Italy’s electoral law is unconstitutional, its top court ruled on Wednesday, piling pressure on political parties to reform a system blamed for creating parliamentary deadlock. Most politicians agree, at least in public, that the electoral rules which helped produce a hung parliament after February’s national vote must change to give Italy a chance of forming a stable government. But despite repeated exhortations from business leaders, union chiefs and President Giorgio Napolitano, progress on voting reform has long been blocked by parties worried that a new system could damage their electoral chances. “Now there is no more room for excuses from anyone, we have to move, quickly, to change the law,” said Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, whose breakaway group from Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right is a key part of the fragile ruling coalition. The ruling is not retro-active and therefore does not affect the status or validity of the current parliament, a source close to the constitutional court told Reuters.
With Silvio Berlusconi now out of parliament, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta is under pressure to overhaul a voting law blamed for dragging Italy into political and economic stalemate after the last election. Letta was appointed to lead an unwieldy government of left and right forces after a vote in February this year yielded no clear winner. When he named the 47-year-old centre-left politician, President Giorgio Napolitano gave him the task of overhauling a dysfunctional political and justice system that has stifled Italy’s economic growth for years. Letta’s administration was supposed to repair the system to prevent chronic political instability. The ripple effects of Berlusconi’s legal battles – in particular the lead-up and aftermath of the former premier’s conviction for fraud in August – largely sidetracked the government during its first seven months, however. That disruption has ostensibly subsided after Berlusconi’s ejection from the Senate.
Silvio Berlusconi on Monday faced dissent within his People of Freedom Party, complicating his plans to bring down Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s coalition government. But even if Letta survives a confidence vote on Wednesday the prospects for stability and reform in Italy look more fragile than ever as he will face a larger and stronger opposition backed by Berlusconi’s media empire. Letta’s hopes of survival appear to rest on some 20 senators from Berlusconi’s party, who are unhappy with his shock decision on Saturday to withdraw his ministers from Letta’s government. Italian shares and bonds recovered some of their losses on financial markets after a party source told Reuters the group of PDL moderates may be ready to back the government and break away from the PDL if Berlusconi does not soften his stance. However, whether the dissidents are actually prepared to back Letta remains to be seen. They did not speak out at a PDL meeting on Monday where Berlusconi called for unity, repeated that the party must push for early elections and did not open any internal debate, according to lawmakers present.
While many Italians were delighted that Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison for paying for sex with an underage woman, many more did not really care. They have seen this film dozens of times before. Mr. Berlusconi, who was Italian prime minister three times before he was effectively ousted in 2011 at the height of the debt crisis, has always been one step ahead of the law. He has been endlessly prosecuted and, only last month, an appeals court upheld his four-year prison sentence for a tax-fraud scheme. In all of these cases, he pleads innocence, blames his woes on left-wing conspiracies and overzealous prosecutors, and unleashes his armies of lawyers to set the appeals machine in motion. So far, it has worked. Mr. Berlusconi has never seen the inside of a prison cell and probably never will. Appeals can take years and, in Italy, old men tend not to spend their last years behind bars. He is 76 and looks his age. Still, Monday’s verdict could have serious political repercussions at a time when Italy, which is in deep recession amid soaring unemployment, is desperate for a stable government that can keep economic reforms alive. He remains the head of the People of Freedom party (PdL), which supports the coalition government of Enrico Letta, who became prime minister in April after February’s inconclusive election. If Mr. Berlusconi withdraws his support for the government, it would come crashing down.
Italian voters were choosing mayors in Rome and other municipalities Sunday in balloting, whose results will be interpreted as a test of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s political influence with possible repercussions on the national government. Media mogul Berlusconi campaigned for his center-right party’s candidate in Rome, incumbent Gianni Alemanno, who is trying for a second term in a runoff against former transplant surgeon Ignazio Marino, who is backed by the center-left. Alemanno trailed in the first round two weeks ago in Italy’s capital. In his first run for the office, in 2008, Alemanno also trailed in the first round, but mounted a strong comeback to win in the runoff. Marino’s and Alemanno’s parties are the main partners in a coalition of bitter rivals in Premier Enrico Letta’s 5-week-old government, and are struggling to spur economic growth in the recession-mired country.
It is the most famous quote in modern Italian literature, because it captures so well the cynicism and conservatism of modern Italian politics. “If we want everything to remain as it is,” says Tancredi in Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard”, “everything needs to change.” For once, Italy’s politicians have turned the saying on its head. On April 20th they arranged for things to stay as they were in order to get them to change. After failing to find agreement to elect a new president, the heads of Italy’s two leading mainstream parties, Pier Luigi Bersani of the Democratic Party (PD) and Silvio Berlusconi of the People of Freedom (PdL) movement, went to the 87-year-old incumbent, Giorgio Napolitano, and begged him to stay on. Unsurprisingly, given his age, Mr Napolitano had discounted a second term. So he was able to make demands: he would agree only if the PD and PdL broke the deadlock that was stopping the formation of a new government.