Italian Elections: Berlusconi, Grillo, And The Stalemate Scenario
    By Tommaso Dorigo | February 19th 2013 06:56 AM | 22 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    I am an experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN. In my spare time I play chess, abuse the piano, and aim my dobson...

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    Next Sunday Italians will vote to change the composition of the two houses of parliament: the "lower" Camera dei Deputati and "upper" Senato della Repubblica. And as often happens with Italian politics, things are complicated. So, despite this site is mostly visited for other reasons than trivialities about politics in foreign countries, I thought I would provide here my own short-sighted, biased panorama of the situation.

    Italy was led until the end of 2011 by Silvio Berlusconi, who had to resign under strong pressure due to the emerging stories of his sexual relationship with underage girls and his frequent parties with prostitutes. From then until now, the premier has been Mario Monti, an economist who was supported by both main parties, the democratic party led by Pierluigi Bersani and Berlusconi's own "polo delle liberta'", and whose agenda had a limited scope: putting Italy back on track and averting an impending economic downfall. This much apparently Monti did achieve, at least temporarily; however, much more work is needed to stabilize the fragile Italian economy.

    As for Berlusconi, one would think that Italians would finally turn their backs to the old media tycoon upon receiving abundant and unmistakable proof that he wants the chair of premier only to continue to favour his own private interests and entertain himself as he pleases without the fear of being prosecuted. Polls show that this has happened only in part: his electoral campaign has been based on promises bordering the corruption, such as the one of "giving back in cash" some of the tax money that Monti had collected from taxes on real estate, or to grant another "condono tombale" (tombal remission) to tax frauds and other misdemeanors, which appear to pay off.

    The other main players in the game are the democratic party, which despite the very favourable moment and the crisis of the Right might not manage to collect a stable majority in both houses, due to the complex electoral system; Monti's own party (the outgoing premier decided to stay on the scene "to save Italy", and joined forces with the christian democrats of Pierferdinando Casini and the ex-fascists led by Gianfranco Fini), which is credited with some 10% of the votes; and a "popular" movement directed by a comedian, Beppe Grillo, which might even reach some 15-20% of votes.

    Grillo is a comedian turned blogger turned leader of a political movement. Italians like him despite his "Movimento cinque stelle" shows total lack of internal democracy (he decides everything together with his counselor Casaleggio) and a confuse electoral program, centered on the promise to "send back home" the existing caste of politicians and to make politics cleaner. His populist way of building consensus bears some similarities with that of the early Berlusconi, and indeed he has been fishing consensus in the disintegrating "polo delle liberta'" in the course of the last few years.

    If next week Grillo's "Movimento cinque stelle" really reaches 20% of votes, Italy will again be in a stalemate: a country impossible to lead. A government would require the forming of a coalition between parties which have declaredly nothing in common, so the Greek scenario of calling elections once again, while Italy slides toward an economic catastrophe, would appear on the table. Yet perhaps the most probable outcome would then be the forming of another "National Unity" government, led by somebody who remained out of the political fight. Montezemolo, Draghi, who knows. As for long-term prospects of stability and economic growth, this is unfortunately not in the destiny of Italy.


    I have in my hand a 1000 lira coin dated 1997. The lady portrayed on one side looks like she is struggling to repress a laugh.

    What's frustrating about the Italian situation is that even with youth unemployment at 36%; an economy that has stagnated for about 14 years and with Berlusconi's completely self-centered antics that go beyond sexual deviance, too many people in Italy cannot appreciate Monti's rational attempts to deal with the roots of many of the country's problems.
    Surprisingly few people believe in austerity - the mindset that has infected us also is 'spend now and future growth will cover it', which sort of leaves out the basic economic principle that says if debt is too high you can't afford growth.
    Gerhard Adam
    Actually it's not surprising when one finds austerity programs invariably aimed at the victims, while those responsible continue to enrich themselves. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    you write
    "Italy was led until the end of 2010 by Silvio Berlusconi".
    Actually it was the end of 2011, not that far back!
    The days Berlusca was not smiling to that half of the italians who would love to be like him probably feels like the far past to you. He is like one of those candles that light up again like nothing happened.

    Right, that was a typo, corrected.
    Since this blog is undoubtely a reference for insights in statistical inference...
    I suggest an article (in Italian, sorry) explaining the biases hidden in political poll:

    I really feel sorry for Italy. One of my colleagues worked three years in Milano as a graphical designer before coming back to Belgium. She describes Italy as rotten to the core, full of corruption - even Milano. At the same time IMEC (a leading research institute in Europe for micro-electronics and nanotechnology, located in Louvain, Belgium) loves Italians. There's some superb university education left in Italy, but young people have to leave the country to find a suitable job. Terrible situation.

    " One of my colleagues worked three years in Milano as a graphical designer before coming back to Belgium. She describes Italy as rotten to the core, full of corruption - even Milano."

    Well, you know, Belgium is not so exactly the land of the … (ah hum). As we say in France "Balayer devant sa porte". And we all know that France is not the land of the .... (ah hum).

    She describes Italy as rotten to the core, full of corruption - even Milano
     Given that Berlusconi is from Milan and that organized crime has also partially moved to the North, it's not surprising.

    "Italy was led until the end of 2010 by Silvio Berlusconi, who had to resign under strong pressure due to the emerging stories of his sexual relationship with underage girls and his frequent parties with prostitutes."

    If I remember correctly, Berlusconi stepped down because of the strong pressure from "the outside", the "international markets" etc, but not because of all the really incredible scandals he was/is involved in. Somehow the Italians alone do not seem to be able to get rid of him - unfortunately.

    Cheers(?), Sven

    Hmm, it was a combination of factors Sven, certainly the international markets, but there was feedback from the internal scandals.
    Whether we need to cheer... well'see pretty soon!
    it appears, unfortunately, that the Italians were (again) incapable of getting rid of him. :-(
    I simply do not get it...


    It is actually not so hard. Italy is a country of right-wing citizens. Many of them were so disgusted they did not even went to vote; but those who did had no other real choice. Monti appeared as one who would continue to tax them, which is what these voters fear the most.

    In any case, Berlusconi lost half of his electors since 2008.

    Hi Tommaso,
    "Italy is a country of right-wing citizens." Sorry, but that is a lame excuse!
    For four decades the fear of communism kept an overly corrupt system in place, while the communists did their best kidnapping and killing a prime minister, etc. Both needed this polarization.
    When that finally ended, thanks to the fall of the Soviet Union and some italian judges, italians replaced Andreotti and Craxi with Berlusconi. There no cure there! Grillo is right in one thing: the lefties had the chance to change and show that they could be a responsible alternative, and they completely blew it!
    As for now, it seems to me that the left was too much of the same to convince anybody.
    Anyway, Italy survives its politicians, that's the miracle!

    Your summary of Italian history is quite funny and rather inaccurate.

    1) Italy had a communist party which did anything but kidnapping prime ministers - in fact the communist party was the most damaged by the terrorist kidnapping of Aldo Moro in 1976 (performed by "red brigade" extremists"), when indeed PCI was on the verge of political agreements with Moro's party.

    2) that the "lefties had the chance to change" is quite unclear. Change what ? Prodi and the center-left governed from 1996 to 2000. I think they did some good laws and governed well in those years. What you probably refer to is the mistake of striking a deal with Berlusconi to make some reforms -an attempt that got stuck and fruited Berlusconi the absence of a law on conflicts of interests in politics. The chance to pass such a law was not really there in the next center-left government instead, when Prodi again in 2006-2008 was far too weak to attempt anything of the kind.

    3) "convince anybody" is also quite funny. The democratic party has 30% of votes - more or less what the "left" always had in Italy, since the seventies when it was still called "PCI", communist party. It is the first party in both houses. True, one would have expected a landslide after Berlusconi's scandals etc.; but your sentence is clearly off the mark.

    I lived in Italy for more than 2 years, and still have no clue as to how to understand that wonderful country. For outsiders to try to do so is a fool's errand. to understand that wonderful country
    Any country is such a complicated mosaic, that on one can ever understand it.  But there are problems associated with Italy (and with any country) that are clearly comprehensible from within and abroad.

    The wonderful part is something I agree with, but it's a subjective impression.
    Well, who would have told? Il Cavaliere is back, with a revenge...! But I think you're perhaps being to patriotic when
    you write that he had to
    "resign under strong pressure due to the emerging stories of his sexual relationship with underage girls and his frequent parties with prostitutes."
    Is that actually what Italians think? Outside of Italy the perception is more like the downfall of this gentleman had very little to do with Ruby, and a whole lot to do with Angela... Merkel. Probably a moot issue, however, now that he's back anyways...

    I always thought that I would comment about some physics stuff here, but now it's economics and politics instead.

    Many people seem to think that Italy is now in some serious trouble. I don't think so. Italy is one of the "too big to fail" cases in the eurozone. There may be political turmoil or stagnation in the near future, but it won't change much, relatively speaking. Italy cannot really be blackmailed or coerced into agreeing more austerity (unless it ), I think that much is quite obvious. The eurozone has systemic problems whose origins have nothing (or very little) to do with Italian politics. The biggest crooks in Europe have been Greece and Germany, Greece for really cheating big time, and Germany for demanding counterproductive austerity policies, as a "solution" to the troubles. In fact, instead of being medicine to cure Europe's desease, Germany's obsession with austerity has been like poison with the effect of aggravating and perpetuating the troubles. The ironic thing is that the double-dip depression caused by austerity has only quite recently backlashed on Germany, while especially the young people in Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy have been suffering the consequences for many years -- perhaps even leading to a lost generation of people who never had the chance to fully develop their skills and contribute to their own and their countries' economic wellbeing (there is some research done on this phenomenon of a lost generation).

    Why do I write so negatively about austerity? Since for me it's déjà vu. We had a severe banking crisis and economic depression here in Finland in the beginning of the 1990's. It was clumsily dealt with, by sticking for too long to an overrated currency, letting the unemployment rise, and applying devastating austerity policies, instead of borrowing much more courageously during the economic slump to sustain employment. Finland got out of the mess partly thanks to letting the currency float and partly thanks to the phenomenal growth of Nokia company in the late 90's, but it never truly regained the economic position and the level of employment it had before the depression, whereas the welfare system had suffered serious blows.

    Now, all this is happening on a much larger scale. If it needs a comedian to shout that the emperor has no clothes, so be it!

    As a last note: things may very well change dramatically due to these elections, but it may be others (EU/Germany?) that will have to do the changing, instead of Italy, and it may be for the common good.

    Well, thanks for your analysis Janne, which I mostly agree with. I can only hope you will comment on the physics some time!

    The "(unless it )" part was meant to be "(unless it does it willingly or surrenders to external pressure out of ignorance)"