Is Berlusconi set for a third term in Italy?

Is Berlusconi set for a third term in Italy?

“Il Cavaliere” down to 1.3 on Betfair – can Veltroni stop him?

Double Carpet looks at Italian politics ahead of the election

Italy goes to the polls next Sunday and Monday, and following hot on the heels of the Spanish election, it provides a good “compare and contrast”. Since 1983 there have been only three Prime Ministers in Spain (Gonzalez, Aznar, Zapatero), and indeed only three French Presidents, three German Chancellors, and four occupants each in Downing Street and the White House. Many PBers would probably be able to name the full set of these, but few if any (with the possible exception of Andrea) could name the fifteen Prime Ministers of Italy during the last 25 years without assistance from the internet. (A full list is at the bottom of the article.)

Discussing European politics without Italy would be a bit like Formula One without Ferrari, but it really is different in so many ways. The traditional post-war pattern was for a Christian Democrat-led coalition government keeping the Communists out of power (not until 1981 was there a non-DC PM). Following the “Mani Pulite” (Clean Hands) investigations in the early 1990s, which uncovered massive political corruption (Tangentopoli), the traditional parties disappeared as their support collapsed and the extent of the corruption emerged.

Such was the sea-change in Italian politics, virtually unparalleled in a democracy in the modern era, that the new political system was referred to as the “Second Republic”. Into the political vacuum stepped Silvio Berlusconi – he became PM after the 1994 elections, but his Forza Italia party did not even exist at the end of 1993. Berlusconi’s first term was short-lived after the Lega Nord withdrew its support, but after the first centre-left government since the war took power in 1996, governing for five years under three PMs (Romano Prodi the first of these), Berlusconi returned to power in 2001. Whatever else may be said about Berlusconi, this was a time of stability for Italian politics, as he actually managed to complete a full 5-year term.

The April 2006 election saw a knife edge win for the centre-left “Unione” coalition under Prodi, with no fewer than nine parties in his government (almost as many parties as Germany and Austria combined), and given the narrowness of his majority in the Senate (unhelpfully, an Italian government needs a majority in both Houses) did quite well to hold things together for two years until the small UDEUR party withdrew its support. Prodi’s government was still in the seven longest-serving since the war.

So, to 2008. Prodi will step down from politics after the election, and actually the Italian party system is simpler than for some years, although it often seems like a “Rock Family Trees” programme of Fleetwood Mac or similar. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia has merged with the Allenza Nazionale to create the Popolo della Liberta (People of Liberty) – this heads the Berlusconi coalition with the Lega Nord and the MPA. The standard-bearer of the centre-left is Walter Veltroni, leader of the new Partito Democratico, which is a merger of two parties – also in the Veltroni coalition is the Italy of Values and a few Radical candidates. The other two party lists worth a mention are the UDC (Union of the Centre) and The Left – The Rainbow which includes the Greens, two (!) Communist parties and the Democratic Left.

In the final polls (banned by law in the final fortnight), the Berlusconi coalition has had a lead of about 6-8 points over Veltroni. Both leaders have emphasized the importance of getting Italy’s finances on a more secure footing, while Veltroni has broken a major political taboo by virtually accusing Berlusconi of being tied to the Mafia. Both Berlusconi and Veltroni have often stressed the importance of a voto utile, a useful vote, ie voting for PdL or PD and not for UDC, The Left, or other fringe parties as they can’t win. Finally, there has not been any leaders’ debate between Berlusconi and Veltroni and there won’t be one.

Berlusconi is about 1.3 on Betfair to be next PM (President of the Council of Ministers is the Italian term) and that may well be value, although Silvio himself has worried about the likelihood of gaining a majority in the Senate elections, where it is performance by region, rather than nationally, that matters. In the Chamber of Deputies, the winning party will automatically have a seat bonus, to ensure a majority – so under the current electoral system, it will always be the Senate where coalitions may struggle to secure a working majority (and where of course Prodi’s government lost the confidence vote which led to its collapse).

Finally, although the election will probably not be as close as 2006, it will still be worth watching as results come through on Monday 14th. We can probably already call the “red belt” (Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Marche) for Veltroni, Berlusconi should be home and dry in much of the north (Lombardy, Veneto, Piemonte, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia) as well as Sicily and Puglia, but will the rest of the country give “Il Cavaliere” the support he needs to secure both Houses and his third term as Presidente – or will the UDC emerge as kingmakers?

Betting call: Back Berlusconi, possibly with a small saver on “Any Other”. I will be very surprised to see Veltroni emerge as the new PM. Don’t forget to use the betting links and help keep Politicalbetting going.

(Italian PMs since the start of 1983: Fanfani IV (first PM in 1954!), Craxi, Fanfani V, Goria, de Mita, Andreotti III, Amato I, Ciampi, Berlusconi I, Dini, Prodi I, D’Alema, Amato II, Berlusconi II, Prodi II. There have been 37 PMs since the Republic began in 1946 – full list here – De Gasperi 1946-53 and Berlusconi 2001-06 being the longest continuous terms.).

Suggested further reading:

  • Paul Ginsborg, Italy and its Discontents
  • Tobias Jones, The Dark Heart of Italy
  • Article at Election Resources
  • Article at the Robert Schuman Foundation
  • Molto Grazie to Andrea for reviewing the article and for his comments.

    Paul Maggs “Double Carpet”

    Guest Editor

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