The People Have Spoken
And what exactly did they say? They said “Va fannculo”, which more or less translates to “Go fuck yourself” or “fuck off”. This was the campaign slogan of the populist ex-comedian Beppe Grillo, who frequently exhorts his public to say it while flashing a “V” sign with forefinger and middle finger. My apologies for the language but that's Grillo, whose sensibilities run parallel to those of the late George Carlin, never one to use a polite word or phrase when there was a more off-colorful option. Grillo's new party, the Five Star Movement (M5S) led the field, getting 25.5% of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies, leaving 25.4% for the pre-election favorite Partito Democratico (PD), 21.4% for Silvio Berlusconi's Polo della Libertà (PDL), and 8.3% for Mario Monti Lista Civica.
Italy has 20 regions and each has a proportional election to select a bunch of Senators and another to elect a bunch of members of the Chamber of Deputies. Nobody gets to vote for a person. You vote for a party with a list of candidates. Here in Umbria, one of the 20 regions, we had thirteen lists competing for seven seats in the Senate (curiously divided into twenty-two national voting districts) and sixteen lists competing for nine places in the Chamber of Deputies (even more inexplicably divided into twenty-six voting districts) Those seats are apportioned more or less in proportion to the percentage of votes the party receives but clearly most of the smaller parties or lists get no seats at all. The small parties tend to team up with the larger parties, presumably to agree on policies but, if I understand correctly, also to share in the number of seats awarded to the group. How candidate lists and the apportionment of seats are determined remain mysteries to me and, I suspect, to the majority of Italian voters. Thus, while the M5S got a high percentage of votes throughout Italy, the PD, which had the higher totals in central Italy, and the PDL, which won decisively in the northern regions, both took far more seats in both Houses of Parliament than the M5S. That was due in part to their having three or four smaller lists affiliated with them, while the M5S ran alone.
The election rules threw the Va fannculo back in Grillo's face, as you can see from the following:
In the 2013 voting for the Senate the results were:
Grillo's M5S, with 23.8% of the vote, got 58 Senate seats, (19.2%)
Bersani's PD and allies, with 31.6% of the vote, got 113 seats (37.5%);
Berlusconi's PDL and allies, with 30.6 %, got 114 seats (37.8%) and;
Monti and friends, with 9.1 %, got 16 seats (5.2%) for a total of 301 Senators, not counting a small number of Senators for Life, a sort of golden parachute program for respected senior citizens.
In the Chamber of Deputies the breakdown of votes and seats went like this:
M5S 25.5% 110 seats (17.8%)
PD+ allies 29.7% 340 seats (55.1%)
PDL+ allies 28.9% 121 seats (19.6%)
Monti + allies 10.6% 46 seats (7.4%)
All this adds to a robust total of 617 deputies deputies in the highest paid parliament in Europe and perhaps in the world. (Note: The charts showing the pre-election division of seats show 291 senators and 580 deputies as opposed to the new totals of 301 and 617. We don't know if the discrepancies represent delegate creep or just that the newspapers have just lost track of how many MPs there really are.)
While we have similar discrepancies in US elections between the numbers of votes cast for a party's candidates and the number of those elected, this result would seem to exceed the wildest gerrymandering dreams of Karl Rove and Scott Walker. The American system confers two Senate seats on each state, whether they be the size of Rhode Island, or of California. In the US House of Representatives the disproportion is even worse, based mostly on gerrymandering, i.e. the manipulation of electoral districts to bundle like-minded voters into a few districts while defining other districts to include just enough of the traditional partisans of the gerrymanderers to assure their control. However corrupt this may be, Americans at least get to vote for a person with a name and a face against another known person. In Italy if you mark a ballot with the name of a person on a party's list, that ballot is annulled. Other than family and friends, nobody in Italy has any idea of who these people on the lists are or how they got there.
Following the election results, all the pundits, parties and newspapers declared Italy ungovernable. Grillo was to meet with Mario Monti, the unelected head of the recent government of technocrats, i.e. bankers, rather than career politicians, whose aim had been to impose on Italy some of the currently fashionable austerity, which has done so much to restore the virtue, if not the efficacy, of governments in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and the UK. Grillo apparently would support an interim government headed by Monti to pass measures limited to two areas, election reform, and anti-corruption reform, before new elections would be held.
His objectives start with his party's own rules for the election:
- All candidates on his list must not have had past affiliations with existing political parties.
- All M5S candidates had to agree to accept no more than 25% of their parliamentary salaries, with the rest going to a fund to promote small businesses.
Among his more dramatic and attention getting getting proposals are:
- referendums on Italian adherence to NATO, the EU, the Euro and Free Trade Agreements.
- A citizenship salary of €1000/month.
- Default on the public debt.
- Nationalization of the banks.
However, he also calls for a vast number of measures to save energy, reduce corruption and make the government more responsive to the electorate. Among them are:
- Abolition of provincial governments and the combining of comunes (townships or counties) with fewer than 5000 residents.
- Abolition of governing funding of the election expenses of the (many) political parties.
- Limits of two terms for elected officials.
- Elimination of special privileges for Parliamentarians, including their pensions after two years served.
- Prohibition on parliamentarians from holding outside jobs, or additional political offices, while serving in Parliament.
- Parliamentary salaries to be brought in line with national norms.
- People found guilty of serious crimes shall not be eligible for elective office nor for managerial positions in publicly listed companies. (Many convicted felons, besides Mr. Berlusconi, occupy high office in Italy, although he represents a pinnacle of sorts.)
- All laws must be self-financed when enacted.
- New laws must be published on the internet three months before taking effect.
- Referendum results must be enacted into law regardless of the percentage of voters participating in the referendum. At present they are advisory and non-binding if less than 50% of the voters participate.
- Free internet access for everyone.
- No one person shall be allowed to own more than 10% of any national publication or TV channel.
- There will be only one public TV channel and it shall have no advertising.
- Executive salary limits on all publicly traded corporations and for those with government participation.
How successful Grillo's populist efforts will be remains to be seen. We do have strong doubts about the likelihood of any of the three other competing groups getting anything done to resolve Italy's major problems. The Italian press, and even more the international press, writes of both Grillo and Berlusconi as buffoons unworthy of consideration. We're pleased that, unlike the US, where politicians all seem bent on creating false problems, crises and deadlines while ignoring real problems and running the country into the ground, Italy seems to have at least one political leader who is proposing bold solutions where they are needed.