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Italy's general election


matty

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Bizarre in many ways, the Italian general election has left things, as usual, very similar but completely different to how they were before.

 

The most interesting development is the rise of Beppe Grillo, a comedian who for a couple of years has been developing his 5 Star Movement (unrelated to the oddball 80s pop outfit) online and in mass public meetings. This is basically an anti-politics political movement, aimed at wholesale reform of the political system, but with no programme for government at all beyond getting rid of the old guard, and changing Parliament, in some fairly vague ways.

 

They achieved 25% of the vote, more or less - an astounding result considering they didn't exist until a couple of years ago. Now they seem to hold the balance of power.

 

Meanwhile the two major coalitions - centre-left and centre-right, were virtually tied. From Berlusconi's point of view, that is a massive achievement.

 

This time last year, they sat at around 12% in the polls, and at the start of the campaign, were still around 19%. Now they got about 30% of the vote. And this despite the Lega Nord separatists who are their coalition partners being mired in scandal.

 

How did it happen - well, Berlusconi demonstrated again where he gets it from. Aside from the fact that his media empire presents a wholly distorted view to the public, this was a masterclass in his modus operandi. The opposition plays into his hands - everyone hates Berlusconi, and they let it show. The opposition parties make him the focus of their hatred, which gives him publicity. The political programmes give him huge exposure. He plays the victim - victim of the media, of the judiciary, of everything, and he revels in it. It gives him life. The one thing that would truly destroy Berlusconi is if he were to be ignored. But nobody ignores him. He makes wilder claims, more improbably promises, and he gets the attention on him. Then he lays it on with a trowl - plots and conspiracies against him; small-minded populism and xenophobia; tax cuts and giveaways in the face of horrendous public finances.

 

The centre-left meanwhile had a pretty poor campaign - Bersani is old and comes across as a relic of a bygone age. The left passed up the chance to move to a new generation of politician, and they are paying the price through Grillo's success. In many regions of Italy, Grillo took votes that the left would have won, and given them a big majority in Parliament. Even the exit polls had them 7-10% ahead yesterday, but they ended up with less than 1% more votes than Berlusconi.

 

Mario Monti did less well than expected - about 10%, and has been rendered almost insignificant by Grillo.

 

The other factor was the weather. It's been freezing across Italy - there's been snow in Calabria, a rare event indeed. Turnout was down 6% on 2008. Based on what we know about elections and weather, that will have helped the centre-right. It's unlikely the next elections will be in such bad weather.

 

So what happens next? The lower house is in the centre-left's hands thanks to a system which gives the biggest party an automatic majority. The upper house is deadlocked. Nobody can govern without a majority in both houses. And nobody can get a majority in the Senate without Grillo. He is exactly where he wanted to be - powerful and beholden to nobody.

 

By mid-April, Parliament must choose a new President of the Republic. Whether a new government can form before that is in doubt. My money is on the centre-left attempting to agree an informal short-term pact to agree constitutional and political changes with Grillo. But Grillo has shown no signs of compromise at all so far in his political career. But Grillo has his best chance now to actually do what he says he wants to do. Will he accept some compromise to get change now? Where will he stop?

 

I reckon the left will drag things out long enough to get new elections in June or September. They need a new electoral law and they need to elect a sensible President. They also need to learn the lesson and stop making Berlusconi the focal point of their politics. As usual, nothing is certain - and intrigue and plotting will flourish. And the country will continue to go to the dogs, economically.

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15 words or fewer?

 

Did Berlusconi get humiliated, or will Italy's bizarre politics somehow enable him to form a coalition Govt?

I'm not going to reduce this to the level of an idiot. That's how people like Berlusconi thrive.

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Good stuff Marty, thanks for that

 

Read this on the weekend, related

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/opinion/sunday/in-italy-illusion-is-the-only-reality.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

IT takes a certain talent to live in happy denial, to slide toward the edge of a precipice and be perfectly relaxed about it. Of all the talents that Italians are renowned for, such nonchalance is perhaps their greatest. Their economy is in deep recession; more than one in three young adults are unemployed; they are unable to compete economically with their neighbors; yet they continue as if nothing were happening, or as if a small glitch in the dolce vita could be fixed with the wave of a wand.

 

In particular, whether in awe or horror, they continue to be enchanted by the pied piper Silvio Berlusconi, the former and perhaps future prime minister and fabulously wealthy media magnate. In the run-up to the elections that begin today, he has promised to abolish the stiff property tax that was introduced by the previous government and is largely responsible for bringing a little credibility back to the country’s finances (and that he voted for himself when it was introduced). Not only would he abolish it, but he would actually pay back what Italians paid on it last year.

 

The announcement, despite coming from a man who has repeatedly failed to turn even the most promising political and economic circumstances into anything resembling the collective good, earned Mr. Berlusconi a considerable leap in the polls.

 

I have lived in Italy for 32 years. One of the first things that struck me was the relation between action and consequence, which is different in the other countries I knew, Britain and the United States. Here someone is found to have abused their position of public office — given jobs to relatives, accepted bribes, spent public money on personal pleasures — but does not resign, does not think of resigning, attacks the moralists and sails on regardless.

 

Statistics show that tax evasion is endemic, and the more so the more one moves south, to the point that around Naples, dentists declare lower incomes than policemen. Needless to say, the fiscal shortfall has to be made up with government borrowing and higher taxes for those who do pay.

 

Meanwhile, though sports is glaringly corrupt, fans are as passionate as ever. As the owner of the big soccer club A. C. Milan, Mr. Berlusconi decided, at the beginning of his campaign, to buy the star striker Mario Balotelli. Again he was rewarded in the opinion polls.

 

The constant discrepancy between how one might expect things to pan out and how they actually do is nothing new. On a tour through Italy in 1869, Mark Twain wrote, “I can not understand how a bankrupt Government can have such palatial railroad depots.”

 

Things don’t change. Italy recently completed Europe’s fastest train service; one can travel the 360 miles from Milan to Rome nonstop in just 2 hours and 45 minutes. In a country with a huge debt, this wonderful engineering feat has cost an astonishing 150 billion euros (about $200 billion).

 

Nobody seems sure where the investment came from or how the project will be paid for. One thing is certain: much of the money that legally should have been allotted to local services must have found its way to the high-speed project; to accommodate the few going fast, hosts of working people grind to the office in dirty, overcrowded trains. But what matters is the gleaming image of progress that the service projects.

 

Benito Mussolini, perhaps the first great propagandist of the modern era, understood perfectly this aspect of Italian psychology. “It is faith which moves mountains because it gives the illusion that mountains move,” he said. “Illusion is perhaps the only reality in life.”

 

On Jan. 27, at a ceremony for the national Holocaust remembrance day, Mr. Berlusconi felt it was the right time to say that Mussolini had actually done many good things and was not such a bad guy. He was rewarded with another upward twitch in the opinion polls.

 

It is the constant impression of people outside Italy that Mr. Berlusconi is some kind of evil buffoon and that the vast majority of Italians repudiate him. They cannot understand how a man so constantly on trial for all kinds of corruption, a man with a huge conflict of interest (he owns three national TV channels and large chunks of the country’s publishing industry), remains at the center of power.

 

The answer, aside from the extraordinarily slow and complex judiciary and a distressing lack of truly independent journalism, is that Mr. Berlusconi’s political instincts mesh perfectly with the collective determination not to face the truth, which again combines with deep fear that a more serious leader might ask too much of them. One of the things he has promised is a pardon for tax evaders. Only in a country where tax evasion is endemic can one appeal to evaders at the expense of those who actually pay taxes.

 

The mirror image of Mr. Berlusconi might be the caretaker prime minister Mario Monti, an unelected professor of economics, who took over in late 2011, in the middle of the euro crisis. Foreign observers are convinced Mr. Monti did a great job and deserves re-election; this is naïve. As many Italians see it (and I agree), the professor merely bowed to pressure from Berlin, cut spending where there was least resistance and taxed everybody without regard to income. His election campaign, based on a rhetoric of dour seriousness, has been disappointing. As a colleague remarked, if one is to be fleeced by the government anyway, better the entertainer than the pedant.

 

One entertainer seeking to capitalize on the situation is Beppe Grillo, a rowdy ex-comedian-turned-political blogger whose Five Star Movement proposes to sweep away the corrupt political order and promises a utopia of salaries for the unemployed and a 30-hour workweek. Mr. Grillo’s style is so demagogical and his party so dependent on his inflammatory charisma that the 20 percent of the electorate supposedly planning to vote for him must surely have decided that it simply does not matter if the country is ungovernable after the elections.

 

Alternately, it may be that people feel that nothing can be done anyway, so great is the power exercised over Italy by the European Union; hence it is largely unimportant whom they vote for. Perhaps it is the effect of centuries of Catholic paternalism and reckless electoral promises, but nobody seems to envision a practical series of reforms to get from where we are now to where we might want to be; in its place there are prayers and fiscal fantasies.

 

Mussolini later corrected his comments on illusion. “It is impossible to ignore reality,” he said, “however sad.” One wonders, as this election approaches, how near Italy is to the moment when denial is no longer possible. I imagine Mr. Berlusconi re-elected and the stock market crashing, the country’s international credibility melting away so that he must be removed in a matter of days. But then perhaps Italy’s woes will be attributed to the perversities of international finance.

 

What is never countenanced is the notion that one has made very serious mistakes, or that one might really have to adjust to a reality where economic initiative has shifted decisively to the East, and investment capital with it. Almost every political program in Italy expresses a desire to return to the past, rather than understand the country’s place in a changed world.

 

 

Tim Parks is a novelist and translator and the author of the forthcoming book “Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails From Milan to Palermo.”

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Thanks matty.

 

Missing you in the Tories thread. Could Clegg be in real trouble at the moment ? Are there LibDem members ready to stick the knife in or ditch him ?

 

Big day on Thursday for UKIP I suspect ?

Edited by Flight
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Thanks matty.

 

Missing you in the Tories thread. Could Clegg be in real trouble at the moment ? Are there LibDem members ready to stick the knife in or ditch him ?

 

Big day on Thursday for UKIP I suspect ?

I'll have a gander in there. Don't bogart my Italy thread!

 

Thanks marty

Tharty.

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I'll have a gander in there. Don't bogart my Italy thread!

 

 

Nothing in there, that's the point. Been checking it for the last three days waiting for your insight :)

 

It's clear that that the West - and especially Europe - is ripe for the rise of innovative political parties that will deal with core issues that mainstream parties won't. Grillo garnered more votes than any individual party. I could easily see the same thing happening in the UK if it were led by the right people. UKIPs star is in the ascendancy by default, not because of it's competence or beliefs, other than the fact they hang their coat on the hangar of the UKs involvement with Europe which gives them an identity. UKIP will get a lot of votes from people who don't even realise how right wing they are, for example. People are looking for somewhere to cast their vote other than Labour or the Conservatives.

 

 

Few interesting historical facts about Grillo in this article : http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-26/grillo-s-anti-austerity-wave-crashes-into-italian-parliament.html

Edited by Flight
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Yeah, Berlusconi and Alex Salmond, two peas in the same pod. :wacko:

 

I'm reading Skagboys right now so I instantly saw, in my mind's eye, Salmond trawling Leith for a schemie lassie to play the role of Young Prositute No.2 in a re-enactment of a Berlusconi sex party. I now have to work out how to scour my brain with something abrasive to remove the stain of that thought.

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Been dealing quite a bit with Italy this last year and there's not one person I've met who I'd imagine would do anything but chase Berlusconi, but there must be some who think he's aces. I'd be embarrassed to even ask, tbh, in case of causing offence.

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Yeah, Berlusconi and Alex Salmond, two peas in the same pod. :wacko:

 

I'm not saying they have the same:

 

political leanings

wealth

corruption levels

interest in follicular matter

dubious legal records

 

surely that's all self-evident?

 

I'm talking about political savviness. Their ability to engage persuasively and convincingly with the public, the ease with which they can handle the media, the way they have energised their political base compared to predecessors and peers, the successes they have achieved for the causes they represent. Salmond holds a majority in his parliament while only a minority of Scots want independence, and Berlusconi has won elections in a country where he is supposedly reviled and which has been delivering mostly left leaning governments for decades. I don't agree with either's politics, but their achievements are impressive, and I think that has a lot to do with the politicl skill they demonstrate.

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Berlusconi has won elections in a country where he is supposedly reviled and which has been delivering mostly left leaning governments for decades.

 

Not true, this.

 

Until the compromesso storico there was no major left representation in Italian government. After that there was some 'socialist' government, but the Christian Democrats were always dominant. After 92 there's been some to and fro between left and right, but Berlusconi was PM from 01-06 and 08-11, so don't see how your statement makes any sense.

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the bond market says "lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate!" *

 

* spelling to be corrected by matty and re-errored by steve jobs as necessary

Perfect Jhon.

 

cheers matty, nice one.

 

i'd do one of these about thailand's politics one day if i thought anyone would believe any of it.

Go for it. I need cheering up.

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