Hello again. This is the first post of a series dedicated to explain, for what I can, the italian politics to english-speaking foreigners. It’s not an easy task, most of the times this kind of developments are quite difficult to understand for us Italians. So I’ve decided to split this post in two sections. In the first section (the short one) you will find the facts and some tought about it, in the latter (the not-so-short one) you will find more about explanations, analysis and bits of recent italian history. That’s it, here we go.
We’re talking about the re-election of Mr. Giorgio Napolitano as our President. You’ve already heard the news, I will not repeat the obvious. With the re-election Mr. Napolitano got back all of his powers, including the choice of disband this Parliament and place a call for a new round of general elections. It’s interesting to note that this is the first time that a President of the Republic get a second 7-years term. Our Constitution doesn’t put any limit about the number of terms, being the President a non-operative role according to our laws. Italy is a parliamentary republic, like Germany, not a Presidential republic like USA or France. With the “new” President we will have a new start to get a national government, nobody knows at this moment who will be the Prime Minister. What we know is that we got a number of emergencies to be solved ASAP.
Not so short.
According to our laws the election of the President of the Republic is not based on popular vote but is a task assigned to so-called “Grand Electors“. They are all the Senate members, all the House of Representatives members plus three electors from every italian region. Total is 1007. For the first, second and third round of vote a qualified majority is needed (two-thirds of the total), from the fourth round a simple majority is needed (504 votes). The role of the President is not operative, basically it’s a father figure with the main task to protect our Constitution and the final point of reference for all our powers. He’s the honorary chief of our armed forces, the chairman of the high council of magistrature, he formally assign to the leader of the winning party the task to form the new government and so on. He got two real powers; he can disband the Parliament and place a call for a new round of general elections and, due to his high political profile, act as a counselor to the national government in bad times.
So it’s not a surprise that we got in this position well-experienced men (sorry, no women so far). Given the rules described above it’s no surprise that every election is the result of a lot of diplomatic work, usually developed well away from the media. In the first round usually every party choose a different candidate for the presidency, a way to look for alliances and a move to start the unofficial debate between leaders and wannabees. In the history of our Republic the politic scene has been always fragmented, so a qualified majority is to be considered almost impossible to get. Most part of our Presidential elections comes after the third round and the secrecy of the individual votes stimulate a variety of bad behaviors (i.e. senators who announce that their vote will go to the “X” candidate, then they will vote for another or not vote at all).
After the 2013 general election we got four groups in our Parliament; a center-left alliance, a center-right alliance, a party named “Movimento 5 Stelle” and a party named “Scelta Civica”. In order to elect a president an alliance between two or more groups was needed to reach the number of needed votes (504 or more). Being the biggest group the choice of the center-left was the most important, a very important move in the political game. And here comes trouble, big time. In the center-left group there’s a main force, the PD (“Partito Democratico”), that have to set up this choice. Easy to say, harder thing to do. Inside PD there was no agreement about a single name, there are many different little groups who are in a state of war with each other. So the choice was to be shared with their worst political enemy, the center-right group, the pathetic idea was to find the biggest number of votes for a candidate. Meanwhile “Movimento 5 Stelle” (from now on M5S) held an obscure consultation to find their candidate thru the meaning of an internet-based poll; they got a list of ten names and the winner was a very popular journalist, Ms. Milena Gabanelli. After her polite refuse they asked to the second classified, Mr. Gino Strada (a surgeon and a very popular social activist), who refused too. Finally the third classificate, Mr. Stefano Rodotà, accepted the role.
A word about Mr. Rodotà; he’s a very respected jurist, former representative and former president of a political party, PDS, that was a logical predecessor of the leftist part of PD. For M5S this kind of choice was intended to build a bridge to PD, in order to set up the conditions for an agreement. By other means, this move could be read as a trap, concocted to exploit the inner troubles of PD. We will talk about it at length in another post. Anyway M5S confirmed its choice in every round, blocking their votes on Rodotà. Meanwhile the center-left group and the center-right coalition held their informal talks and an agreement was reached on another name, Mr. Franco Marini from PD. Their idea was a bipartisan election, a 700-strong mass of votes to put Mr. Marini in charge and start to build a new national government.
Mr. Marini is another good man, and old political fox that could fit the role of the President. But the idea of his candidature was flawed. There was no general agreement about his name, not to mention the consequence of a government with center-right and center-left united. So Mr. Marini’s name falls in the meat grinder, his candidature destroyed inside the center-left alliance. Now it’s important to understand that the position of the leader of PD, Mr. Pierluigi Bersani, was far from strong. Inside his party there are as many as four main groups, plus a number of little associations, all of them screaming for power. After the failure of Marini’s candidature Mr. Bersani plays his last card, the name of most respected leader of the recent past, Mr. Romano Prodi.
His name was acclaimed by the PD assembly, then voted with the 100% of ballots. It was a little triumph, a strong name to be proposed the day after to the general assembly, a leader fit to help our country out of its current troubles. The next day the shit hits the fan, bigtime. As many as 101 PD voters deny their support to Mr. Prodi, consuming no less than a political killing of the party. With no solutions less all the parties with the exception of M5S ask Mr. Napolitano to accept a second mandate.
The result is a total failure of the italian political system. A general assembly unable to choose a president, parties and coalitions unable to reach an agreement for the common good, millions of italians left astonished by this show of incompetence. When the final vote was cast there were two images that will remain in my memory; the triumphant smile of Mr. Berlusconi and the attitude of Mr. Bersani, with both hands over his face to hide his expression. So we have an 87-years old in charge and we’re running blind to a new government that will as far as possible from the approbation of italian people.
Hello world, this is Italy.