Berlusconi vote signals servile democracy
People of Freedom posters in Rome yesterday. Investors took fright at deadlock after a stunning election outcome. photograph: max ross
Analysis:There was a palpable sense of disbelief yesterday prompted by the results of Italy’s general election which has thrown up three principal, and not entirely unexpected results, leading to a hung parliament.
First, a protest party, featuring candidates whose only claim to fame is that they proudly concede to having no previous political experience or affiliations, lifted a massive 25.5 per cent or 108 seats of lower house votes. The Five Star Movement of ex-comedian Beppe Grillo is now the largest single party in the lower house.
Second, the centre-left proved once again that when it comes to pompous, arrogant and self-satisfied complacency, they have no masters. No one so brilliantly snatches defeat from the jaws of victory as the PD Democratic Party, ex-PCI (Partito Comunista Italiano).
Third, media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi pulled off yet another remarkable campaign performance, coming from 15 points behind the PDs to finish 0.37 per cent and 0.91 per cent behind them in the lower house and senate respectively.
Back after 15 months
What, the man who almost pushed the country off the side of the cliff just 15 months ago has come within a whisker of winning the election? So, Capt Francesco Schettino sails the Costa Concordia right onto the rocks and you reward him with the captaincy of another cruiser? It would be comforting to attribute Berlusconi’s success to the incompetence of the left and the unpopularity of the centrists led by current prime minister, Prof Mario Monti (8.3 per cent in the lower house), widely and perhaps unfairly seen as the man who has taxed Italians into a depression. You might also argue the spectre of the high-tech, social-network friendly hordes led by Beppe Grillo terrified older voters who opted for the name they recognised – Silvio Berlusconi.
It would be more honest to admit that the huge Berlusconi vote, and we are talking 10 million people here, is the expression of a feudalistic, servile concept of democracy in which the (robber) baron offers graces and favours, even to the point of reimbursing €4 billion’s worth of property tax.
When a group of foreign journalists yesterday met with Prof Giovanni Orsina, political analyst at Rome’s LUISS university, one earnest Austrian asked how so many Italians could so quickly forget Berlusconi disastrous performance in office last time.
“Forget? No, no the electorate has not forgotten anything. They remember all too well that Mr Berlusconi was the man who lifted the old property tax, ICI, back in 2008. . .” In other words, this is one electoral stunt that works in Italy.
Orsina also suggested another habitual stunt which works is to persistently refer to the “Stalinist-Marxist-Communist” centre-left past. Commentators, he suggested, tend to laugh when Berlusconi goes on about the “unreformed communists” of the left. Yet, election after election, and this was Berlusconi’s sixth, would suggest the “communist” trick still wins votes. In a country of conservative conformists, he could have a point.
However, as the Grillo vote would indicate, not everyone is conservative, conformist or resigned to their fate. The Grillo people are, by and large, ordinary middle-class folk fed up with being the sans culottes generation, forever shut out of all the privileged power circles of a modern Italian society that remains profoundly unjust and non-meritocratic.
In times of economic austerity, that exclusion is all the more keenly felt. Their vote is perhaps not so much in favour of any specific aspect of the Grillo programme (which anyway is limited) but rather a body blow intended to “move the waters” and shake the mainstream parties out of their privileged lethargy. In the meantime, Grillo says his 162 parliamentarians will not ally themselves with any force but rather will vote issue by issue. How exactly that works out, remains to be seen.
Finally, while PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani has widely been perceived as having run a poor campaign, it is hard not to agree with him when he complained last night about the electoral law, introduced by Berlusconi in 2005 with the sole purpose of guaranteeing a hung parliament. The reality is the PDs have a majority of votes in both houses but because of the regional divide in the Senate, they do not have a workable majority. So Capt Schettino or someone like him is back at the helm.