Aldo Matteucci   26 Feb 2013   Looking Sideways

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Italy has voted. And the winner is….the people! I’d say.

Do not let blinkered pundits lead you astray. The people’s message is: “Think out of the box”. The electoral vote is a classic case of “unexpected outcome” – the stuff of emergent complex systems – that forces politicians (and pundits as well as pilot fish) to change paradigm.

Here, the main results (in million votes):

Party

House

Senate

 
   (million votes)  (million votes)  
Participation rate

75.18 %

75.21%

 
 

 

 

 
5 star Movement (Grillo)

8.7

7.3

 
Democratic Party (PD)

8.6

8.3

 
Popolo Libertà (Berlusconi)

7.3

6.8

Scelta civica (Monti)

2.8

2.7

The participation rate has shrunk significantly: 1.2 million voters shied away from the ballot box as compared to 2008. If one takes this as a passive form of protest, and adds it to the pro-active form of protest which is the 5-Star Movement of comic Beppe Grillo, we get 10 out of 50 million Italians expressing their wish for fundamental change.

The overall winner is the 5-star Movement of Beppe Grillo which, in terms of votes garnered, rose from nothing to become the largest party in a field of (mainly) four parties. Note the disparity between House and Senate: since only over-25 vote for the Senate, it is clear that youth want change.

Predicted to win comfortably by the pundits, the Democratic Party made a poor showing. Berlusconi’s party was able to hold its own – galvanized by Berlusconi’s antics (I would not call it charisma, which implies “sacredness” – many things he may be, but not a religiously anointed figure).

The catholic dream of reconstituting a “middle ground” party – the Monti coalition – also fared poorly.

A whimsy electoral law (called “Porcellum” – the piggery) has given the Democratic Party a majority in the House. The Democratic Party, however, can only survive in power in the Senate if it joins forces with the 5-Star Movement.

Why not?

I’ve looked into the 5-Star Movement program. It is incomplete (e.g. there is no foreign and security policy, or (surprisingly) taxation, or overhauling the justice system). Certain elements are amateurish – others deal with subordinate detail. But there is enough meat in it to have a coalition. In particular the Movement’s program is a clear roadmap for destroying Berlusconi’s economic and political power.

There are enough commonalities between the Democratic Party and the 5-Star Movement for them together to launch a resolute reform program for Italy. The votes are there: why do we have lamentations in the press, which is mesmerized by Berlusconi unexpected good showing?

Subliminally Italians expect the political caste to linger on until replaced essentially by natural attrition. Like bishops, old politicians are never voted out of office; they just slowly fade away, or die at their parliamentary desk. The real challenge now facing the Democratic Party is to oust its current “caste” – politicians who have long overstayed their welcome. Some are notoriously corrupt, others sound like old foghorns lost in the night; many just seem lost in the fog of their own words.

The Democratic Party is blessed in that it has a young politician – the mayor of Florence, Matteo RENZI – who just missed ousting the incumbent leader BERSANI to lead the party ingto the election. Had he done so, many opine, the party would have won easily. He is popular throughout the electorate and esteemed as “serious” – if non-ideological. All the Democratic Party’s Old Guard has to do is to admit its responsibilities, and give the new generation a chance.

Berlusconi built his power by manipulating the legislative process and through corruption. It is up to the new legislature to undo the many walls and moats that protect the man. It would have been too easy for the people to cast him out and Parliament to ratify, rather than lead, in the clean-up.

The 5-Star Movement is untried – unlike the Greens in Germany, who had a long apprenticeship period before assuming power. This is a chance. This new party needs to deliver, and deliver fast, lest it disaggregate and lose its voter appeal. It must show that it can assume responsibility – it cannot be seen to fail.

The people's mandate is clear. Einstein famously said: Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not.

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