD (an erstwhile far-left tied to a teachers union and strong with Afro-Ecuadorians), various former Correa supporters and small far-left parties.

Nelson Závala is the candidate of the PRE, the party which is still controlled by crazy populist Abdalá Bucaram (now in Panamanian exile to escape the Ecuadorian justice). The PRE’s sole goal is getting Abdalá Bucaram to return from exile (though without going to jail once he’s back). Závala ran a weird religious fundamentalist campaign which was particularly homophobic.

Norman Wray was the candidate of Ruptura 25, another anti-Correa leftist party. Wray and his party emphasize women and LGBT rights.

Results

Voting is mandatory in Ecuador. Results are still being processed, they are presented as follows: the results of the CNE’s conteo rápido on election night (unofficial) and official CNE results with 83.1% of precincts reporting:

Rafael Correa (Allianza PAIS) 56.7% / 56.67%
Guillermo Lasso (CREO) 23.3% / 22.89%
Lucio Gutiérrez (PSP) 6.6% / 6.92%
Mauricio Rodas (SUMA) 4.0% / 4.01%
Álvaro Noboa (PRIAN) 3.7% / 3.66%
Alberto Acosta (MPD-PK) 3.2% / 3.30%
Norman Wray (Ruptura 25) 1.3% / 1.36%
Nelson Závala (PRE) 1.2% / 1.18%

Ecuador 2013

map based on preliminary election night CNE results

Results for the National Assembly according to Participación Ciudadana‘s conteo rápido and the CNE’s official results with 83.2% reporting. The unofficial and incomplete (131 seats) has been published in some newspapers and by the Spanish Wikipedia.

PAIS 51.6% / 52.02% winning 91 seats
CREO 11.5% / 11.68% winning 12 seats
PSC 9.1% / 8.67% winning 6 seats
PSP 5.9% / 5.77% winning 6 seats
MPD-PK 4.8% / 4.80% winning 6 seats
PRE 4.4% / 4.39% winning 1 seat
SUMA 3.3% / 3.29% winning 1 seat
Avanza 3% / 3.01% winning 5 seats
PRIAN 2.9% / 2.98%
Ruptura 25 2.6% / 2.57%
PS-FA 0.8% / 0.81%
Others (?) winning 3 seats

President Correa was easily reelected by the first round. He won about 57% of the vote, placing about 33 points ahead of his closest rival. His party, Allianza PAIS, also came out strengthened from the election. The governing party had fallen just short of an absolute majority in the National Assembly in 2009, this year it will certainly come out with an absolute majority in the legislature – perhaps even a two-thirds majority. Changes to the electoral system, including the use of the d’Hondt method (which favours larger parties) and alleged gerrymandering in the creation of subdistricts in the three largest provinces, have certainly helped the governing party do as well as it did.

Unlike his predecessors, Correa has remained extremely popular throughout his time in office to date. To begin with, Correa represents political and institutional stability in a country which was a poster child for political (and economic) instability prior to his election in 2006. Since 1996, no directly elected president had managed to complete their four-year terms. Faced with gargantuan challenges including endemic poverty, a weak economy, widespread corruption, a powerful and politically interventionist military and an often hostile and confrontational opposition in Congress; past presidents either proved incompetent in face of these challenges or found the country entirely ungovernable. Correa has not only managed to serve out all his terms in office, if he completes his current term he will have the longest uninterrupted time as president in Ecuadorian history.

Correa’s widespread and genuine popularity is due, in good part, to high oil prices. Like in Venezuela, the government has been able to take maximum advantage of the surge in oil revenues by using the country’s oil wealth to boost social spending on successful programs and income grants which have manage to alleviate poverty and enhance the living conditions of many low-income Ecuadorians. Correa’s policies have made healthcare and education far more accessible for the country’s poor. Between 2006 and 2011, the poverty rate decreased from 37.6% to 28.6%; the HDI increase and income inequality declined somewhat. Even if some administrations in the past may have had good intentions, few – if any – ever came close to achieving such successes.

By defaulting on the sovereign debt and becoming a vocal leader of the Latin American left, Correa has also reignited a sense of national pride for many Ecuadorians after the humiliating economic catastrophes of the 1980s and 1990s, most significantly the collapse of the sucre and the ‘dollarization’ of the economy in 2000. Correa is a forceful opponent of the IMF, foreign corporations and bankers; he contends that under his presidency, the country is “no longer for sale”. The opposition and the business community says that Correa has alienated foreign investors with his nationalist and interventionist policies and his decision to default on the sovereign debt. But these criticisms hold little weight for most voters.

Like Chávez and others, Correa has not hesitated to paint a stark contrast between the growth, prosperity and stability under his presidency and the instability, chaos and poverty in the past. Throughout the campaign, he warned voters against returning to the old days and has painted his political rivals – especially Guillermo Lasso – as the pawns of foreign corporations or the representatives of the old oligarchic political order. Unlike Chávez, however, Correa has not done anything or actually had the time to become unpopular with a large segment of the electorate. He has vocal opponents both on the right and the left, but their actual electoral strength is fairly weak.

The opposition, since 2006, has remained divided and largely unable to cope with the political changes wrought by Correa’s presidency. Correa thoroughly discredited and destroyed all the old parties (although in large part they are responsible for their own self-destruction), particularly the PSC. There are signs that the opposition might be changing and adapting to new circumstances. Lasso, the runner-up with 23% (not too bad of a result for him), was certainly a much more credible (and untainted) opponent than either Lucio Gutiérrez or Álvaro Noboa. But despite Lasso’s attempt to moderate his right-wing liberal image and appear as a credible centrist alternative, he remained too tied up with the old political right and could not deflect Correa’s numerous attacks. However, in a welcome break from the past, Lasso conceded defeat to Correa quickly and with style. Noboa, in his trademarked style, seems to be refusing to recognize the results and might claim (again) that he was robbed.

Guillermo Lasso and his new coalition/party (if it endures) have become the only major opponents to Correa, although with the president and his party in full control of the executive and legislative branches (and many would say judicial branch as well), he will not have much weight politically. Former president Lucio Gutiérrez, who placed second in 2009, performed very poorly, taking only 6.9% or so of the vote. In 2009, the former president had benefited from the absence of a conservative candidates (besides the discredited and damaged goods Noboa) to perform quite well, especially in regions (such as the Costa) where he had been weak in the past.

In geographic terms, Correa won every province except Napo, Gutiérrez’s native province where he still managed about 48% of the vote. The major change in the geography of the vote was Correa’s very strong performance in Guayas province (home to Guayaquil), where he had been weaker in the past. He won 63.6% in the country’s most populous province, performing better than he did in Pichincha province (Quito) where he won 57.9%. The president also performed below his native average in the Costa provinces of Los Ríos, Santa Elena and Manabí. He performed well in the Sierra (his original base), though likely not as well as on the Costa. Because of strong indigenous support for Gutiérrez but also Acosta and even Lasso, the Oriente remained Correa’s weakest region.

El Comercio‘s analysis ascribed Correa’s victory on the Costa, the traditional bases of populists such as Bucaram in the past, to the support of new middle-classes and local businessmen who have benefited from public investment and new consumers. In Guayas, Correa’s very strong result and Lasso’s mediocre showing (20.8%) is also a major defeat for Guayaquil’s right-wing mayor, Jaime Nebot, who was Lasso’s most prominent local support. Correa had received the support of the elected prefect of the province, Jimmy Jairala – a former right-winger – who might run for mayor of the country’s economic capital in 2014.

In his victory speech, Correa promised to deepen his Revolución Ciudadana (Citizens’ Revolution) agenda by further increasing social spending and public investment to reduce poverty even further. As long as the government’s policies can be backed up by high oil prices and sky-high oil revenues, Correa will be in no immediate trouble. His supporters – the bulk of the population – will not worry much about his ‘dark side’ (his poor record on press freedom or his autocratic tendencies). That being said, some analysts question the long-term sustainability of his policies. The public sector has grown tremendously under his watch and there are increasing concerns about how Correa will be able to pay for his Revolución Ciudadana. Correa’s decision to spend rather than to save oil revenues, as well as declining oil production and private investment in the industry could spell trouble in the future. Opponents will continued to be concerned by Correa’s heavy-handed tactics against the opposition media, including controversial new media legislation.

As per the 2008 constitution, Correa may not seek reelection in 2017. Fresh from a landslide victory, Correa says that he has no intention of changing this and that he will not try to run again the next election. However, a lot of people seem to have trouble taking this at face value, given that he would not be the first Latin American leader to pledge that he would not run again before changing his mind as the end of his term draws nearer. Does Correa have the trappings of a modern Latin American populist caudillo like Hugo Chávez before him? Or does he lack the ambition and clout to become such a leader, with influence and power outside the borders of his own country?

Cyprus 2013

Update: Nicos Anastasiades, the centre-right pro-austerity candidate, was elected with 57.48% against 42.52% for Stavros Malas, the candidate of the ruling anti-austerity communist party (AKEL). Turnout was done marginally, to 81.6%

Presidential elections were held in the Republic of Cyprus (southern or Greek Cyprus) on February 17, 2013. A runoff will be held on February 24. The President is elected by two-round voting for for a five-year term renewable once. Cyprus is a presidential republic with the president as head of state and government.

Traditionally, the major issue in Cypriot politics has been the long-standing Cyprus dispute between Greek Cypriots in southern Cyprus and Turkish Cypriots in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), a state which is recognized only by Turkey. Around 80% of the island’s population upon independence in 1960 was Greek, but there was a substantial Turkish Cypriot minority (about 20%). The Turkish population on the island as a whole has probably increased because of immigration from mainland Turkey sanctioned by Turkey and the TRNC but officially regarded as ‘illegal immigration’ by the Cypriot government.

Cyprus gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1960, under a constitution which included numerous safeguards to the Turkish Cypriot minority – for example, the President appoints a Turkish Cypriot as Vice President of Cyprus (in practice, Turkish Cypriots have boycotted the state’s institutions since 1964, leaving the office vacant). Independence was a compromised agreed upon by both sides, given Turkish opposition to enosis – union with Greece – the option favoured by most Greek Cypriots at that point. Archbishop Makarios III, the country’s first President, originally supported enosis but soon realized that enosis was not realistic. However, the Turkish minority felt increasingly marginalized in the new state – dominated by the Greek majority – and ethnic tensions (and violence) erupted in 1963. By 1964, Turkish Cypriots boycotted the state’s institutions and increasingly self-segregated into ethnic enclaves. The minority safeguards in the constitution were dropped.

In 1974, the Cypriot National Guard, backed by the Greek military junta, staged a military coup and deposed Makarios III. The Greek junta had disliked Makarios III, whom they perceived as being ‘soft’ on enosis, ever since they had taken power in Athens in 1967. The Greek military junta handpicked Nikos Sampson – a hardliner who supported enosis (and probably ethnic cleansing as well) – as the new leader of Cyprus on July 15. Sampson’s government lasted only eight days before he was overthrown and Makarios III restored. However, what transpired during Sampson’s catastrophic stint in power has had a major impact on the island to this day. On July 20, the Turkish military invaded northern Cyprus to protect the Turkish minority. Sampson and Greece were able to hold the Turks at a ‘green line’ and a ceasefire was called days later when both Sampson’s government and the Greek junta collapsed. Turkey refused to pull out, leaving the entire northern half of the island under Turkish control with a buffer zone (along the green line) between the two enemies monitored by the United Nations. In 1983, the north declared independence as the TRNC, but only Turkey has recognized it as a sovereign state. The Republic of Cyprus, backed by the EU (of which it is a member since 2004) and the UN, is the sole internationally recognized government and claims de jure sovereignty over the entire island.

The Cyprus dispute and reunification with the north has been the major political issue on both sides of the green line for decades now. In 2004, both sides came close to finding an agreement with the Annan Plan (which would have provided for a reunified confederal state). But the Annan Plan foundered when Greek Cypriots in the south overwhelmingly rejected the deal in a referendum (75% for the no) while Turkish Cypriots in the north were strongly supportive (65% for the yes). The deal offered the north a chance to break its economic isolation and join the EU; but the south had nothing to gain from the deal – it would join the EU regardless and by rejecting the deal it kept the perks of EU membership to itself and would not have to share power with the Turkish minority. In 2003, Greek Cypriot voters elected Tassos Papadopoulos to the presidency on a hardline anti-reunification platform. Conversely, voters in the north elected Mehmet Ali Talat to the presidency in 2005; Tahat was a social democrat who strongly supported reunification.

There was renewed hope on both sides when, in 2008, President Tassos Papadopoulos lost reelection by the first round in the Cypriot presidential election. He won 31.8%, placing third in the first round behind Ioannis Kasoulidis, the candidate of the pro-reunification right-wing Democratic Rally (DISY) who won 33.5% and Dimitris Christofias, the leader of the communist Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL), who won 33.2%. Cyprus’ communists, founded in 1926, have remained one of the major political parties in Cyprus. AKEL supports a federal and independent Cyprus, but the party usually campaigns on economic issues. Christofias defeated Kasoulidis in the runoff, with 53.4%.

Christofias and Talat, two left-wingers with a union background, got along quite well and many hoped that progress on the contentious dispute would be reached because of their strong ties. However, the anti-reunification right was victorious in legislative elections in the north in 2010 and Talat lost reelection to an anti-reunification candidate in 2010. There is little hope for any significant progress on the issue for the foreseeable future, even if the leadership in the south remains favourable.

For the first time in years, economic issues rather than the dispute with the north predominated in this election. Cyprus has been hit hard by the economic crisis and the island’s economic and fiscal situation is rapidly deteriorating. The GDP receded by 2.3% in 2012 and it is projected to remain in recession in 2013. Unemployment has increased from 3.7% in 2008 to nearly 12% in 2012. The country’s debt is rapidly growing (from 48.9% in 2008 to 92.6% in 2013) and the government deficit represented 6.3% of GDP in 2011. The economic crisis was triggered by the significant loses suffered by Cypriot banks, who speculated on the Greek debt and incurred major loses when Greece restructured its debt.

For quite some time, President Christofias denied the severity of the crisis and refused to seek European help, given that foreign aid would be conditional to austerity measures and structural reforms. The government initially responded by increasing spending and increasing pensions by 30%. The international community has criticized Cyprus for the inadequacy of its fiscal measures and the lack of major structural reforms, particularly in terms of social spending and public sector wages (which together account for 2/3 of social spending). The island’s public sector is said to be overstaffed and overpaid, with generous benefits and salaries substantially higher than the private sector. In December, Standard and Poor’s (later followed by Moody’s) downgraded the island’s debt rating to CCC+.

In June 2012, however, Cyprus was forced to ask for a European bailout (like Greece, Ireland and Portugal before it); the terms of this bailout remain under negotiation. A big debt repayment of €1.6 billion is due in June and most politicians in Cyprus agree that European help is urgently needed. Cyprus needs a €17 billion loan spread out over four years, a substantial sum of money representing one year’s worth of the Cypriot GDP. In 2011, Cyprus also received a €2.5 billion loan from Russia, which is influential in Cyprus – nearly a third of the residents of the coastal city of Limassol, for example, are Russian citizens. President Christofias, however, has often balked at the terms of such deals: he strongly opposes privatization of state assets and has been a vocal critic of austerity policies, which he says has worsened injustice and are doomed to failure. That being said, the government has started introducing austerity policies in the last few months: cuts in social spending, a VAT hike and the introduction of retirement contributions for civil servants. Most voters feel that the economy has deteriorated under Christofias’ term and many blame him for the country’s present state. Based on his poor economic record and the lack of progress on the reunification issue, Christofias did not run for reelection.

There were three major candidates in the election. The favourite was Nicos Anastasiades, the leader of the right-wing Democratic Rally (DISY). Anastasiades supports reunification and NATO membership, but he presented himself as the best candidate to negotiate a bailout with the EU, IMF and the ECB (Troika). He supports austerity measures, including partial privatization of state assets and private initiative. AKEL supported Stavros Malas, Christofias’ health minister. Malas urged voters to judge him by his own proposals rather than by Christofias’ record. He too supported the bailout but opposed austerity. The social democratic EDEK supported Giorgos Lillikas, a former foreign minister. Lillikas opposed austerity and the bailout, contending that Cyprus could save itself by using new natural gas reserves to replenish its coffers.

Turnout was 83.1%. The results were:

Nicos Anastasiades (DISY) 45.46%
Stavros Malas (AKEL) 26.91%
Giorgos Lillikas (EDEK) 24.93%
Giorgos Charalambous (ELAM) 0.88%
Praxoula Antoniadou (EDI) 0.61%
Makaria-Andri Stylianou (Ind) 0.43%
Lakis Ioannou (LASOK) 0.29%
Solon Gregoriou (Ind) 0.18%
Kostas Kyriacou (Outopos) 0.16%
Andreas Efstratiou (Ind) 0.10%
Loukas Stavrou (EDIK) 0.05%

Nicos Anastasiades built a towering lead in the first round, but fell short of winning the presidency by the first round as some initial exit polls had indicated. Anastasiades’ campaign has seen his strong showing as an endorsement of its pro-bailout and pro-austerity stance, a result which is likely to be welcomed in Berlin and Brussels as well.

Both Malas and Lillikas, left-wing anti-austerity candidates, did relatively well (slightly higher than in the last polls). Their combined strength means that the runoff will be significantly closer than the first round, even if Anastasiades likely remains the favourite against the candidate of an unpopular outgoing government. But the strong combined support for both Malas and Lillikas, weighing over 51% of the vote, shows that Anastasiades’ pro-bailout and pro-austerity position is not universally popular, far from it.

The official website provides results by district and by municipality. Anastasiades performed best in Ammochostos/Famagusta district, most of which actually part of the Turkish north. He won 55.7% in the Greek part of that district, which includes the popular resort towns of Ayia Napa and Paralimni (where he won over 70%). Anastasiades also performed well in Limassol district, taking 46.2%, and in Lefkosia/Nicosia district (45.1%). Malas did best in Larnaca district, AKEL’s traditional base, taking 33% against 45.5% for Anastasiades. Lillikas performed best in the western district of Paphos, where he placed second with 36.1% against 38.4% for Anastasiades. Anti-reunification president Tassos Papadopoulos had performed best in Paphos district in his unsuccessful reelection bid in 2008.

The runoff will be held next Sunday (February 24). It promises to be slightly more nail-biting than the predictable first round, although Anastasiades should be considered the favourite.