Monday, 12 April 2010

Why hasn’t Berlusconi fallen yet?

By Ignazio Federico Lanzo

The ineptitude of the major opposition party (PD) is the cause of the incredible political success of Silvio Berlusconi. Ignazio Federico Lanzo delivers comments on Italy's controversial leadership and why it it still in need of a serious challenger. 

“Did he win?” was the title of the TV show Annozero on channel 2 of RAI after the regional elections of 28-29 of March. Although the election was local, it was seen as a test for Berlusconi’s popularity. Many had expected a debacle of the Prime Minister who, as always, capitalized media attention on himself. After 16 years Silvio Berlusconi can still dictate the Italian political agenda. The low turnout has been the real winner of the elections and the Democratic Party (PD), the main opposition party, missed the chance to open a crisis of government. 

People’s detachment from politics

Pierluigi Bersani
Only 64% of voters is quite a low turnout for Italian standards; the figure is almost 8 points less than last regional elections of 2005 and 16% less than last political election in 2008. Berlusconi has never had such a low consensus and yet PD didn’t manage to gather the votes PDL has lost.

The PD is a party where two major trends contrast each others, it was supposed to be the party unity and became the gathering of divisions. Berlusconi is always on the crest of the wave and manages constantly to obscure his major concurrent; wherever he goes and whatever he does. Silvio’s strategy, as pointed out by some, is being in the center of the attention in good and bad; no matter the gaffes, the insults, the attacks and the scandals. He is constantly on TV. On the other side the PD is simply unable to react to this situation; incapable to propose relevant matters to the electorate. How many of you readers know anything about the PD? If you noticed, even news on Italy in foreign papers is full of Berlusconi, Berlusconi, Berlusconi!

The Northern League saved the PDL

“I will never sit at a table with Mr Bossi again and I’ll never do a coalition with Bossi, ever again! Because he is completely untrustworthy!” Berlusconi said once talking about Umberto Bossi, leader of the secessionist and anti-immigration party Northern League.

Today the Northern League is the most faithful allied of Silvio and the best performer of these elections; until few days ago they didn’t govern any regions and now they head two (Piedmont and Veneto). The Northern League has been the only party not losing votes, saving Silvio’s coalition from a possible fall. On newspapers the PD leader Pierluigi Bersani faces critics and refuses to talk of defeat. The left-wing still won in 7 regions, one more than the right-wing; although the score of the previous election was 11 to 2 in favor of the left. Usually mid-term elections penalize the government in force and Berlusconi, aware of that as he is, celebrated the score of his People of Freedom Party (PDL) as a victory; “we have 4 more regions” he declared.

PD and PDL

Now that the ‘phantom’ of elections is passed, the political parties started contracting again. The first reforms on schedule concern the judiciary, the presidential elections (Silvio wants a president directly voted by the people and not by the parliament as it is now) and the adoption of a federal tax system (an old theme of Northern League).

Umberto Bossi
To accomplish those goals the government needs two thirds of the parliament and this means they need the approval of the PD. The accomplishments of those institutional reforms depends much on the bargaining between Northern League and PDL. The PD for now lags behind the other two parties without proposing many other alternatives while the country needs urgent reforms in fields like green energy, research and development, school, employment, economic growth and most of all a new and clean political class.

In these elections the PD had the chance to show its importance; Berlusconi has lost more than 8 points from 2008 but the PD still hasn’t been able to convince that portion of electorate. The Italian press has pictured the PD as a party without identity and without a clearly defined program different from PDL. Why would people vote for them if there is no clear difference? As some pointed out, the only difference between PD and PDL seems to be the “L”.

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