This post is a look at recent events which led to the election of Italy’s new president as well as the aftermath which came close to seeing violence erupt on the streets of Rome. Reverberations from the controversial choice of “new” president are ongoing.
Today, Italy’s new president made an inaugural speech in which he effectively told off those who voted him in. Those who had been scolded, duly applauded! Surreal, I know, but it is typical of the soap opera, reality show, black, comedy which is Italian politics.
If Italy’s new president looks strikingly similar to Italy’s previous president, that’s because he is. Yes, Italy’s old, in every sense of the word, president Giorgio Napolitano, 87, nearly 88, was voted in for a second term to much consternation on the part of more than a few Italians.
Why the consternation? Simply because those who voted in Giorgio Napolitano had been voted into semi-power on promises they were going to reform and rejuvenate Italy. Semi-power is the correct expression because the February elections in Italy were inconclusive.
Voting in the same, old, president was not regarded by Italians as being much of a sign of rejuvenation. Quite the opposite. For many Italians, Napolitano’s re-appointment was a step backwards which also reflects the paralysis which besets Italian politics.
By the way, Napolitano also made history – he’s the first Italian president to have ever been elected for two terms of office. Napolitano had stated more than a few times that he had no intention whatsoever of making history. Instead, he wanted to retire – well, he is nearly 90, after all.
Giorgio Napolitano, even if he has done his level best to steer Italy in a new direction, failed.
Despite repeated calls on the part of Napolitano for Italy’s mainstream political parties to act responsibly, they did not – they ignored him. Italy, as a consequence, appears to be limping slowly towards oblivion.
Not only this, but Napolitano’s re-election is seen as a victory for Italy’s increasingly detested old political guard who used Napolitano’s re-election to prolong their ever shortening lives, and, it is widely felt according to lots and lots of negative comments on Twitter, that the appointment of a new, old, president may well prolong Italy’s agony. Former communist Napolitano is also regarded in Italy as being part of the political old guard and it does look as if he has used his influence to keep Silvio Berlusconi out of Italy’s courts. Some episodes from Napolitano’s past are rather shady too, such as his alleged involvement in dealings and pacts with Italy’s mafia.
If you can read Italian, click here to search twitter for the hashtag #napolitanobis and wade through the ocean of disparaging comments.
Violence Nearly Flared Up
For a moment it looked as the re-election of Italy’s old president may have led to violent protests on the streets of Rome.
Beppe Grillo, the leader of the 5 Star Movement was infuriated by Napolitano’s second mandate and initially called his election a coup d’état.
Grillo also called for Italians to march on Rome and announced he was travelling to Italy’s capital to lead the protest. In the event, Grillo backed down and although he did go to Rome, he decided not to turn up in person on the Saturday night after Napolitano had been re-elected.
Why Grillo’s Change of heart?
Nobody is sure why Grillo decided against leading a protest. Some speculate that he feared the outbreak of violence, possibly sparked by extreme right wing factions. Others wonder whether Italy’s police rang Grillo and told him that a public appearance would inflame an already delicate situation. Another theory is that Italy’s then president, Napolitano, may actually have contacted Grillo and asked him not to appear in person. Soon after Grillo called upon those unhappy with Napolitano’s appointment to march on Rome, others were commenting on Grillo mimicking Benito Mussolini who also led a march on Rome. The comparison with Mussolini may have deterred Grillo from leading a protest march.
Shortly after Grillo’s march on Rome was announced, Facebook carried messages from the Grillo camp requesting a peaceful protest. Then Grillo announced that he would not be participating in the demonstration. A march in Rome did indeed take place, but it did not lead to outbreaks of violence.
Grillo, during a press conference in Rome on Sunday, partially retracted his initial claim that a coup d’état had occured, though he did call it a mini-coup d’état.
The Culprits’ Excuses
Meanwhile, the cross party group of politicians from the PdL, PD and Monti factions who secured Napolitano’s re-election did their best to claim what they had done was in the interests of Italy. Italy’s party friendly media then dutifully tried to convey this impression too.
Silvio Berlusconi, upon hearing of Napolitano’s victory, was all smiles. It is not entirely clear why, but part of the reason may be that Napolitano’s election more or less signaled the end of his arch rival, the center-left PD party, whose leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, has now resigned.
Napolitano’s re-election meant that the center-left PD party had agreed to form a coalition government with Silvio Berlusconi’s PdL, center-right leaning party. That the PD should be prepared to head in such a direction infuriated certain elements of the party – the discontent younger members of which are occupying PD offices around Italy – and PD voters who have since hurled insults and, a few coins and eggs, at those PD party members they came across on the streets of Rome.
Public Insults for the Culprits
One PD bigwig, Dario Franceschini was spotted by disgruntled Italians while dining in a restaurant in Rome and faced a barrage of insults. Franceschini had appeared on television shortly after Italy had been given a second helping of Napolitano and he looked faintly embarrassed. It was as if he knew he and his party had dropped a clanger, this insults appear to have confirmed what may well have been his own suspicions.
While some of those who shouted ‘buffoon’ and other insults at Franceschini may have been 5 Star Movement supporters, not all were. One, as can be seen from video coverage of the incident, was wearing a flag which appeared to be similar to the banners one of Italy’s communist factions carry.
The grassroots PD voters are not at all happy with the decision of their party to jump into bed with Berlusconi. Indeed, it does look as if the PD is on the point of exploding.
An opinion poll on Italy’s La 7 news showed that Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement had become the single largest political party in Italy. Berlusconi’s coalition group is ahead of Grillo’s movement, though not Berlusconi’s PdL party. The PD, meanwhile, has slumped into third place.
The Sinking of the PD Party
Incredibly, the PD party managed to bungle what should have been an easy electoral victory against the other parties. It did just about manage to win the elections, though by such a slim majority, Italy’s then president Napolitano decided not to ask Bersani, the now ex-leader of the PD, to become Italy’s new prime minister. Instead, Bersani was given time to form an alliance with the other parties. No alliance was forthcoming, so no government was formed. Italian politics stalled.
Then it was time to elect a new president, though none of the names proposed managed to obtain enough votes to be given the job. The PD missed an opportunity, and an offer of an alliance, but not voting for Beppe Grillo’s candidate Rodotà – despite Rodotà being quite open about his left wing leanings.
Why didn’t the left leaning PD vote for a left leaning candidate? Firstly, because Rodotà was not the PD’s choice – it was Grillo’s 5 Star Movement who selected Rodotà. Secondly, Rodotà is known for not being friendly to the old guard politicians which dominate the ranks of the PD. Finally, Rodotà is no huge fan of the Roman Catholic church – while this many not sound important, in Italy, even if the nation has no official religion, political parties do their level best to keep in with the Roman Catholic church. The support of the Vatican can help Italy’s political parties attain and hold power and they know it.
Berlusconi Joins hands with the Communists
Although Berlusconi appeared to be over the moon with Napolitano’s re-election, by voting for Italy’s old president, he has joined hands with the commies he loves, or rather, loved, to hate.
Whether this may annoy some members of his own party, remains to be seen, though at least one Berlusconi coalition faction is not too happy with Berlusconi jumping in bed with the enemy. The tiny PdL spin off, but still ally, the Fratelli d’Italia – Brothers of Italy – party was not keen on seeing Napolitano the sequel, nor about linking up with the left.
The New, Old, President’s Speech
Giorgio Napolitano resigned as Italy’s 11th president today. He was then promptly re-instated as Italy’s 12th president. Part of the process of appointing a new president in Italy involves an inaugural speech to Italy’s parliament. This Napolitano did today and he did not mince his words.
To all intents and purposes, Napolitano lambasted Italy’s mainstream political parties for having created the situation which led to his re-appointment. He also issued an ultimatum: either the parties start, finally, to act responsibly and work together for the good of Italy, or he may well go and leave them to it.
After being told off for behaving badly, as mentioned at the start of this long post, those politicians who called on Napolitano to step in once more and were scolded, applauded. It sounds as if they have already started not listening to him. This does not bode too well for Italy’s future.
Interestingly, well it was for this Italy watcher, Napolitano did, albeit without mentioning any names, praise the members of Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement for their attempts to bring Italian politics to its senses. The MPs of the 5 Star Movement did not join in the round of applause for Napolitano – they were listening, one suspects.
A New, Old, Government
After its new, old, president, Italy should find out on Wednesday what kind of government the nation will have.
Rumors and speculation surrounding the members of the new, old, government are rife, and there is talk of Berlusconi people occupying positions of power alongside members of Italy’s fast dissolving center-left PD party.
It is not known who will end up as prime minister, though judging by the smug smile which graced Silvio Berlusconi’s face after Napolitano’s re-election, one wonders whether his name will be put forward. We’ll see.
How long Italy’s oddball grand coalition government is likely to last is anyone’s guess. Maybe it will not make it until the end of this week.