Listening to Italy
Battle Of The Egos
The Italian General Election of 4 March was inconclusive as no single party or group had sufficient seats to form a government.
M5S (Five Star Movement) under Luigi De Maio were the largest single party. The Centre Right Coalition was the next group in size and they included Fi (Forza Italia) led by Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini’s La Lega, previously The Northern League. The Centre Left Coalition’s votes slumped. Matteo Renzi the Pd (Partito Democratico) leader resigned, and his deputy Maurizio Martina became the leader ‘regent’ and Party Secretary. Two elements stand out. The collapse of the Pd‘s vote has resulted in paralysis within the party and Martina stated that he would opt out of responsibility for helping form a government and instead choose the position of opposition. Silvio Berlusconi’s vote also slumped so that Salvini became the nominal Centre Right leader.
On 26 April, the time of writing, the parties and groups are still unable to agree a way forward. Italy has two elected houses but remains without a Prime Minister and working government. President Mattarella and the newly elected Presidents of the Lower and Upper Houses have all held talks and mediated, but to no result. The groups and parties are more polarised now than in the post-election period when there was hope that a solution could be found.
President Mattarella held two series of meetings starting with the small party leaders and ending with M5S‘s Di Maio. Di Maio and the M5S refuse to work with Berlusconi because of his conviction for tax fraud; they espouse honesty. Berlusconi is equally sure that he couldn’t possibly be number 2 or even 3 to Di Maio, a man 50 years his junior. In a recent quote, sanitised somewhat, he said that he would only employ M5S to clean his toilets. But, Salvini as nominal leader of the group should be the person to do business with.
Italy was scandalised by the press conference that the Centre Right gave after the second round of talks with President Mattarella. Salvini stood between Berlusconi and the other small right-wing party leader Georgia Meloni and delivered his speech. Meloni looked upwards and to the side with obvious extreme dramatic disdain and detachment. Berlusconi marked every Salvini point that he approved of with a loud smack of his finger into his palm. He looked upwards, nodded, shook his head, sighed and visually undermined. Salvini delivered, concluded, gathered his papers and led the way out. Berlusconi then grabbed the microphone and proceeded to contradict Salvini. And this is a coalition.
Di Maio has had discussions with Salvini and initially was optimistic. Finally, Di Maio had to give Salvini an ultimatum to separate himself from Berlusconi so that they could work away from his obvious suffocating pressure. They would have made an odd couple, Di Maio, the younger man, should have been the Prime Minister. How would they have shared power? In spite of Salvini desperately wanting to have a higher level of national leadership, (his campaign slogan was Salvini Premier), it failed. Six weeks of talks had resolved nothing.
The Pd, the second largest national party, remained resolute about their position as the opposition group. Very latterly, temporary leader Martina has appeared more interested in working with Di Maio. Matteo Renzi, the ex-leader remains opposed and continues, like Berlusconi, to wield influence. The Pd have been criticised for withdrawing from active participation when they could have helped at a time of crisis for Italy.
Any resolution rests in the hands of President Mattarella and two events could act as watersheds.
The first was the presidential election of 22 April in mid-Italy’s Molise. A small Region, which has been compared to Ohio, USA, as it usually predicts or is a pointer to explain the result of an election. It was a warm holiday weekend and the turn-out was low. The Pd continued their freefall and lost the Presidency to the Centre Right. Berlusconi’s Fi leaked support but remained the largest party of the Centre Right. Salvini lost a mere fraction of points. Berlusconi was quoted as saying that his presence on the Italian political scene was important for the salvation of democracy in the country.
There was a significant drop in support for M5S. Di Maio doesn’t have the bombast of the Berlusconi type of leadership and it is necessary to compete loudly. He seems unable to force his way onto the stage with a dramatic presence to indicate that he is doing things and this does appear to be counting against him.
The second is the Presidential election in Friuli-Venezia Giulia on 29 April. The Pd’s incumbent Debora Serracchiani is not standing again and the polls suggest that she would have lost her seat to the Centre Right. The last opinion polls (which finish two weeks before all Italian elections) indicated that the Centre Left would lose with 22% to 28% while the Centre Right would win with between 45% and 51%. The M5S may poll between 21% and 27% with the votes of 20% of the undecided still to play for, if they bothered to vote.
Clearly President Mattarella can not leave the country in limbo for much longer. The parliamentarian, economist and author Francesco Boccia writing in Il Fatto Quotidiano predicted that he would organise a short-term government to take the country into new elections next year. A period of space has been suggested to avoid an identical election result.
Who will he choose? Berlusconi perhaps? On 25 April Berlusconi spoke at Porzûs in Northern Italy during the commemoration of a massacre and the liberation from the Nazis. Il Fatto Quotidiano reported him as saying: “All political forces have a duty to be responsible, in language and behaviour.” With intended irony Il Fatto placed this next to the following headline from the same speech. “People in front of the M5S feel like Jews in front of Hitler.”