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Italian elections, Italian uncertainty

February 22, 2013

The world will be watching as Italians go to the polls for two days starting Sunday, February 24, electing a new Parliament two months early after the resignation of former Prime Minister Mario Monti in December amid waning support. The outcome of the elections will determine the new leader of Italy, a decision that could have a great impact on the still-struggling Italian economy and on the European Union more generally. Despite the possible implications of the Italian vote, voter turn-out is expected to be at an all-time low, leaving the outcome of the election anything but certain.

Lining up the party coalitions and their apparent leaders for the 2013 general elections reveals the extent of Italian indecision. Four major coalitions have been vying for a majority that would put them in position to choose the nation’s next Prime Minister. The last man to hold the position, Mario Monti, is backed by the centrist coalition of the Civic Choice with Monti for Italy, the Christian Democrats and a smaller center-right party, Future and Freedom for Italy. Mr. Monti has close ties with the European Union, having served as EU commissioner for the internal market and services. Despite this experience in economics and the progress the Italian economy made under his influence in the past year, Monti is closely associated with the EU for many euroskeptics and several unpopular austerity measures, and his coalition is expected to garner a fourth place showing when all is said and done.

Mr. Monti’s support may prove the deciding factor in the contest for Prime Minister, however. The leading coalition, the center-left led by the Democratic Party, is slated to win the elections, but will need further support in Parliament to gain the majority necessary to appoint the new PM. The leader of this coalition, former communist and ex-minister Pier Luigi Bersani could then offer an appointed office to Monti if he were to throw the support of his coalition behind a successful bid from the Democratic Party.

Both the centrist and center-left find themselves coming up against headline-catching opponents in the form of one new face on the political scene and one very familiar face. This first is comedian/activist Beppe Grillo who leads an anti-establishment party called the Five Star Movement, which has placed third in the latest polls. Grillo has made a name for himself taking radical stands on everything from withdrawing from the Eurozone to denying citizenship to children of immigrants. Votes for his party will largely be seen as protest votes, but his platform is attractive to many Italians weary of politics-as-usual.

The greatest impact of the Five Star Movement may well be stealing votes away from the most familiar face in this election, three-time former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. For many, Berlusconi epitomizes scandal-ridden politics-as-usual; his career has been littered with scandal and legal trouble, the most recent of which (charges of tax fraud and paying a 17 year-old for sex) preceded his resignation from his third term as PM in 2011. His center-right party, People of Freedom, has teamed-up with the further right Northern League, forming a coalition that has consistently fallen second in the polls to Bersani’s supporters, despite Berlusconi’s latest antics promising tax refunds to millions of Italians in key swing areas in official-looking letters.

In sum, the outcome of the two days of voting soon to take place in Italy will no doubt shape the ambiguous future of a country still struggling amid economic uncertainty. The election results will also offer a glimpse into the minds of a weary and mistrustful populace whose silence will echo after the shouted promises of the candidates failing to gain their support.

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