Come May 3rd, two months will have passed since Italy’s, “Mother of all Elections”. The main political parties went into the March 4th General Elections with high hopes and, as in the good old days, all expected to walk away … “winners”, not “losers”. They had taken pains to do away with the old, first past the post, winner take all majority system of the Berlusconi / Prodi Era. Why? Because Italy’s cold war leaders never warmed to the relatively new bi-party or bi-polar system. Better the former Parlamentarianism and its “Tower of Babel effect” that essentially vested political control in the hands of party machineries at the expense of Parliament. With a weakened Parliament and a collective and collegiate Executive designed to be democratic but not strong, the real power is in the hands of the party Bosses, not the voters. All of Italy’s parties have sought refuge in a new electoral law hastily assembled along traditional First Republic lines, providing for a return to low thresholds for winning seats in Parliament under a new electoral system that mixes proportional and majority rules into a cocktail that would wreak havoc on the playing field of Italy’s electoral districts, with the results that emerged on the day after the recent General Elections: a hung Parliament.
In the old Italian political system, “one dog would never eat another dog”. In Republican Italy’s parliamentary system the game politicians played was never zero sum. Party Bosses never really risked loosing their seats or winning big, for that matter, in Italy’s political ball park. Just the plebes or rookies stood to loose. Most everybody else won a little and lost a little with each and every election. The big winners were the political parties and the Bosses that ruled the roosts. Once elected, MPs like University Professors got tenure or something close to it. Those who survived at least one 5-year legislature could usually count on lifetime pensions and careers with sinecure, jobs that, in addition to paying great money for just showing up, also came – and still do – with incredible perks unlike those of any other Western Country.
Once elected to Parliament, politicians become political NCOs or Officers. From then on it’s Big Time Bucks made sweeter because of the low risks and unaccountability that come with the job. The system is built to purposely shield party Bosses (and their protégés) from disgruntled voters. Once you are in, it is practically forever.
If a party needs for someone to get elected, they can and will candidate him / her in more than one electoral district or in what are known as “safe electoral districts”. The single jurisdiction of Italy’s unitary state comes to the rescue here. In the Bel Paese there are no state or regional laws prohibiting multiple candidacies, nor are there any residency requirements for candidates. Anyone a party wants elected can run for office in any electoral district of Italy approved by the party and that person will get elected.
Maria Elena Boschi is a case in point: here we have a Tuscan resident and member of a very influential family; an important Minister in the Renzi and Gentiloni governments offered multiple candidacies by her party in a number of “safe electoral districts”, including a notoriously “red” district in the German-speaking South Tyrol, because she was at risk in her “home” district. The young woman speaks no German, has never lived nor worked in the South Tyrol has no connection with the South Tyrol but suddenly MEB finds herself elected and is now the representative of a German-speaking constituency.
Here lies the problem: Italian MPs do not represent constituencies, not in the classical western, democratic sense of the term. At best they represent “sponsors”, i.e., their party Bosses, lobbies, groups or categories of people that identify with the larger organization the politician represents. It also means that the only way an MP can be removed is by falling out of sync with their political party Boss or sponsor. The voters cannot directly elect or remove anyone with their votes. The people are powerless. But this lack of power backfired on the 4th of March because the party Bosses in their infinite stupidity forced voters to spread their anger over too many political offerings with the result that no single party was able to win a majority in the Parliament, not even the center-right coalition that however came closest with some 38% of the vote.
After almost two months of negotiations between Di Maio of M5S and Salvini of The League, Italy is no closer to a government than it was on the day after the elections. To give any government a chance of survival will require the full support of all of the center-right MPs plus all of the M5S MPs. In a country without “party discipline” or “constituencies”, where even the Constitution does not hold senators and representatives accountable to their voters, anything can happen. Good Luck Italia!