Saturday, 12 April 2008

Italian election

While global attention has focused on the US Presidential Election - which does not actually happen until November - there have already been a number of elections already this year with influential consequences, if not with a global impact then certainly resonance within their region. Cyprus elected a communist as head of state at the end of March, while the outcome of the Zimbabwean election two weeks ago is still unknown, but its result will shape both the future of Zimbabwe and its relations with neighbouring states and the rest of the Western world.

Paraguay, Lebanon, Tonga, Iran, Niue and Haiti will all go to the polls later this month, while Italy tries to resolve its parliamentary mess with its 62nd election in 63 years when polls open tomorrow.

Italy's economic difficulties are well documented, and after former European Commission President Romano Prodi was ousted in a vote of confidence in January, tomorrow's election is three years earlier than intended.

The Italian party system, if you are not familiar with it, is incredibly fragmented. Prodi's Government consisted of a 9-party coalition, with no fewer than 17 parties represented in their parliament. It's a system I looked at when considering the impact of the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament - and it is why the German electoral system has a 5% threshold for parties to gain elected representatives. Subsequently, the problem Italy faces is that when a party decides they disagree with the Government policy, the coalition falls and nothing can get done.

The election tomorrow sees former PM (and President of AC Milan - and the guy who owns most of Italy's media) Silvio Berlusconi - who at 71 is the same age as John McCain - leading in the polls against the leader of the centre-left, former mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni. However, given that the polls remain incredibly close, victory for either is unlikely to bring any change to Italy - and their hands are tied by the economic conditions in the country. There is some discussion that a German-style "Grand Coalition" might be an option, although this has been discounted by Berlusconi.

We'll have a better idea on Tuesday as to the future shape of Italian politics - for all that it matters to us. Though, given the role that Italy as one of the founder members of the EU, that impact might well be keenly felt across the EU's 27 member states. I guess only time will tell.


Arnie Craven 13 April 2008 at 14:21  

I can't see a grand coalition happening, not with Silvio.

What I do foresee is that the centre right will just scrape past the winning post. It will then have to form a coalition with minor parties, which will stagger from one crisis to another for a couple of years, before a small party gets fed up, leaves and the government falls.

New elections will be called, replace the word 'right' with the word 'left' in the previous paragraph and then the situation will repeat itself. The joys of Italian politics..

Malc 13 April 2008 at 17:12  

I concur.

Grand coalition only happened in Germany coz neither Greens nor FDP (Liberals) did enough to become junior partners, while the way the electorate voted indicated they were torn between Christian Democrats & Social Democrats.

Italian politics is precisely such a mess because of its fragmented nature. What it needs is a new electoral system, one which precludes parties from taking up seats unless they obtain 5% of the vote - as Germany does. Only then can they begin to resolve some of this mess.

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