Italy Awaits 65th Govt In 72 Years
Voters in Italy have tossed up yet another hung parliament, which was widely given as a forgone conclusion, though. For a country that already has had 64 governments in 72 years, the 65th one carries no surprise. With no decisive winner, with significant gains for what the rest of West likes to dub as “rightists” roaring with self-congratulations. Immigration and unemployment consituted the two main issues dominating the election campaign in what some analysts describe as Europe’s “most pro-Russia”. In the March 4 parliamentary polls, three-time former Prime Minster Silvio Berlosconi, 81, was predicted by the Italian press and intellectuals to reinvent himself as a leader. Steering the Forza Italia party, the media tycoon, who does not hesitate deploying his vast media empire to project himself, would not have surprised people if he and his party were to bounce back as a kingmaker in Italian politics. Indeed, the election results confirmed the same even if not exactly to the expected scale.
Italy’s 630-seat Chamber of Deputies and 315-seat Senate might have to wait for weeks to identify what combination and which parties cobble together the next cabinet. Two years ago, Democratic Party’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, 42, simply could not cope with the challenges confronting him. He overestimated his party’s poll prospects. All said and done, the young Renzi, sworn in as prime minister in February 2014, quit office early when his proposal for a consitutional amendment was defeated in the December 2016 referendum. Paolo Gentiloni replaced him as premier.
In a country that witnessed more than five dozen governments since 1946, the impending 65th is not going to make a big story. The new government will be the 14th in 25 years. For a country unified in 1870, or more than a full century after the founding of Nepal as a unified nation, the rapidfire speed with which governments get going with frequent cabinets changes demonstrates the stability of the country’s political structure that has achieved an in-built mechanism for the basics in democracy to be honoured.
It was a “no” for the changes proposed by an ambitious Renzi whose proposal lost 40-60 per cent of the votes cast. The referendum proposal sought a constitutional law that would have led to consitutiuonal amendment aimed at restructuring state organs, including sharing of powers beteen various orgsns of the state. Beppe Grillo, leader of Italy’s Five Star Movement, wrote: “The propaganda of the regime and all its lies are the first losers of this referendum.”
The margin of defeat of the governmment’s proposal was convincingly large and crushingly painful to its proponents. The exercise, which drew 65 per cent of eligible voters, was aimed at prodding the country to the needs and opportunities of the 21st century. In order to stem the slide in its public ratings after the referendum verdict, the Democratic Party weighed the option of early elections. While the Five Star Movement has made the biggest gain by virtue of a third of the votes, Matteo Salvini’s League Party, which wanted to advance the elections, has also recorded remarkable gains. In fact, the League was prepared to face voters in 2017.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric and Euroscepticism clearly attracted large number of voters. Eurosceptcs are increasing in numbers among Italians who want to do away with the euro and revert to their lira currency. Renzi took office with high expectations among many millions of Italians, and was described as Il Rottamatore, “the Demolisher”, who would take specific and effective initiatives for streamining of the political system and ensuring greater stability. The referendum outcome evaporated such designations.
Berlusconi, who does not shy away from using his media outlets for his political activity, has emerged as an influential leader—perhaps even as a king maker—though he himself cannot don the kingship. A court case that convicted him of tax fraud bars him from any public office for six years. His appeal to a higher court is yet to be settled.
In his resignation speech 15 months ago, Renzi asserted he did everything to convince voters to give verdict in favour of his proposal. He added: “If you fight for an idea, you cannot lose.” With a double digit unemployment rate—more than one-third of the youth unemployed—Italy’s economy is under trying strains. Some economists predict dire consequences if a series of determined and sweeping reforms are not introduced. The European Union’s infringement upon national sovereignty is an issue that stirs many Italians against the grouping.
Britain in a 2016 national referendum voted for withdrawing from EU. The issue and verdict have divided Britons considerably to the extent that some groups are still seeking a fresh referendum. The referendum results made Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to resign, though he had led his party to two consecutive victories in general elections—the first time he formed a coaltion cabinet with the Liberals as the junior partner and the second time winning a clear majority.
Germany, Europe’s largest economy, is looked at for filling the gaps that Brexit might create in the EU. Were Germany to pull out, EU’s collapse would be almost inevitable. But a growing number of members are uneasy about the EU encroachment on national sovereignty. Poland is being sternly warned about its responsibilities and is reminded about the EU actions if it did not mend its way regarding rule of law andhuman rights. The effects of such warning, however, trigger larger discussions among Euroscpetics elsewhere in the region. In February, there were indications that that Poland’s voting right in the EU might be suspended. Eurosceptics see these EU moves as trespassing into the independent status of sovereign states.
At a time when several Western governments claim Russia’s hand in efforts at influencing voters in their countries, no similarly serious charge has been levelled against Moscow regarding last week’s elections in Italy. In any case, Italy is ranked as very pro-Russia. In a scathing response to his critics who accused him of receiving money from Moscow, Salvini did not hesitate to admit: “I admire Putin as a man of government who defends the interests of his people and his businesses, who defends his values and borders, and I esteem him for free, not for money.”
Salvini’s remark must have sounded music to Putin’s ears. As for the March 4 verdict, it is a testimony of Italian people’s capacity to frequently give indecisive verdict and create coalition cabinets and yet ensure their own democratic mechanism. Political parties would lose credibility if they tried blaming hung parliaments and frequent changes in government for failure to addressing people’s expectations.