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Elections in Italy

Today is election day here in Italy. So is tomorrow, as two days are needed here to vote. Voting started this morning and will continue until ten in the evening, to be resumed Monday morning at eight until three in the afternoon. A final result or a credible projection should be available Monday evening.

The one issue to overshadow all the others should have been the economy. The Italian economy is one of the weakest in Europe. They have the lowest productivity in the OECD and the national debt is more than 100% of the GNP. The dept costs €1200/year for each an every Italian, big or small, just in interest, according to the BBC.

The Italian press doesn’t seem to bother the readers with such mundane information, and television wouldn’t touch anything as unpopular and indigestable as the national economy with a poker.

The Italians, at least the onces I’ve met during the last month in Sicily, Sardinia and Veneto, know very well the economy is going down the drain, but they have no more of a solution than the politicians they can chose between. There’s an air of resignation about. People have absolutely no illusions, neither about the state of affairs, nor about the ruling class’ complete inability to confront, and even less solve those problems. Everything gets very depressing when diner discussions touch the subject of the economy and the future.

The basic choice of the Italian voter is between the right-wing Popolo della Libertà (People of Freedom) and the left-wing Partito Democratico (Democratic Party).

There’s a million smaller parties too, left, right and centre, and they all stand a chance of representation as there is no minimum threshold of votes to gain seats in either house. This will probably leave the winner of the elections with a very small and very fragile majority in at least one of the houses, just like the outgoing government, who fell when one of the smaller parties of the coalition broke ranks in a confidence vote.

The right-wing is lead by media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi rather shady character I wouldn’t want to run anything in my country, not even the local laundrette. Here in Italy he runs almost everything. Of six national television stations the own three and leans heavily ot the three state owned stations. He owns a lot of newspapers and magazines too, some of the largest publishing houses, a super market chain and loads of other types of businesses too. Much if not most of the information the average Italian gets through the mass media, is controlled directly or indirectly by Berlusconi.

Berlusconi’s past is riddled with controversy, from the origin of the money that allowed him to start his entrepreneurial career to his membership if the subversive freemason lodge P2 in the 1970s to his close relationship with the leaders of the corrupt Partito Socialista in the 1980s. Add to that public dealings with known Sicilian mafiosi and the innumerable times he has been indicted for all sorts of criminal behaviour, from corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, falsification of accounts and so on.

His closest associates aren’t any better, and most of them come from his business empire anyway. Several has been indicted of serious economic crimes, some of mafia association. A few has been sentenced, and even fewer have had to spend a short time behind bars. One, Marcello Dell’Utri from Palermo, has been sentenced for assisting the mafia, but that hasn’t hurt him the slightest. He’s still a part of Berlusconi’s inner circle and active in politics, now a candidate for the senate.

As if this wasn’t enough to finish off any political ambition of Berlusconi’s, add in the numerous blunders he has made on the international scene, like comparing the German leader of the socialist group in the European Parliament to a KZ camp guard or publicly declaring Putin a “democrat” just as the rest of the EU was discussing how best to criticise Putin’s democratic record. Last time Italy held the EU presidency, it was aptly compared to a full bus hurling down a mountain road, with the driver (Berlusconi) spending most of the time telling jokes the vast majority of the passengers found offensive, while trying to steer with his feet. Needless to say, Brussels fear a return to power of Berlusconi.

Yet, Berlusconi is popular with large part of the Italian electorate. Many think that if he can manage his personal empire successfully, he can also manage Italy.

The greatest successes of Berlusconi’s two previous periods as prime minister has been to enact laws to protect himself from prosecution, and to return the Italian fascists to government while shouting “communist” at anyone who dared disagree with his actions or style.

The left wing is lead by the social democrat Walter Veltroni. He is about as grey and dull as Berlusconi is controversial. He is not doubt the better choice for Italy, but it is unlikely he will be able to do much, even if he should win the elections.

The cure needed to overcome Italy’s maladies will be rough and and require many sacrifices, and most Italians aren’t prepared for that. Many will vote for the one who’s better at promising them that tomorrow the whole misery affair of misrule, overspending, debt and corruption will somehow magically be over and all will be well again, and that person will be Berlusconi. He’s been a salesman all his life, and he can sell that lie too.

In the end it all comes down to that. Italy has been living over its means for sixty years, and the deficit, inflation and public debt has accumulated all that time. The sacrifices needed to rectify the situation will be so tough nobody will vote for a politician who proposes the cuts in public spending necessary to remove the debt. Many Italians prefer not to think about it, hoping the problem goes away by ifself if ignored for long enough.

I think the word is “denial”, and Berlusconi is the perfect representative of that, which is why he will probably win the elections again, thus digging Italy an even deeper hole.

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