In about a month Italians will go to the polls and face one of the most heterogeneous fields they have ever seen. Like at the beginning of the Second Republic in 1994, voters will see both repackaged old hands claiming that this time it’s different and new movements that promise radical change but do not fully live up to their own hype. Finally, they will see a small number of players that represent choices heretofore unavailable but are unlikely to revolutionize the political landscape. In this process of choice, Italians voters, unlike their American counterparts, will have to navigate a myriad of choices, factions and currents in the process of making their decision.
Currently, Italian voters face three main coalition blocks all across the political spectrum plus a series of uncategorizable movements. On the centerleft, the Democratic Party (PD), allied with the more left-wing Left Ecology and Freedom (SEL), seems poised to win the relative majority in the Italian Parliament. The group chose its leader, Pierluigi Bersani, in a primary where he defeated moderate Matteo Renzi and decisively shifted the group away from a liberal-reformist position toward a more traditional socialist stance akin to Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party in France. This lurch to the left became apparent during the second round of primaries when voters chose their candidates for Parliament. The PD voters heavily favored the wing of the party led by Stefano Fassina and closely associated the CGIL union, the most important and influential labor movement in Italy. This wing has called for the roll-back of many of the reforms pushed through by Monti to bring stability to Italy’s bond market. In addition, the PD’s alliance with SEL and its charismatic leader Nichi Vendola threatens to push the alliance further to the left.
On the right, a coalition built around former PM Silvio Berlusconi is made up of his own Popolo della Liberta’ (PDL), Fratelli d’ Italia—a splinter party of the PDL—the Northern secessionist Lega Nord and the loosely neo-fascist La Destra. The group, a rehash of Berlusconi’s coalition from 1994 to 2011, came together in the wake of its former leader’s return to politics after a period of political wilderness. While the group has nominally espoused a free-market approach in the past twenty years only to adopt mostly statalist policies, in contrast with its openly populist Lega Nord partner, the alliance has now dropped any vestige of neo-liberal reform. Instead, Berlusconi rails against high taxes, calls for the protection of national business and, more broadly, tries to channel the dissatisfaction of the average Italian with the tough reforms passed by Monti.
The third force is also the “newest.” After initially claiming he was not going to seek further political offices after the end of his technocratic mandate, Prime Minister Monti has changed course and entered the political arena. First, he published the so-called Agenda Monti, a series of prescriptions and plans for Italy. Then he announced he was going to lead a coalition but he was not going to be on the ballot. This move was possible because Monti was nominated Senator for Life in 2011. In the final step of his political entrance, the outgoing Prime Minister presented his coalition. The group brings together both old and new political parties. Leading the vanguard of new entrants is Italia Futura, the think tank/political party led by Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the president of Ferrari and a partner in a passenger train company challenging the monopoly of the state-owned operator. While these players suggest novelty, the party also brings together two of the most seasoned insiders of Italian politics, the former neo-Fascist turned centrist Gianfranco Fini and the Christian Democrat Pier Ferdinando Casini. Both were former allies of Berlusconi who, after breaking with him, found themselves marginalized and unconvincingly jumped on the reformist Monti bandwagon. While this new formation initially found support in the establishment, the presence of old political hands and the Monti’s awkward transition from above-the-fray technocrat to straightforward political candidate has led journalists and opinion leaders to question the seriousness and novelty of the movement.
The final large party on the scene, the Movimento Cinque Stelle (The Five Star Movement), is a political wild card. Comedian Beppe Grillo leads the group and lends it its polemical tone with his screeds against corruption, globalization and the changes of Italian society over the past decades. While the party is new on the political scene, in many ways it is one of the most conservative. Rather than offering solutions to Italy’s problems, the Movimento criticizes all politicians and glibly suggests that mass internet participation in government will heal politics of all of its problems.
Two other, unaffiliated groups have emerged in recent months on the political scene. The Fare per Fermare il Declino (Action to Stop the Decline) led by dandy journalist Oscar Giannino and respected Italian economists teaching in United States like Booth School Business’s Luigi Zingales (Penn’s Luca Bossi is a signatory of the party’s manifesto) aims to cut government, reform labor markets to introduce social mobility and reduce the deficit. Finally, Rivoluzione Civile (Civil Revolution) led by former anti-mafia prosecutor Antonio Ingroia promises to fight corruption and special interests but has offered precious few policy recommendations.
In this complicated political landscape, a clear cut winner seems improbable and a complicated system of post-election alliances will probably be the result. Unfortunately, this is not the result Italians, and the world, need to stabilize their rocky economy and return to growth.
(Full Disclosure: The author’s father is a candidate for Fare per Fermare il Declino)