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 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%).
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.
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 Autonomie, GS-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 Verdi) is 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.
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%)
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.
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.
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%.
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.