Italy, continued:

Mike Livingstone has a nice summary here of what he (rightly, I think) calls "the most extraordinary day in recent Italian history" -- yesterday, when the results of the election were announced and, simultaneously, Bernard Provenzano, the leader of the Sicilian mafia who had been in hiding for forty three years, was finally arrested. It looks as though Romano Prodi, head of the center-left coalition, has won the narrowest of victories; his coalition received around 20,000 more votes than Berlusconi's. But under Italy's "bonus" system -- put into place, ironically, by the Berlusconi regime, and opposed at the time by most of the opposition center-left parties -- the coalition (not the party, but the coalition of parties) that receives the highest number of votes gets a bonus allocation of 40 seats in the Camera, the lower house of the national assembly. A razor-thin electoral vote margin can therefore produce a more substantial governing majority, and it looks like that's what Prodi has now; it was very weird, though, to try to follow the election results and to see the majority in the Camera flipping from one side to another as the votes were counted and Prodi's percentages went from 49.8 to 49.7 . . . . Prodi, as it happens, lives about 2 blocks from us here in Bologna. On the last night of the campaign, last week, his campaign held a big "comizio" -- sort of like an American political rally, but much less stage-y, much more serious -- in the big central square in Bologna, at the end of which Prodi just walked home . . . followed by thousands of supporters (mostly drawn from among the huge student population here) singing revolutionary anthems and waving their giant flags in the air. It was quite a scene; I'd let myself get more swept up in it all if I thought that Prodi really had good answers to what ails Italy. It will probably be a step up to be rid of Berlusconi -- but governing Italy with a left-wing coalition, a substantial portion of which consists of the Communists, will be no mean feat. During the campaign, Prodi attacked one of Berlusconi's labor law reforms, which had (shades of France!) raised the mandatory retirement age from 57 to 60; not, in my opinion, the move made by someone willing or able to tackle the very serious economic problems Italy faces at the moment. But I certainly wish him well -- if any country deserves good economic times, it's Italy.

Makanmata (mail):
Perhaps you might better explain why you feel that Prodi, the socialist head of a coaltion of statist and anti-individualist parties which stood in the way of every free market reform proposed by an entrepreneur Prime Minister, and who is himself amongst the principal Italian proponents of a leviathan centralized European federal state, is a "step up" from Berlusconi? In my opinion, these are terribly sad days for Italy, which appears doomed to remain mired in the collectivism that infects its neighbors.
4.12.2006 12:58pm
Jim Lindgren (mail):
David, like Makanmata I was wondering what you meant by a "step up."

If one were reasonably certain that the new regime were going to be less liable to corruption scandals, that would I guess be something in Prodi's favor. But expecting a "Leviathan" to be both more socialist and less corrupt seems like just wishful thinking rather than a reasonable likelihood.

Beyond that (and a greater separation of the govt &press), from what little I know, it would appear that Prodi would be a step down. But then, you are there, and I'm not.

BTW, I suppose the bonus seats idea is good for stability, which has been a problem in Italy.
4.12.2006 1:23pm
Riccardo Schiaffino (mail) (www):
Jim, Makanmata:

"A step up" because basically anything would have been a step up from a pseudo-entrepreneur who covered Italy in ridicule, didn't deliver on his electoral promises despite a large majority in parliament, had huge conflicts of interests (owner of three of the six major Italian TV networks, and, as head of the government, in control of two of other three), and that was widely seen to promote ad-hoc laws for his own private interests (de-penalization of accounting crimes, etc.).

I always voted on the right in Italian elections. This time I could not do it, despite all the reservations I have against Prodi's coalition.
4.12.2006 2:08pm
Jim Lindgren (mail):

Thanks for the detailed response.

I felt the same way about voting for the first Mayor Daley in Chicago. I just couldn't get past the corruption and lack of effective democracy, even though he was in most respects a more competent candidate than his opponents.
4.12.2006 3:05pm
How much control does an Italian prime minister actually have over state media? Every RAI employee I've seen interviewed in the English-language media since Berlusconi was first elected was openly hostile to him and his positions.
4.12.2006 4:56pm
Riccardo Schiaffino (mail) (www):

Historically of the three RAI network, RAI one was allotted to the Christian Democrats, RAI two to the Socialists (i.e, two parties that were always in the government), and RAI three to the Communits (always the largest party in the opposition).
After Tangentopoli and all the political changes that ensued, RAI three remained the left-wing channel, and the other two were the "moderate" (government) ones.

The government appoints the heads of the various RAI networks and of RAI overall. RAI three has remianed definitely left of center (think NPR), the other two channels very much toe the government line.

Berlusconi was able to stop prominent RAI programs that were very critical of him, such as those by Biagi and Santoro.

Now that the left will be the goverment, they will change some of the head people in the various networks, but you'll see the same people that were toeing the right-wing government line doing the same for the left-wing one.

In most cases it is not so much a speaking in favour of this or that, but the kind of news that are given more prominence and so on.

I'm sure that a lot of RAI reporters were a lot more outspoken when interveiwed by foreign press than when doing their work at home.
4.12.2006 6:01pm
Michael Livingston (mail):
My sense with the RAI is that they don't so much report the news in a biased manner as avoid it altogether. About 10 minutes of each 30 minute broadcast seems to be devoted to the national and international news and the rest to the "cronaca" (essentially crime news), weather, soft features et al. Whether this is for ratings or under political pressure is difficult to say but it does have the effect that little of the foreign criticism of Berlusconi or other leaders reaches the masses as opposed to the elite of Italian opinion.
4.12.2006 6:11pm