Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Italy's Winnerless Election

An Italian political scientist explains the Berlusconi effect. From Le Monde, 19 April 06

BTW, Il Cavaliere still refuses to step down, despite today's ruling by the Supreme Court in favor of the win by Prodi's coalition. We can be assured that he intends to provoke a dramatic internal crisis just short of a coup d'état by claiming that the victory by the Left is illegitimate. The Carabinieri are going to have to frog march him out of office in the end. That is, if President Ciampi, has the coglioni. Although a conservative, I think Ciampi nevertheless has strong notions of legality.

Italy: A winnerless election, by Ilvo Diamanti. [Diamanti is an expert in domestic politics at Urbino University.]

The April 10th election in Italy demonstrated the extraordinary leadership ability of Silvio Berlusconi, despite the fact that he lost. By himself, he was able to mount an electoral campaign that the leaders of the Casa delle Libertà (CdL) had given up as hopeless. He was able to lead his personal political party, Forza Italia (FI), and the Center-Right coalition to the threshold of victory -- one that eluded him by only a few votes that were, moreover, contested. It is interesting to take another look at The Cavaliere's resurgence at the polls, which was accomplished in two venues that at first glance appear to be unrelated: Television and the North.

The former is a non-venue that Silvio Berlusconi frequented non-stop for almost three months. He strove to make himself a permanent fixture in the news, broadcasting messages and raising political issues that were often at or beyond the limits of decency. All this was meant to energize an electorate that was otherwise unhappy with the economy, disappointed by the government's actions and planning to defect from FI or not to vote at all. As in 2001, Silvio Berlusconi opted for a highly personalized campaign. But instead of concentrating on people's hopes --—which might have been provocative-- he chose to play on their fears. Fear of tax hikes on savings and property in a country of savers and property owners.

Fear of crime. Fear of immigration. Job fears (in a very flexible job market). Multiple fears with a single target: the Left and the communists. By casting the campaign as a referendum -for or against him-, Silvio Berlusconi mended the divisions within his own camp and was elevated to uncontested sovereign. This “media campaign of fear worked extremely well.

However, the image of this virtual monarchy that reigns over the “media landscape” cannot dispel the fact that CdL and FI in particular confirmed their cohesive voting geography in 2006, consistent with the past. The Right disposes of a very large electoral base (57% to 58% of voters) in three regions: Sicily, Lombardy and the Veneto. In Sicily, its success is mediated by local pressure groups (which can render success rather volatile as was witnessed over several elections in the last few years).

But in Lombardy and in the Veneto, CdL'’s success is a reliable constant. But this time the Center-Right won in other regions of Northern Italy: Friuli, Venezia-Giulia and even Piedmont. Today the CdL can reliably claim to represent the most productive and modernized portion of the country. And how did the Berlusconi camp carry out this dual media and geographic campaign? A portion of Northern society has always viewed the Left with suspicion. It considers the Left hostile to its values and interests, which are founded on privacy, enterprise, the market, family and distrust of government.

People did not cast their votes for these parties out of passion but out of self-defense. The proof is that when the Northern League began talking of the secession of Northern Italy, half its base defected and its share of the electorate declined to 4%. Moreover, the same voters who cast their ballots for the Right in national parliamentary elections can well vote for the Left in mayoral or regional contests out of pragmatism. This has occurred in Friuli, Piedmont, Verona, Padua and even in Milan.

With his television campaign, Silvio Berlusconi was successful in reactivating the reflex of distrust towards the Left and all it represents: Government, public ownership, taxes, multicultural society and globalization. And the Center Left did little to dissipate those fears. Invective against the “communists” and their alleged hatred for liberty and the free market effectively reawakened a non-voting fringe of the population and brought it to the polls --less out of fervor for Silvio Berlusconi than for their anti-Left impulse.

Effectively, the Forza Italia vote declined 6% in the North compared to 2001 and the Northern League achieved a mediocre score, barely over 9%. The resistance of the CdL can be entirely attributed to the flattering results of the National Alliance (AN, post-fascist) and to the centrists of the Christian Democrat Union (UDC), two parties implanted in the South long ago and which have recently adopted a less radical tone than that of their allies. Nostalgia for the former Christian Democrat Party seems to have also played a role.

In other words, Silvio Berlusconi used television as a distorting mirror of the traditional Northern reluctant attitude towards the Left with great savoir-faire. Instead of establishing consensus, he contributed the country's divisions (reinforced by the newly-reintroduced mode of voting based on lists). The Center-Left, which disposes of a strong traditional organization and a mobilized base, did not know how to counter-attack on the ground. To the point that television became the only genuine battleground in this crucial election.


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