Saturday, October 13, 2012

Elections Watch 5. Disintegrating regions.

Every day brings new revelations about scandals in the cities and the regions. I have had to put the title in the plural; we have known about the Sicilian regional elections since the summer (they are due on 28 Oct.) and Rome elects a new mayor and council in the Spring, on schedule. The general election has to be in spring as well, on schedule probably 7-8 April. Last week, the Latium president, Renata Polverini resigned with one member of her council accused of embezzling €1.3m. At the moment, there is talk of elections on 16 Dec. but Polverini is trying to dig her heels in.

A couple of days ago, a member of the Lombardy regional government, Domenico Zambetti (left with Regional President, Roberto Formigoni), was arrested, accused of having paid the ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia very well established in the Milan, €200,000 for 4,000 votes. Twelve other members of the 80 member council are under investigation . The majority are centre-right, PdL or Northern League but there is also Filippo Penati, a close associate of PD leader, Pierluigi Bersani. The president of the region, Roberto Formigoni has stubbornly refused to even countenance resignation despite ample evidence of his close links with Pierangelo Daccò a fixer who has just been given a 10 year sentence for fraud and other crimes. Instead, he promised a regional government reshuffle and scheduled elections in 2015. Today, the his Northern League allies have threatened to withdraw their support and said that the government should resign next year and go to the polls at the same time as the general election.

In Latium, an IdV (Di Pietro’s Italy of Values) counsellor and member of the former regional government has been accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of euro. The city council in Reggio Calabria has been suspended by the Ministry of the Interior because of ndrangheta infliltration.

The only difference with the 1992 scandals is that this time most of them are local but the vision of structures crumbling is the same.

The national politicians meanwhile carry on almost as if nothing was happening. An anti-corruption bill gathers dust in Parliament and it is not even the Draconian measure that the parliamentarians’ critics would prefer. They continue bickering over the new electoral system. At the moment the bill would still have a portion filled by a fixed party list (chosen, therefore, by party leaders like today) and there is no agreement about a threshold to exclude the smaller parties. It includes preference votes by which voters can choose one or more candidates from a party list. This is genuinely democratic and encourages voter choice but it also encourages clientelistic practices – candidates distribute the pork in return for the preferences. Or failing that, they buy them from the ndrangheta. Whichever way they turn, they immediately get covered in sleaze.

The party system is reeling. Berlusconi continues to waver though he has said that he will take a step back “to preserve the unity of moderate Italy and save the country from the left”. He has stopped calling the PD “communist” but continues to present himself as the paladin of the “moderate” centre-right except that he only has a few diehard supporters left. The real right, heirs of National Alliance (AN) are ready to split off again while the real centre feel that Berlusconi would be the kiss of death. And he is clearly not convinced himself. He has been shuffling around yet another party, convinced that re-branding is the answer which it isn’t any more.

The centre-left have just agreed on the rules for their primaries even though they do not yet know what sort of electoral system will be in place for actual election. They will vote on 25 November to find a leader of the coalition; if no one wins a majority, the ballot will be on 2 December. Voters will have to register and candidates will have to gather 20,000 signatures in order to stand.

The irony of all these elections is that opinion polls continue to show that Italians have less and less confidence in the system and half still will not vote. So we risk having elections and no voters.

The other Italy appears on the streets demonstrating against job losses and in support of public schools. Monti and his government mediate and project optimism but time is getting short.

As in previous election years, the American University of Rome will be hosting a two day conference covering election issues, parties, policies and personalities, with analyses from scholars, journalists and politicians. This year it will be on 8-9 March 2013 a month before the likely date of the elections.

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