Member and neighbour States

Habemus Napolitano: towards the end of the political tragedy-comedy in Italy

G. Napolitano, the President of the Italian Republic, will have to show the way... (Presidency of the Italian Republic)

G. Napolitano, the President of the Italian Republic, will have to show the way… (Presidency of the Italian Republic)

Nearly two months after the Italian elections, Italy still does not have a government. However, the unforeseen re-election, in the middle of a huge confusion, of Giorgio Napolitano to the Presidency of the Republic could allow a quick evolution and provide an (at least temporary) escape from the political crisis affecting the country. Irony of the fate or perspicacity: we had illustrated our article of February 26th, on the result of the legislative elections, with a picture of Giorgio Napolitano! 

Let us start by reminding the results of these elections that did not lead to a clear majority. The left coalition headed by Pierluigi Bersani had won very narrowly, both in the Chamber of Representatives and in the Senate, over the centre-right coalition led by the eternal Silvio Berlusconi. Moreover, the Five-Star-Movement (M5S, as abbreviated in Italian) had obtained a result much higher than expected, attracting around 25% of the vote. On the contrary, Mario Monti’s centrist list of Scelta Civica had not seduced the voters, reaching less than 10% of the vote.

While the Bersani coalition had the absolute majority at the Chamber of Representatives, thanks to a generous majority premium at national level, the situation was very different in the Senate where, even with the support of Scelta Civica, the left could not obtain the absolute majority necessary to ensure support to a future government (in Italy, both Chambers are equal). The pre-election scenario having become obsolete, it was necessary to explore new alliances…

I/ The attempt to form a government

The Partito Democratico (PD) and its allies of the left were opposed to forming a coalition government with the centre-right of Silvio Berlusconi, their enemy, who is, besides, implicated in various judicial proceedings (Ruby, Mediaset, etc.).

On the other side, Silvio Berlusconi’s Popolo’ della Libertà (PdL) and its ally of the Lega Nord (the Northern League, led by Roberto Maroni, the new President of the region Lombardy) favoured a coalition government with the PD, attempting thereby to put themselves back in the centre of the political scene and to give an image of responsibility, which I had hailed in our article of February 26th.

Scelta Civica also preferred a coalition government, upon the condition that the PdL would be involved.

Finally, the M5S, which has often adopted behaviours with traces of fascism, claimed a “five star government”, refusing to support any other government. The only concession granted by these inexperienced politicians and their guru, the comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo, was that they would vote laws reflecting points included in their political platform (which is quite populist and insists mostly on reducing the costs of politics – a good idea – but does not entail many ideas to stabilise the economy and re-launch growth).

After the election of the President of the Chambers (Laura Boldrini (SEL) for the Chamber of Representatives and Piero Grasso (PD) for the Senate) and after having consulted the political forces represented in Parliament, the President Giorgio Napolitano gave to Pierluigi Bersani, the “winner-loser” of the elections a ‘pre-incarico’, i.e. a sort of exploratory mandate to verify the possibility to form a clear majority in the Senate. After having consulted the political forces, the trade-unions and the civil society, Bersani finally recognised his failure and gave up. This period was already marked by tensions within the PD, e.g. Matteo Renzi, the young mayor of Florence (and loser of the primaries against Bersani in October 2012) qualified the consultations in streaming with the M5S as a humiliation for Bersani).

To make things even worse, the seven-year mandate of Giorgio Napolitano was coming to an end on May 15th. Now, during the last six months of the mandate, there is the ‘semestre bianco’ (white semester) during which the President cannot use its power of dissolution of the Parliament. In the absence of an agreement on the government, it was therefore necessary to wait for the election of a new Head of State, a hypothesis that pleased the PD anyway, since Napolitano was in favour of a coalition government, to the irritation of Bersani.

The PdL linked an agreement on the new President with an agreement on the question of the government, while the PD was totally opposed to that, showing no relaxation in its prejudices against Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition. Hence, the situation was blocked.

II/ The tragedy leading to the re-election of Giorgio Napolitano

While the big parties had massive troubles to agree on a shared candidate, opposing veto to the other parties’ proposals, the M5S pretended to organise a democratic choice with its Quirinarie. Around 25,000 activists of the movement could, in a first round, form a list of 10 names which were subsequently submitted to their vote. Grillo continues to present this as hyper-democracy, but a few thousand people cannot claim to represent the majority of the Italians. Moreover, the candidate of the M5S, Stefano Rodotà, an 80-year old constitutionalist from the left, was only the third choice of the M5S voters (but was designated after the two first had declined their nomination).

On the eve of the first vote, the PD and the PdL finally reached an agreement on the name of Franco Marini, former leader of the Catholic syndicate CISL. But a part of the PD immediately challenged that choice, the ones (Renzi) because Marini had not obtained the trust of the Italian voters at the elections, the others (the left of the PD) because they did not want any agreement with Berlusconi.

Let us remember the rules of election of the President: during the three first rounds, to be elected, the candidate must reach a majority of 2/3 of the 1007 electors (Parliament members and a few representatives of the regions). From the 4th round onwards, the simple majority (504 votes) is enough.

So, on Thursday 18 April, the electoral process that was going to transform Italian politics started. What seemed a simple formality became a first big failure, as Marini did not reach the two-thirds majority, because of the divisions internal to the PD. In the afternoon vote, the main parties cast a blank vote to gain time.

On Friday, the PD tried to unite behind one of its founders and to impose Romano Prodi during the afternoon vote (the 4th vote, i.e. a simple majority was enough) after having chosen him unanimously (allegedly). To succeed, the PD hoped to convince a few elects from Scelta Civica or from the M5S. But the attempt failed dismally: not only were the M5S and Scelta Civica united behind their own candidates (respectively Stefano Rodotà and Annamaria Cancellieri, the Home Affairs Minister in Mario Monti’s government), while the PdL did not participate in the vote (protesting against the violation of its pact with the PD by the latter), but 101 PD electors did not vote for Prodi, a “betrayal” in the words of the party’s general secretary, Pierluigi Bersani, who resigned a few minutes after Rosy Bindi, the PD’s President. Let us also note that Rodotà and Cancellieri had even obtained more votes than those of their parties. So, at that moment, Annamaria Cancellieri was the new favourite to take over from Giorgio Napolitano.

On Saturday morning, while the 5th vote was taking place – it was useless, since the PD and Scelta Civica cast a blank vote and the PdL still did not take part in the vote –, Bersani, Berlusconi, Monti and Maroni followed each other in the Quirinal to supplicate Napolitano to accept being re-elected, in order to put an end to the situation of extreme confusion, especially in the left. He accepted upon the conditions that political parties assume their own responsibilities.

In the afternoon, during the sixth vote, Napolitano was re-elected with 738 votes (around 50 less than the result he should have obtained if every elector of the parties supporting his candidature has voted for him) by a coalition of PD, PdL, Scelta Civica and Lega Nord. During and after the vote, the tension remained high in front of the Parliament, where M5S followers, communists and people disappointed by the PD demonstrated against the re-election of Napolitano and in favour of Rodotà’s candidacy.

That evening, the whole PD leadership resigned. It is probable that this election outcome will mark the end of the alliance of the PD with SEL (Sinistra, Ecologia e Libertà) of Nichi Vendola, and even the division of the PD. Fabrizio Barca (minister in Monti’s government and member of the left wing of the PD) and Nichi Vendola go towards the creation of a leftist party, while the rest of the PD will probably unite behind Matteo Renzi and pursue a centre-left policy.

Finally a government?

After having talked of a “coup” and announced its arrival in Rome (given the image of a ‘march on Rome’), Beppe Grillo postponed the demonstration of the M5S to the Sunday, in order to avoid any violence, as tensions remained around the Parliament. In the end, this demonstration was rather a failure, but it did not stop Grillo from talking about the “death of the Republic” on his blog.

On Monday 22 April, Giorgio Napolitano took the oath for a second mandate and pronounced a remarkable speech in Parliament, strongly criticising the parties, not only for their failure to reach an agreement in the two past months, but for their failure to reform Italy in the past years. He affirmed that a coalition is not something negative and that every European country is capable of having a coalition government, except Italy… He also reminded the political parties that he had accepted to be re-elected only if they took their share of responsibility. So, even if he does not want to do it, Napolitano now possesses again the weapon of the dissolution of the Parliament. Coalitions took place the following day (i.e. today). They shall lead to the nomination of a new President of the Council who will be charged to form a government, most probably of coalition between PD, PdL, Scelta Civica and maybe the Lega Nord. Maybe some technicians will join the politicians in the government.

The basis of the government programme should be the points identified by the 10 “sages”, divided in two commissions that reported to Napolitano a dozen of days ago.

So, it is very probable that Italy will (finally) have a new government before the end of the week. The favourites for President of the Council are Giuliano Amato (a former holder of the office and member of the PD), despite the opposition of the Lega Nord, and Enrico Letta (resigning vice-Secretary general of the PD), but the name of Matteo Renzi is also mentioned… It should be a coalition government that would last at least a few months (though I would prefer it to last at least 2 years), the time to adopt some urgent economic and institutional reforms. The solution we were advocating in our article of February 26th (and which was supported by Italian media like the Corriere della Sera) seems about to be chosen!

As for the PD, it goes towards a “re-founding” (in Renzi’s words). It will probably lose some of its most leftist elements, but the rest of the party should follow the sole man capable of saving the PD: Matteo Renzi! As for Silvio Berlusconi, who perfectly managed again, he remains in the arena and smiles…

Pierre-Antoine KLETHI

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