Sunday, April 28, 2013

Second term for Giorgio Napolitano and Enrico Letta as new PM for the grand coalition (or “inciucio”?)

Revising for my finals is taking up virtually all my time, but now it is absolutely necessary to write a post.
Let’s take it from the election of the new President of the Republic. Who is he, by the way? Easy to remember: the same as before, Giorgio Napolitano, to turn 88 this June.
The Italian President is elected by Parliament. To be elected during one of the first three votes, the candidate needs to reach a threshold of 2/3 of votes. This is because our Constitution encourages the whole Parliament to elect a President who is vastly approved. However, after the third vote the candidate only needs a majority to win.
During the election of the new President, we witnessed almost a breakup of the Partito Democratico. As an Italian comedian said: “The Democratic Party suggested a candidate (=Franco Marini), then the right voted for him, and the left did not!”.  That is in fact correct: since the vote for a President is free and secret, one does not have to align to the party’s line.  The Democratic Party proposed Franco Marini, who was voted by Berlusconi’s party too, and who should have easily reached the threshold of the 2/3. But he didn’t, because a lot of MPs from the Democratic Party in the end defected and did not vote for him. And so Marini stepped down.
Following that, the Democratic Party suggested Romano Prodi, former PM. Despite the fact that the right did not approve of him, the party was supposed to vote for him in a cohesive way, but again they didn’t. And Prodi stepped down too, after accusing his party of causing him a really poor figure.
Meanwhile, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, which had held an online vote to decide their candidate for the presidency, was pressing for Stefano Rodotà. Rodotà has a left-wing background and he is an esteemed jurist, but, for some reasons that they never explained very convincingly, the Democratic Party would not vote for him.
After two days of pointless votes, on 20th of April the Italian Parliament (still without a government at the time) asked Giorgio Napolitano to stand as a candidate again. He accepted, and he was elected by a very vast majority. Napolitano is the first President in the history of the Italian Republic to serve on a second term. His re-election has been criticised under several points of view; above all, he is really old, and he had always claimed that he did not want to stand again. On the other hand, there were a lot of people praising him for his courageous sacrifice and his commitment to the nation. I am not the most qualified person to address his decision to be re-elected, but I sincerely wish for him to stay in good health. Regardless of what one might think of Napolitano, he has been, and he still is, going through a lot, and even if I am talking about politics, I find it hard not to feel empathy for someone who might not finish his term of presidency alive and yet accepted the job.
When Napolitano gave his acceptance speech, he was really harsh towards the parties which have been unable to deliver reforms, included a new electoral law (ironically, the very same parties cheered and applauded him a lot while he was saying so).
Then Napolitano called Enrico Letta (46-year-old and relatively low-profile) from the Democratic Party, to be the new PM of a grand coalition which will include Berlusconi’s party too, in order to have a majority in both chambers.

Giorgio Napolitano and Enrico Letta

Today Letta announced the members of his Cabinet. It is immediately evident that Berlusconi will play again a fundamental role in the country’s politics, as proved by the assignment of some key portfolios to members of his party. Above all, Angelino Alfano, Berlusconi’s pupil, is the new Home Secretary.
Here you will find the list of all the Ministers and information about Letta: Italy PM-designate Enrico Letta agrees new government
To conclude this long post, I have a brief consideration. Studying Politics here in the UK, when I heard the phrase “grand coalition” and when I learned that in some countries it is possible for the left and the right to govern together effectively, I was pleasantly surprised. I found it really democratic, and a great sign of cooperation for the sake of the country. In other words, I saw it in a very positive light. But in Italy, the most common word  used to translate “grand coalition” is “inciucio”, which more or less I would translate with “dirty deal”. There is actually a sort of rebellion towards the Democratic Party, because it was not able to gain the support of the Five Star Movement, and now is forming an alliance with Berlusconi, who should be their archenemy.  
I have no troubles understanding why this is the case: Berlusconi destroyed the Italian right and replaced it with the cult of his own person. And when he was in government, he never failed to take care of his own trials or businesses before anything else. For an honest party, agreeing to cooperate with him is political suicide. And a “grand coalition”, in Italy, becomes a dirty deal. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Italian electoral system: how the "Porcellum" works

Some of you might still be puzzled by the political stall that resulted in Italy following the general election. This is due to several factors; one of them, as I already wrote, I think is the fact that the Democratic Party 's candidate was not someone like Matteo Renzi, and a lot of people who wanted some new faces ended up voting for Beppe Grillo. Another factor is Berlusconi's return, since he still has a lot of fans who will remain faithful to him, no matter what.

But the main cause for this mess is, according to many, the Italian electoral system.

I already wrote a post about this several months ago, when the media and every political party discussed the possibility of electoral reform. Possibility that, nevertheless, never came true.

So, in the last election, we still voted with our current electoral system. I have never heard a single person claiming that this is a good system. The "ten wise men" appointed by President Napolitano keep repeating that their priority must be an electoral reform. What we all wonder is why they have not done it yet if they really wanted to, since this could easily have been done during the last year of Monti's government.

The current system is generally known as "porcellum", which means "pig" in Latin. It was renamed by political analyst Giovanni Sartori, after being defined "porcata" by Roberto Calderoli, member of the Northern League and Minister who wrote the law during the last Berlusconi’s government. "Porcata" is a noun which more or less could be translated as "something so bad that it could have been made by a pig”. Rubbish, in other words.

Roberto Calderoli

The current electoral system is a variant of proportional representation, usually known as “party-list proportional representation”. In this system, it is up to the parties to make a list of the candidates that might be elected, and seats are allocated to each party in proportion to the number of votes the party gets. However, the Italian system ensures a “plurality bonus" for the party, or coalition, which gets the greatest number of votes. In other words, over 50% of seats are ensured for the first winning party (or coalition), even if that party got, let's say, 30% of votes, and this implies that the system loses much in terms of proportionality.

The system has closed lists: voters cannot express their preferences for candidates, all the choices are made by the parties. Because of this, Parliament is filled with people who would have never been re-elected if the choice were left to voters.

But what caused the chaos we are witnessing now is the fact that the voting system differs for the two chambers of Parliament: in the lower chamber, the Chamber of Deputies, seats are allocated on a national basis; but in the upper house, the Senate, seats are allocated only on a regional basis, and this turns Lombardy, the most populated region, in a sort of "Italian Ohio". This also means that the system is quite biased in favour of the Northern League, that is very strong in Lombardy. Plus, whereas the threshold in the lower chamber is 4% for single lists and 10% for coalitions, in the Senate it is 8% for single lists and 20% for coalitions.

In other words, it is really difficult for a party to secure a majority in both chambers and, considering the perfectly equal distribution of powers between chambers in Italy, this can be a real issue. This is why Bersani failed to form a government: he had a majority in the lower chamber but, because of the different counting system, he did not have one in the Senate.

Now, we are all waiting to find out whether the "ten wise men" will actually suggest an electoral reform and, if they do, how the new system will look like.