Che dire, mi pongo proprio la stessa domanda di “The Economist” che nel numero uscito ieri propone questo articolo… Leggete gente, leggete!
Italy’s president suggests an interim government, but he may be forced to call an early general election
ITALIAN heads of state have only limited powers. But one of them is the enviable ability to drive would-be prime ministers into an agony of frustrated expectations.
Ever since the fall of Romano Prodi’s centre-left government, which lost a vote of confidence in the Senate on January 24th, Italy has had, in effect, a hung parliament. There is a centre-left majority in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. But the confidence vote that toppled Mr Prodi’s 20-month-old administration showed it to be four votes short of the necessary majority in the Senate.
The natural response in such circumstances would seem to be to hold a new election. That is certainly what Silvio Berlusconi, the main centre-right opposition leader, is demanding—loudly. With a big lead in the opinion polls, he must fancy that he can already smell the polish on the cabinet table once again.
Yet after four days of political consultations, President Giorgio Napolitano announced on January 30th that he would ask the Senate speaker, Franco Marini, to try to form an interim government. His decision was a setback to Mr Berlusconi’s hopes of quickly regaining the power that he lost in April 2006. But it is likely to prove no more than a temporary one.
Mr Marini’s task is to try to secure enough backing for a caretaker government that would seek to pass a new electoral law. The idea is that the government would then step down ahead of an election, which could perhaps be held in June.
It is easy to see why Mr Napolitano is reluctant to send his compatriots back to the polling stations under the present electoral law. It was passed in late 2005, during the dying months of the previous Berlusconi government. This was a time when the centre-right was almost resigned to losing power the following spring.
The law’s critics argued, correctly, that the new measure was designed to make the country all but ungovernable in Mr Berlusconi’s absence. Only a decisive victory at the polls can yield a workable majority in both houses of parliament. Anything less will either produce conflicting majorities in the two chambers (which have equal political power) or a razor-thin majority in the Senate, giving immense powers of leverage to tiny parties and often to individual senators. It was this that constrained, and ultimately doomed, Mr Prodi. Even the man who drafted the 2005 law later called it “a load of rubbish”.
But that does not mean that Mr Marini will find it easy to muster the support that he needs for a government to change the law. He admitted this week that the task was “not simple”. Indeed, although he hails from the most moderate wing of the defeated centre-left majority (he is a former Christian Democratic trade unionist), Mr Marini could in some respects face even greater difficulties in parliament than Mr Prodi. Not only the parties of the centre-right but also a small Marxist party that supported the centre-left government prefer a snap election to electoral reform.
Even if Mr Marini manages to cobble together a majority, there is no guarantee that his government can deliver electoral reform. Italy’s politicians have already been trying unsuccessfully, for two years, to agree to a new system. Mr Marini would have the added handicap of needing to overcome the resistance of an angry, impatient Mr Berlusconi.
Recent opinion polls have given the media tycoon a lead of between nine and 15 percentage points. Even if an election is held under the present system, he hopes for a stable majority in both chambers that would give him another five years in office. A Florence University professor, Roberto D’Alimonte, calculates that, on the basis of the latest polls, the centre-right would have a Senate majority of at least 11 seats.
If he were allowed to go straight to the hustings, Mr Berlusconi would be able to capitalise on the negative image of a squabbling, hamstrung Prodi administration. The risk is that this might fade from voters’ minds after a few months of interim administration. And there is a danger that a Marini-led government could turn out to be more than just a stop-gap. Lamberto Dini’s 1995-96 cabinet was meant to stay in office for only a few months, but in fact it hung on for 16.
Indeed, the path of a Marini government and of any attempted electoral reform is strewn with various dangers for Mr Berlusconi and his allies. Any new electoral law would doubtless aim to curb the powers of the small parties. If the centre-right were to go along with it, that would alienate two tiny groups whose defection from the centre-left to Mr Berlusconi’s camp played a crucial part in the defeat of Mr Prodi on January 24th.
Without an agreement on new electoral rules, however, and without a fresh election, a referendum must be held by June. That could also be bad news for Mr Berlusconi. Voters are being asked to endorse a new system to give a “victors’ bonus” of parliamentary seats, not to the winning coalition as under the present system, but to the most successful single party. Mr Berlusconi has failed in his efforts to drive his centre-right allies into such a single party. So the only foreseeable beneficiary of such a change is the recently united, centre-left Democratic Party.
The party’s leader, Walter Veltroni, now mayor of Rome, is in any case a formidable opponent for Mr Berlusconi. He is almost 20 years younger, for a start. Like the media tycoon, he speaks clearly, without resort to political jargon, in a way that young voters in particular find appealing.
Even more strenuously than others, Mr Veltroni has been lobbying for delay. He does not want a vote to be held for a year or more. That would buy time in which he might hope to shuck off the damaging legacy of Mr Prodi’s final months. But the polls are revealing an idiosyncrasy that suggests this may not matter as much as might be imagined.
Large numbers of Italians now say they would back the Democratic Party, if only it would run alone. This suggests that voters want the moderate left to break free of the Marxists and radicals who were an essential, but consistently awkward, component of Mr Prodi’s coalition (even though the moderate left would probably still need them to form a government). The most recent survey of opinion in Corriere della Sera, Milan’s big newspaper, suggests that, if the Democrats ran alone, the centre-left’s overall share of the vote could be a mere 2.5 points below the centre-right’s. And that is before the campaign starts.
An early poll is still Mr Berlusconi’s best bet. But, as with any bet, one can never guarantee a profitable result.