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Palazzo Chigi in Rome
Palazzo Chigi in RomeImage: DW/Bernd Riegert

Shaky coalition

Bernd Riegert / jlw
February 24, 2013

Who will move into the Palazzo Chigi, the prime ministerial seat in Rome: left-leaning Bersani? Or ex-premier Berlusconi? In any case, Europe is hoping for a stable government - which might not be the case.


The law behind Italy's electoral system bears a curious name: Porcellum. It's a Latinized version of the word "porcata," which could be translated as garbage. But it wasn't disappointed voters, rather academics and politicians who came up with the name while establishing the law, nearly 10 years ago. Critics say junk is a good name for the law, as it's extremely complicated, and virtually no one understands exactly how it allocates seats in parliament.

In the Italian Parliament, the party that wins the most votes automatically earns an absolute majority of the seats, even if the party receives just 30 percent of the vote. In the Senate within parliament, however, the seats are distributed by way of regional lists.

"Thanks to the Porcellum, there's a very comfortable majority in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. But that's not true at all of the upper house, the Senate," explained Lutz Klinkhammer, an expert on Italian politics at the German Historical Institute in Rome. "This could have a lot of influence on the winner's ability to govern," he added.

If in the Senate a political majority forms differing from that in the Chamber of Deputies, the future prime minister must enter into a coalition with many small partners. Since up to 20 parties will be represented in parliament, the result could be a very shaky alliance.

Recent opinion polls suggest that the most likely outcome of the parliamentary elections on Sunday and Monday is that Pier Luigi Bersani will have to form a coalition with a collection of left-wing parties, along with the new ticket of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti's government.

Klinkhammer suspects that such a coalition would hold for no more than six to 12 months. That would run counter to the European Union's and financial markets' hopes for a stable government in the highly indebted country.

Beppe Grillo gestures during a rally in Turin, February 2013
Beppe Grillo has criticized the establishment and calls for free Internet for allImage: Reuters

Beppe Grillo provides new impetus

But the tactics and maneuvering behind formation of a coalition is not the central concern for Italy's 47 million voters. In the most recent opinion polls two weeks ahead of the election, one in four voters had still not decided for whom to vote.

Most people in Italy are tired and annoyed with the politicians, said Marco Solazzo, a dentist based in Rome. During the past 20 years, they have done very little, he added. "It's always blah, blah, blah. People are looking for something new, something different."

And they may find the novelty they seek in Beppe Grillo. His protest movement, known as the Five Star Movement, has been a hit. Opinion polls suggest the former comedian and actor could take 15 percent of the vote. This would make him the third strongest candidate after the Social Democrat, Bersani, and the conservative Silvio Berlusconi, but put him ahead of technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti.

Grillo has lured tens of thousands to rallies in Italian cities with his humorous rants against the establishment and with boldly proclaimed promises. He's played rap music including lyrics that could translate as "we're the citizens, enough is enough!"

Television producer Laura Bernaschi believes Grillo will do well: "We all know that he is not a politician, it's not his job, but what he says seems very thorough." Many young people and unemployed graduates in the cities see 61-year-old Grillo as a good option, election researchers believe.

Belesconi, the eternal campaigner

Silvio Belesconi has established himself as a campaign talent with great communicative skills. Sixteen months ago, the 76-year-old was forced to cede the prime ministerial office to Mario Monti because he couldn't grasp the economic and debt crisis gripping Italy.

Berlusconi campaign placards at bus stops in Rome
A simple message at Rome bus stops: pick Berlusconi and get your taxes backImage: DW/Bernd Riegert

Now, he's presenting himself in slick commercials as a fatherly statesman who will pay back newly increased income taxes to the Italian people. Berlusconi could, together with the highly right-wing North League, gain a majority in Senate and string the future government along.

Since the success of Beppe Grillo's "movement," Berlusconi says his People of Freedom party would be against arbitrary justice. Berlusconi is set to benefit from this stronghold, as he's been haunted by the Italian judiciary - he's currently fighting three criminal cases. A verdict will be handed down after the election in a trial concerning allegations he was involved in sex with a minor.

Berlusconi's misconduct worries many internationally, observed Klinkhammer. "He embodies the Italian dream of the self-made man and a charmer. He can always win more points," Klinkhammer said. "Just one year of Monti has been enough for many to forget what happened in the past decade under Berlusconi," Klinkhammer added.

Leonardo, a taxi driver waiting for passengers at Rome's main train station, will vote for Berlusconi again. "Berlusconi will give me back the tax I've paid, and he'll ensure I keep my taxi license."

Roman dentist Solazzo described Berlusconi as having his fans, especially amongst small business owners. "And this isn't the last election where Berlusconi will take part," Solazzo said with a distressed smile.

Photo of Italian newspaper La Repubblica with the headline
Italian newspaper proclaiming that Merkel doesn't want leftistsImage: DW/Bernd Riegert

'La Merkel' blamed

Silvio Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo share a mutual dislike. They blame Brussels, Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel for the debt crisis and the recession in Italy. "La Merkel" is the term Mario Monti used for the austerity measures.

"Germany is playing a big role in this election, as a kind of bogeyman," said Lutz Klinkhammer. "Everything bad comes from the north, if you listen to Silvio Berlusconi, and Beppe Grillo shares these undertones," Klinkhammer added.

Many of Italy's politicians refuse advice from Brussels or Berlin. Chancellor Merkel's alleged comments saying she wanted Monti as government head made headlines in Italy's press for days.

Klinkhammer thinks he knows why: "In Italy it's regarded as interfering in internal politics. It has no major impact on the campaign, but in my view won't benefit Mario Monti or the German stance."

Lackluster number one

Pier Luigi Bersani, who lies a few points behind Berlusconi in opinion polls, has held himself back with polemic failures. The leading candidate in the center-left coalition is being described by Italian media as a lackluster option.

At a campaign rally in Naples, Bersani told Berlusconi and Grillo, "the great crisis cannot be tackled by someone magically pulling a rabbit out of the hat. And certainly not with stupid sayings."

Pier Luigi Bersani gestures during a political rally in February 2013
Italy's next prime minister? Pier Luigi BersaniImage: Reuters

Polling stations close on Monday (25.02.2013) at 3 p.m. Preliminary results are likely to be available only late in the evening - due to the Porcellum, Italy's complex electoral law.