the italian elections: round three
In the week since Italy's highest court confirmed the election victory of the left-leaning coalition headed by former Premier Romano Prodi, the situation has begun to stabilize somewhat, although perhaps only by Italian standards. While outgoing Premier Silvio Berlusconi has stubbornly refused to concede, most Italians appear to view the matter as settled, and attention has shifted to the formation of the new Cabinet which takes several weeks under Italian law. A potential bullet was dodged when Massimo d'Alema, yet another former Premier and a leader of the Democrats of the Left (read former communists) party abandoned his candidacy for leadership of the Chamber of Deputies in favor of Fausto Bertinotti, who doesn't even bother with the "former" part. The next big hurdle will be selection of the new President, a nominally ceremonial position but one with potentially enhanced power given the extremely tight balance between the dominant factions. While refusing Berlusconi's offer of a grand coalition--an offer many see as a ruse to prevent further action against his monopolistic media holdings--the incoming Government has suggested it may be willing to negotiate regarding potential presidential candidates, and indeed may have to given its narrow edge in both houses.
The most immediate problem facing the Prodi Government is the Italian economy. The voices of the IMF and various mega-economists have been added to those of foreign pundits suggesting that, unless Prodi takes radical action, the country may be headed for a downward spiral that would take it out of the Euro zone altogether in the next few years. While Prodi has promised an additional manovra (budget bill) and further changes, his room for maneuver may be limited by the more assertively left-wing elements of his coalition, who appear to see his victory as an occasion to settle accounts rather than govern the country in responsible fashion. The priorities that some have expressed--repeal of labor reform legislation, benefits for unmarried (including gay) couples, and break up of the Berlusconi media empire--suggest a classic left-wing rather than a moderate, coalition-building agenda. Rumored cabinet choices, including that of D'Alema (see above) for the foreign ministry, are generally competent but reflect an orthodox left-wing tendency.
A taste of the problems Prodi will face from his own backbenchers was provided on April 25, a national holiday which marks the country's liberation from Fascism in 1945. While Prodi, making an impromptu address to a Milan crowd, struck a moderate theme, other leftists were busy heckling the conservative mayoral candidate, Letizia Moratti, as she pushed her wheelchair-bound father--who had been deported by the Germans to Dachau--around town during the parade. The burning of an off-color Israeli flag by a group of autonomi (independent leftists) likewise did little to contribute to the holiday spirit. The situation became especially awkward the next day when Iraqi guerillas--the kind of people the demonstrators seem sympathetic to--killed three Italian peacekeepers in an ambush near Nassiriya. Prodi is very experienced, and seems to have a pretty good idea of what he wants to do to get the country back on track. The question is if anyone, including his own supporters, will give him the chance.