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And the Winner is...Nobody: Italian Government Deadlocked After Election

With no clear winner emerging out of the election, a new era of uncertainty opens for Italian politics.
 
 
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Beppe Grillo in March 2010.
Photo Credit: Giorgio Brida/Wikimedia Commons

 
 
 
 

Italians woke up on the morning of Tuesday, 26 February with the realisation that not one of the numerous opinion polls was correct in predicting the outcome of the elections held between Sunday and Monday, and that the country was probably facing a period of turbulence without parallel in its post-war history.

In 1948 all the opinion polls published in the United States had assured Americans that President Truman could not possibly win the presidential elections. Truman responded by stating that the opinion polls were “eyewash” and proceeded to win, rather comfortably. In his Genoese dialect, Beppe Grillo, the undisputed winner of these elections, is probably echoing the same thought.

There are many amazing results from this electoral exercise, amazing even in a land of paradoxes such as Italy, the most notable being the fact that the ostensible “winner” (i.e. the coalition that has the largest number of elected officials in Parliament, the “Democratic Party” and its allies) is, in reality, one of the principal losers, having gained the smallest percentage of the total vote in its history, and finding itself in a position which will make it well nigh impossible to govern according to its electoral commitments.

These elections have, in fact, produced only one undisputable winner, the unpredictable maverick “Five Stars Movement” created and headed by former comedian Beppe Grillo. This populist to the extreme movement, which has refused all financial aid and has never appeared on the many Television programmes much favoured by its rivals, ended up taking around 25 percent of the popular vote, making it the largest single Party represented in Parliament.

Another surprise “winner” is Silvio Berlusconi, the much reviled former Prime Minister who also ran on an incredibly naïve populist campaign, and who, after having been virtually written off both by Italian and foreign observers, has almost pulled one of his miraculous comebacks, with his coalition losing out to the centre left by only a handful of votes. Berlusconi, however, can also be termed a “loser” if his results are compared to those he obtained in the past.

But the biggest loser is without doubt outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti, who entered the political fray against the advice of many, including an astute veteran political figure such as the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, a former Communist octogenarian who has been active in Italian politics for all of his adult existence. It is said that he advised Monti to play the role of Cincinnatus, and to let the active political parties and coalitions tear each other apart in what promised to be a very intense battle, with the possibility of emerging, once again, as a possible solution to the country’s instability. 

Instead, Monti was convinced that his “centrist” movement would get enough votes to guarantee him a fundamental role in the post-electoral political spectrum. In reality, at 10 percent, the coalition just barely scraped through to collect the minimum number of votes needed to get into Parliament.

Having said this, two questions arise: first, we need to figure out the reasons behind such an unpredictable outcome, and second, whether there is any hope of forming a reasonably stable government in the next weeks (or months). The situation is complicated by the fact that president Napolitano, finding himself in the last six months of his mandate, does not have the Constitutional power to dissolve the parliament, and it would therefore be difficult to return to a new electoral process before the nomination of the next president in a joint session of Parliament and other institutional figures.

 
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