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Italian-decision: Order and Continuity vs. Movement and Change

April 5, 2013

Way back in the 1830s, France had a change in government, from the restored pre-1789 monarchy to a new “July monarchy.” The people who made this happen called themselves the “party of movement” and their opponents, who wanted to tow the old line, the “party of order.” This is a fundamental distinction between change (“newness”) and continuity, the “old line.” The most recent Italian elections fit neatly into this distinction.

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Elections are supposed to lead to the formation of a government. In Italy, this seems not yet to have happened since the most recent elections. There were three major powers in this last election: the Democratic Party (PD), headed by Pier Luigi Bersani, Silvio Berlusconi’s Freedom People party (PdL), and the “Five-Star Movement”, led by Beppe Grillo, a comedian.

Here are the results of the election:

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(source: http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21572783-result-has-come-bombshell-italy-and-across-euro-zone-ungovernability-wins)

The conundrum is this: Bersani’s coalition didn’t get enough votes to form a government without support from outside. Berlusconi offered such support, but Bersani refuses to work with him, and Grillo won’t work with anyone but his own “Five-Star Movement.”

It’s been five weeks and some days since the elections, and still there’s no government. Back comes “the Cavalier,” as Berlusconi has been called. Things seem to be turning around for the scandal-plagued former Prime Minister, who, along with the woman in the most recent scandal, denies any lewd activity.  Berlusconi has “positioned himself as a benevolent statesman acting in the best interests of Italy,” calling for a “grand coalition” between his PdL and the Democratic Party.  And the response is still an emphatic “no.” Maybe things just need to turn around a bit more.

Germany’s Spiegel quotes the Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano, as having said: “We are at a point which is called in Chinese chess ‘Zyng-zeng,’ a mutual checkmate, no one can move.” This has prompted calls for a new leader in the Democratic Party, the 38-year old mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, to stand for the PD’s choice for Prime Minister if new elections are called to find a working coalition, which may happen as soon as June.

Mr. Renzi is an interesting character. Among the platforms on which he’s run most recently  is the idea of abolishing the Italian Senate and replacing it with a chamber of regional representatives to propose amendments to laws passed by the lower House of Deputies. Such an abolition would, among other things, get rid of the apparent dissonance between the House and Senate which seems to be causing the deadlock.

The deadlock is crippling; it’s been bad on the economy. And Mr. Napolitano, the president, is seeking a way out, namely through the appointment of two expert commissions, dubbed the “ten wise men” to try to figure out a solution so that new elections won’t be called. There are skeptics of this. For starters, there are no women out of the ten, and Emma Bonino, a leader of the Radical party, said “I can remember many commissions  of ‘sages’ in my long political career. And the results have never been very brilliant.” Paola Nugnes, a Five-Star Movement Senator, said she didn’t know “what these ‘wise men’ have to do, and how they’ll operate.” Politician Giuliano Cazzola, a supporter of the last Prime Minister, Mario Monti, said, “The only judgment on President Napolitano’s action that counts will be given tomorrow by the markets. The rest is just chatter.”

Among this “chatter” is the assertion that “the appointment of such commissions is not covered by the country’s constitution.” Beppe Grillo took a sturdy stand on these commissions, too, saying that while they are “the best solution at the moment,” they were the manifestation of “imaginary intermediators” and “geriatric nurses of democracy,” going on and saying that in any event, Bersani is much too similar to the former Prime Minister Mario Monti, who share in common “combine harvester-type economic policies.”

So, then, there’s some fascinating, if troublesome dissonance between all three political factions which might be vying for votes in Italy were new elections to come, and there are certainly more surprises ahead as these turbulent waters either settle down or boil over in the coming months. All of this should coalesce to display just how much, even 183 years after the fact, there’s still a struggle between “movement” and “order”, change for the future or continuity with the past.

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