Whether you admire the man or not, you have to admit that Silvio Berlusconi has done rather well to have kept himself in power in Italy. Sex scandals, court cases, accusations of media manipulation, election bungles, and a forthcoming divorce relating to suspected philandering, all seem to have dropped away like water off a duck’s back.
About the last thing one might expect is trouble coming from Berlusconi’s own political back yard. However, as the old adage goes, one must always expect the unexpected, and in this case, the unexpected comes in the form of none other than Berlusconi’s number two, Gianfranco Fini.
To be honest, Fini has been making discontented noises for some time, and these rumblings have not escaped the notice of media savvy Silvio, whose family newspaper, Il Giornale, has had a go at fractious Fini.
More than a few people suspect that Fini is angling for the number one spot in Italian politics, and Fini, who comes from a political party with very right-wing origins, has been attempting to build an electorate, much in the same way as Silvio Berlusconi has, according to the “How Silvio Berlusconi Uses Women on TV“ article on Time. Instead of appealing to Italian Italians, so to speak, Fini has been smooth-talking Italy’s ever increasing immigrant population, something which hard-line right wingers find difficult to swallow. And Italy’s left wing crowd are also suspicious of Fini’s motives, and change of spots.
Whatever Fini is up to, his centrist right-wing approach is likely to appeal to Italy more moderate voters. People who find flashy Berlusconi a little too smooth for his own good, and at the same time, despair of Italy’s incoherent, old-school left.
Yesterday Fini met Berlusconi for a nice lunch.
The Food Was Good!
The meeting was not overly cordial, by all accounts, and the only positive comment Berlusconi could come up with afterwards was to say that the food was good. Prior to yesterday’s not so cosy little chat, the adjective preferred by Berlusconi to describe his get togethers with Fine was ‘cordial’. ‘Cordial’ is one of those words which tends to leave people feeling that a relationship is rather fragile. The lunchtime meeting yesterday has served to confirm just how fragile and strained the relationship between the two has become.
Fini reputedly threatened to form a number of spin-off groups within Berlusconi’s government. Such groups would, potentially, weaken Berlusconi’s majority, and could delay the reforms which Berlusconi is proposing at the moment. In response to Fini’s threat to break away from his masters party line, Berlusconi told Fini he should resign. At least that is what is being reported in Italy’s press, which, at the same time, is saying Berlusconi is denying having asked Fini to go.
Now things become a little more confusing, as is often the case with Italian politics. On one hand we have Berlusconi ally, and leader of Italy’s upper house, Schifani, saying that if Berlusconi’s majority is reduced, then national elections should be called so the Italian population can decide who should lead them. At the same time, we have other Berlusconi disciples stating that there is no need to go to the country just because the government’s majority is lower.
What has made Fini so unhappy?
Fini is, reportedly, unhappy with Berlusconi’s cow-towing to Umberto Bossi’s Northern League party, and does not appear to agree that Berlusconi should have the same level of executive power as France’s President Sarkozy – which is what Berlusconi wants. Recently, Fini has been becoming increasingly, and overtly, critical of Berlusconi and his methods.
One is of the impression that Fini would be more than happy to see Berlusconi go.
In the Event of a National Election?
What would happen if a national election was called in Italy? Well, Berlusconi would probably continue to be friends with Umberto Bossi of the Lega Nord – Northern League – party, whereas the only likely ally for Fini is the UDC Union of Christian and Centre Democrats – centre-right party which is led, on paper, by one Lorenzo Cesa, although in practice the leader is Pier Ferdinando Casini. However, the UDC could only muster the support of some 5.6% of the Italian population at the last general elections held in Italy in 2008.
Incidentally, Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party obtained the mandate of 37.4% of the Italian electorate in 2008. This was enough, along with the 8.3% of the Italian population of which voted for Italy’s Northern League party, for Berlusconi to create his government.
The People of Freedom party is the product of the union of two Italian political parties: Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – Go Italy – and Fini’s Alleanza Nazionale – National Alliance. Prior to the marriage of convenience, Fini’s Alleanza Nazionale party had earnt the support of 12.3% of Italian voters at elections in 2006.
Let’s assume that the ructions do lead to Fini breaking away from Berlusconi, which might well happen, seeing as Fini has been working to create a new political party in Italy. Fini’s involvement in the formation of the Generazione Italia – Italy Generation – movement, seems to suggest this too. In this case, in a general election he might be able to carve away around 12% of support from Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party – leaving Berlusconi with only around 25% of the vote. If the Berlusconi-Bossi alliance holds good, then this would leave the Berlusconi coalition with, say, 35% of the vote – allowing for the increasing strength of Umberto Bossi’s Northern League. Now, 35% may not be enough for Berlusconi to form a government with an effective majority.
Fini must be counting on drawing away a lot support for Berlusconi, as even with the 12.3% of votes his former party earned in the 2006 elections, plus the 5.6% Casini’s UDC party received – a total of say, 18%, Fini would not be in a strong enough position to form a government in Italy.
Back to Revolving Door Politics in Italy?
It almost looks as though Italy is heading for the bad old days of complex coalitions of groups of party’s whose members are unlikely to agree on much. This could this mean Italy is afflicted by revolving door politics once again. Alternatively, Italy’s left might finally get its act together, join up with another couple of smaller parties, such as the Italian Values group led by Antonio Di Pietro, and activist/comedian Beppe Grillo’s political movement, and thus regain control of Italy, pushing Berlusconi, and Fini, onto the political sidelines.
Quite frankly though, I think this scenario is unlikely – but this is Italy, and anything is possible.
What Will Happen?
Sorry, but I don’t have a crystal ball, and even if I did, seeing into the future has never been one of my strong points. First of all we are going to have to wait and see how the Berlusconi-Fini spat pans out. If Fini does break away from Berlusconi, things will become very interesting indeed, well, as interesting as politics can ever be. One hopes fervently that when the storms and whirlwinds have blown their courses, a new Italy which can offer its younger generations some hope emerges. High expectations, I know, but then I’ve always been an idealist. And Italy does have a lot of potential.
It would be great to see a few new faces in Italian politics too – which is something Italy really needs, and I don’t care if these faces are pretty or not.