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October 16, 2021

Italians poised to provide unlikely answer

By DAVIDE PINI | September 27, 2012

After more than 150 years as a united country and more than 67 years as a republic, Italy is about to undergo general elections in the upcoming spring of 2013. Parliamentary legislation and the presence of so many different small parties make the length of the prime minister’s term highly subjected to political transactions. Since 1994, when the so-called “Mani Pulite” corruption scandal put an end to the dominance of the moderate Christian Democracy, the prime minister has been changed nine times. However the upcoming elections are something completely unprecedented due to the precarious economic situation of Italy and the EU and to the contestants for the prime minister’s seat.

Silvio Berlusconi, the former Prime Minister, lost the support of the Parliament and had to resign on Sept.12th, 2011. The President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, had to face a concrete risk of an Italian default due to an enormous public debt and an economic crisis which is still questioning the future of the EU. Called to nominate a new prime minister, the choice fell on Mario Monti, president of the most prestigious Italian University and a world-renowned and respected academic and economist. Napolitano’s aim was to incentivize foreign investors to acquire Italian securities and to restore some of the country’s prestige that Berlusconi’s bunga bunga parties and numerous other controversies had overshadowed.

Today, Monti is still the Prime Minister and has tried to reduce the public debt mostly through tax increases. These reforms are well seen by the European Central Bank, but the same opinion is not shared by medium-low income Italians, who have seen their salaries further reduced by Monti’s economic reforms.

The two main parties battling for the Prime Minister’s seat have been in the past years the moderate-progressive Democratic Party and the moderate-conservative People of Freedom Party. The latter is Berlusconi’s party, and he has recently declared that he will most likely run again for the position. Both these parties are currently supporting Monti’s government and are therefore seen as distant from the people. The Democratic Party, which is supposed to represent the lower income classes, has constantly failed when it tried to form a coalition with the other major parties on the left, losing to Berlusconi multiple times in the past years.

The People of Freedom Party, on the other hand, is completely dependent on Berlusconi’s figure. After he resigned as Prime Minister and faced many different accusations on trial (including an underage prostitution charge concerning an affair with a 17-year-old girl from Morocco), the party almost fell apart, reaching as low as an 18 percent approval rating in the exit polls.

Even with the historical leader back, however, all these scandals seem to have definitely affected the appeal Berlusconi has on his former electorate. He is now widely associated with the economic downturn which is currently putting the lower classes under such high fiscal pressure. As soon as he announced his possible return, Moody’s downgraded Italian bonds to Baa2.

The third realistic candidate is still unknown. A new movement called “Movimento a Cinque Stelle” (Five Star Movement) appeared on the political scene in 2009. It has reached great success due to the popularity of the comedian Beppe Grillo, who is the most famous exponent but who will not run for the seat. This new political party, which makes intensive use of social networks as a communication tool, has no recognized leaders and everybody can participate in it and contribute to Italian politics through the web.

The movement has been attacked for its strong and extreme ideas (Grillo has even asked that all of today’s members of parliament be removed) by all of the other political parties. And this might be the key to its success. Today, the movement has marginal support, but the strong antiestablishment sentiment that is pervading Italy might lead many Italians to cast protest-votes in favor of Movimento a Cinque Stelle.

Looking at Italian history, this has happened many times before. The votes for Mussolini in the twenties coming out of the First World War, the referendum between the monarchy and the republic in 1945, and even Berlusconi’s first election in 1994 after the corruption scandal, were all protest votes. Now that Italians feel so betrayed by their own representatives who aren’t representing them anymore, a movement that appeals directly to the people and gives them a chance to participate actively might be the answer that Italy will give to the world next year.

Davide Pini is a sophomore International Studies and Economics double major from Parma, Italy.

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