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Still clinging on

April 22nd, 2006

Twelve days after losing the Italian election, Silvio Berlusconi is still clinging to power, refusing either to concede defeat. This is in line with his arrogant and authoritarian character, but it’s also a reflection of how much he has to lose. Until the elections, Berlusconi controlled not only the Parliament, but also much of the mass media and the judiciary.

If he loses, he faces the prospect of being forced either to leave politics or to divest himself of control over his media empire. And without political office, he will lose immunity from prosecution for his many dubious activities. So, it’s scarcely surprising that he is refusing to recognise the outcome of the election.

It’s vital that the incoming centre-left government pursue him on every front to break his massive political power once and for all. Although this is a forced move in political terms, it looks possible that squabbling within the coalition might lead them to duck the tough actions. In this sense, Berlusconi’s irresponsible and anti-democratic actions are a blessing, reminding the new government of the kind of threat they are dealing with.

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  1. Geoff Honnor
    April 22nd, 2006 at 20:03 | #1

    Constitutionally, it’s neither here nor there whether he chooses to concede. The fact is that he’s lost the election and Romano Prodi heads the coalition of parties that will form government. Berlusconi does head the largest single party grouping but the President will, quite clearly, call upon Prodi when Parliament convenes. He’s not “clinging to power” in anything other than a theatrical sense. The question of ‘power’ doesn’t actually arise until the new parliament comes together.

    It’s worth remembering that Italy has had dozens of governments since WWII. Berlusconi has presided over the longest period of governmental stability in Italian postwar history. All we’re seeing now is the jockeying and posturing around a return to normal where allegiance will be traded, everyone is biddable and – importantly – Berlusconi is personally vulnerable.

  2. avaroo
    April 24th, 2006 at 05:37 | #2

    Italy really is an interesting example of a democracy that manages to change its government with stunning regularity, yet nothing else changes much. Is there much difference in Italian political parties? It doesn’t much seem to matter who is governing Italy, at least from a change standpoint. How do Italians keep up with such instability in their governments yet it seems to work for them. Could it work any place other than Italy.

  3. Katz
    April 24th, 2006 at 13:02 | #3

    The functions of government and public administration continue regardless of the complications of shifting coalitions and revolving cabinets.

    Public servants, judges, the armed forces, make their oath of allegiance to the Italian state, whose sovereignty is embodied in a president who exercises largely ceremonial powers.

    So long as sufficient numbers of Italians continue to pay their taxes, and/or lenders to the Italian state remain confident that their loans will be repaid, the business of the state proceeds.

    In many ways political turmoil means that legislation is less likely to be changed. Administrators are therefore free from the distractions of legislative reform, which is the hallmark of a powerful and stable government (for an example of the latter, see Howard post control of the Australian Senate.)

  4. April 24th, 2006 at 15:41 | #4

    avaroo,
    The problem in Italy was always that they have an almost full PR system and weak anti-corruption controls. The incentive then was to get into parliament and sell your vote to the highest bidder. The Christian Democrats were expert at manipulating this system for their own benefit. Because the parliament wrote laws that made no sense in this instance corruption actually helped in some ways – a business could get around the silly laws by paying an appropriate “fee”.
    Berlusconi won the previous election, and held on to power, through a more (but not completely) seat based system. This gave them the stability they had lacked, but not the corruption controls they needed. He was more concerned with avoiding his own criminal liability than fighting corruption.
    For this election, seing that he was likely to lose, he changed the system back to a nearly full PR one so that he had a hope of using his money after the election in much the same way that the Christian Democrats used to use it.
    Italy needs a root and branch change to its political class, but Prodi, as a person who came up through the old system, is not the person to do it.
    To put it bluntly, if you have any investments in Italy sell them unless they have very strong political connections.

  5. avaroo
    April 25th, 2006 at 08:24 | #5

    Could any Italian political party win seats based on an anti-corruption platform then? Both Prodi and Berlusconi are fairly old, are there no up and coming younger pols who have an interest in serious reform?

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