Most international press has identified the results of the Italian elections as a vote against austerity. We find this analysis inaccurate, and with this article we explain why and present some likely scenarios. The message of the electorate is that before any macroeconomic or financial change can be considered, Italy’s institutions and their representatives need to be reformed and the impoverishment of the country must be addressed. Homework first. Italy enjoys a bi-chamber system: the lower Chamber and the Senate have an equal say on all matters including the appointment of the government. The electoral law was changed in 2005 by Berlusconi and his allies to make it very difficult for whoever does not win Lombardy and Veneto, the most populous and traditionally right-leaning regions, to win both chambers. Italians under the age of 25 are still shockingly not allowed to vote for the upper house, making it traditionally more conservative.
Although the centre-left coalition won by a whisker the share of votes in both chambers, it now enjoys a majority of more than 200 MPs in the lower Chamber alone, while gaining only a relative majority of 121 seats in the Senate, short of the 158 needed to back a Government. This electoral law was created with a bi-polar system of two competing coalitions in mind. The results of the latest election show Italy moving towards a three or four party system: Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition, Bersani’s centre-left coalition and Grillo’s Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, “five start movement”) are each appealing to roughly a quarter of the electorate, with the rest going towards a disappointing centrist coalition led by Mario Monti (10%) and other minor parties.
Berlusconi’s actual share of the votes dropped dramatically compared to five years ago. Nevertheless, everyone outside of Italy is surprised that he received a single vote. Even within Italy, none of the 200 or so surveys that were polled in the last month put Berlusconi and his allies remotely close to the 29% it reached.
This can be explained by a variety of factors. The main one is clientelism in different nuances, often dangerously coincident with mafia networks. This 29% was reached by a coalition of nine parties, most of which did not exist a few months ago. Nine parties, each with twenty regional lists for each of the two chambers, each with a few dozen candidates in turn, makes a good network of thousands of candidates spread around the country, each capturing the vote of their affiliates.