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Italy's Shifting Political Balance

Italy's Shifting Political Balance

Judith Harris (April 18, 2008)
The tomb of Goffredo Mameli, the XIX century patriot who wrote the Italian national anthem.

With the far left out of Parliament, and the Greens facing extinction notwithstanding the toxic waste dumps of Naples and contaminated mozzarella, the Northern league and Christian Democrats hold the balance of Italian politics.


ROME – The stunning losses of the far left, which ran three parties together as the Sinistra Arcobaleno, are being minutely analyzed. These three included the Verdi (the Green party) of Pecoraro Scannio, which achieved nothing but to “file themselves into the archives,” to borrow a friend’s phrase.

Pollsters including Consortium, which works for both RAI and Sky, say that the Verdi dropped 75% of their previous electorate, or three out of four. The toxic waste dumps of Naples should have given them a hand, but that protest vote went elsewhere, and especially to Di Pietro’s Italia dei Valori.

The second in the Arcobaleno trio was Oliviero Diliberto’s Partito dei Comunisti Italiani (PdCI), which lost eight out of ten who had voted for that party only two years ago. Finally, Fausto Bertinotti’s Rifondazione Comunista lost six out of the ten who voted for it in 2008. This decimation showing an out-of-touch and dated far left may be useful, for it paves the way for the growth of a unified moderate left, as commentators like Corrado Augias point out.

Meantime, the winners are jockeying for position. Pierferdinando Casini’s Unione di Centro, with nearly 6%, is remaining for the moment outside the fray, promising “constructive” help to the government even as he is being actively courted by left, right and center. Although at the outset strong Catholic Church interference was predicted, in point of fact Casini’s  was the closest to a Catholic campaign save for the complete flop by the abortion list run by the ever polemical journalist Giovanni Ferrara. For a future government that 6% may be decisive, but otherwise it suggests that the specific Catholic vote is no longer a factor in Italian politics.

In the city of Romeo and Juliet at least one out of four voters opted for “il Caroccio,” the Big Cart, as the Northern League is called by its aficionados. The strong showing by Umberto Bossi’s party (8.4% in the Chamber), which is expected to field four ministers, has made Verona its capital and the capital of a certain type of protest vote. This is full employment Italy—wealthy, tidy, hard working. But as a Verona workman who voted the Bossi ticket said, “There are too many foreigners in town who steal and don’t work.” The guessing then is that Bossi stole votes from both blue collar workers and from Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà. As a Berlusconi party official acknowledged, “We should have campaigned more like Bossi. The voters just don’t see us as representing them.”

Among the various local governments holding elections, Rome’s will require a run-off later this month for mayor between the two front-running candidates, Franceso Rutelli of the new Democratic Party and Giovanni Alemanno of the Popolo della Libertà. At the moment his 45.8% of the vote puts Rutelli is handily in the lead over Alemanno, with 40.7%, but no one is taking victory for granted, and Rutelli, hoping for a second round as mayor, is planning on a door-to-door campaign.

Rutelli, who served as Culture Minister in Romano Prodi’s two-year government, has won kudos for his successful prosecution of foreign museums and private collectors worldwide who had purchased looted Italian antiquities. Whoever wins in Rome will face a mountain of other problems, however, from the graffiti smeared on walls to toxic waste problems (Naples is not alone) and the resettlement and, one  might hope, integration of the thousands upon thousands of Rom living in desperate conditions in illegal camps.

As a financial footnote addressed to those interested in the public financing of political parties, the eight which won more than one percent of  the vote will automatically receive a reimbursement for their election expenditures, to the tune of 407 million Euros, or over $600 million. All told there were 47,295,978 voters for the Chamber and 43,257,208 for the Senate.

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Che disastro...

Judy, I think your coverage understates the awfulness of the election results. Not only was this a wipeout for the radical left; it also signified a huge setback for the forces of progressive politics, and even legality. Here's what Frederika Randall wrote in the latest Nation:

The most chilling moment during Italy's election campaign came when Silvio Berlusconi declared that his onetime factotum Vittorio Mangano--a Cosa Nostra boss later condemned to life imprisonment for two murders--was "a hero." It was as close as he could get to making an outright promise to Italy's Mafia that they would have a free hand if he were elected. Up North, meanwhile, Berlusconi's ally Umberto Bossi of the Lega Nord was crowing after his stunning success at the polls April 13-14, with almost twice the votes his party got in the 2006 election, enough to wrest control of two regions, Lombardy and the Veneto. A recent sample of that party's racist, xenophobic rhetoric from Radio Padania Libera: "It's easier to exterminate rats than eliminate the gypsies." Half the country ruled by the mob, the other half by rabid reactionaries: this was a worst-case scenario of what Berlusconi-Bossi's decisive victory-- 47 percent of the vote to the Partito Democratico's 38--could mean for Italy.

The biggest losers in the election were the coalition of radical-left parties known as the Sinistra Arcobaleno, which were wiped from the slate with vote percentages too low to qualify for either house of Parliament. It appears a sizable part of their base--working-class families struggling to make ends meet--voted for the Lega Nord. The other loser, the newly created, progressive Partito Democratico, actually improved its showing compared with what its component parties got in the last election. But it failed to persuade voters it could handle the coming economic turbulence and to find progressive answers to the impatient demands of Italy's productive heartland, the North. Now its job will be to mount a tough opposition--and try to keep Italy in one piece.