Thursday, February 22, 2007

ITALY - MUSINGS ON A DEMOCRACY

"So Italy reverts to type", a BBC World presenter commented disparagingly last night after announcing that the Prodi government had just resigned. Yes, it does seem that way sometimes to people outside Italy and I meet many Italians who are concerned about the image of their country abroad generated by the constant changes of government.
But reserve your judgement for a moment, as if you look at the parliamentary system it should be perfect: both Chambers in the Italian Parliament have equal rights , the Senate or upper Chamber is elected [apart from former Presidents and up to five members appointed by the Prime Minister sitting as life senators] and a proportional representation system which the British Lib-Dems might envy, on paper, operates. So why doesn't it work? Largely because the proportional system leads to the election of many smaller parties, which in itself gives rise to a need for coalitions. The Prodi Unione coalition included eleven parties when I last counted and these were as far apart, ideologically, as the Greens and the unreformed Communists. So it was always going to be a difficult group to hold together and few people here expected the government to last a year!
Another factor is that Italians are anything but apathetic politically [ with voter turnout at 83.6% in the 2006 general election]. If there is a burning issue, few here would profess themselves as an "I don't know" on it. Rather, they are out in the piazze demonstrating and making their feelings felt very quickly, so last week's protests at the planned expansion of the US base at Vicenza have had an impact. You see this political commitment in schools, too; perhaps because some of Italy's freedoms have been won relatively recently, people are not complacent about them, and young people are willing to make their voices heard, participate in a school strike or demonstrate in a way that would be unimaginable in the UK. All this, in my opinion, is healthy.
This is a country that elected Berlusconi in full knowledge, or almost full knowledge, of the former Premier's faults; yet someone like Blair would not last one, let alone ten years here. There would have been so many hard-hitting demonstrations against him by now, and certainly a vote of no confidence.
No one could pretend that these constant changes of government are good for the country or a recipe for stability, yet they do show democracy in action. And for all its faults, let us not forget that this country of very diverse regions, unified only since 1861 and ununited by a common language until the advent of television in most homes during the 1960s [ prior to this, the majority spoke dialect] has remained a democracy since the end of World War 11. That, I believe, is a proud achievement.
As I've said before, here it is accepted that politicians are fallible and governments are expected to fall - "pazienza", as they are saying in the cafés and out on the streets right now.

17 comments:

Ellee said...

Welshcakes, this is a wonderfully illuminating post, what a terrific turn out for the general election. Do the Italians bother with petitions like the English? Or do they prefer to be seen making a strong post?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thank you, Ellee. No, they don't go in so much for petitions. They prefer to demonstrate and, of course, we do have referenda all the time here.

james higham said...

The weakness of proportional representation has always been that a minority can hold the majority to ransom. An example is in Australia. First past the post is ignominious, which leaves preferential which is exhaustive but probably yields the fairest result.

By the way, isn't Italy the 5th biggest economy in the world? Not bad for an 'unstable' legislature and a 'corrupt' papacy.

Janejill said...

There is certainly a great contrast between the attitudes of the young there, compared to here; the last demonstration at schools here involved , I believe, a selection of "concerned" mothers, who wanted their children to have lunch ofburger and chips instead of Jamie Oliver's healthy products; the children crowded alongside their mothers to show solidarity.....

Lee said...

Thanks for that insight, Welsh. I guess the politicians don't become complacent and have to keep on their toes if they want to remain in power. I somehow don't think it would work in Australia, however. But...there is an Australian who is a member of parliament in Italy...or was...he could be ousted by now! ;)

Janejill...I can imagine the kids standing alongside their parents in this protest...probably the only protest they'll ever do that again in their lives! lol

(I'm for Jamie's school lunches, btw!)

Winchester whisperer said...

I don't think Garibaldi would be impressed by the way things have turned out...What are your suggestions for getting rid of corruption?

Sally said...

Hi welshcakes - how I love your blog; I thought of you driving through Modica last week and wondered where you were and what you were up to - and where was that Simi?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, James. First past the post is probably fairest in the end, I agree, though it's inefficient in some ways. Italy has certainly had its economic miracle but there is concern about the quality handmade goods which have been so much a part of it being replaced by cheap foreign imports. The Vatican is influential but we have to remember it is a State in itself. Janejill, I didn't know about that demonstration. Sadly, it sounds typical! Lee, I'll look up the Australian deputy. I love Jamie, too! WW, corruption here is a state of mind, I'm afraid and I don't know how we go about changing that. And the political system lends itself to it. The best books I have read on it all are Tobias Jones's "Dark Heart of Italy" and Peter Robb's "Midnight in Sicily". Sally, you were HERE??! What a pity we didn't meet! Do you have a blog at the moment? I can't find one on your profile.

Liz said...

That is an amazing turn-out! The last demonstration I went on was the anti-war in Iraq one and that did a fat lot of good!

Students these days seem to be too occupied with the struggle to pay their way (or simply apathetic) to demonstrate about much.

But I think we should expect better of our politicians - or is that too naive? Or unfair?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Buona sera, Liz. Yes, it's a fantastic turnout by UK standards, isn't it? Was that the big London demo you were on? I was there, too! [Nearly killed me, all that walking, and I decided I'd have to make my feelings felt in other ways at my age!] I feel sorry for young people now - things have changed since my day! We should expect more of our politicians - I agree.

Colin Campbell said...

Australia has managed to incorporate proportional representation and stable democracy. I think it works here. It means in practical terms that your vote is not wasted. What is challenging is voting below the line, where you effectively challenge the machine politics that would prefer that they choose your preference for you. Having looked at our State Ballot, it is complicated and you are required to number your preferences completely. It is no wonder that most people just vote once.

Sally said...

I was indeed in Modica, working on a new book - I'm a writer and was researching in Sicily. I don't have a blog (no time!) but would love to keep in touch

The Tin Drummer said...

Great post WL, and as Ellee said, "illuminating". Today the President has urged Prodi to continue - will he? Would it be a good thing if he did?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

CC, what interesting information about the Australian voting system. They seem to have got it right. Here a ballot paper can be, literally, as long as your arm so I think Italians are to be congratulated on the high turnout. Sally, you can email me at lasiciliana629@hotmail.com if you would like to. It would be lovely to keep in touch. I so wish we had met when you were here, though! Were you in Modica Bassa or did you come further up? Thanks, tin drummer. I think Prodi is set to continue for the time being and I think that would be a good thing if it enables him to get planned legislation through and also it is better than the alternative administration! But if I were a betting woman, I wouldn't bet that he'll be there for long!

Ballpoint Wren said...

83.6% turnout is amazing! I vote in every election, but in our last one turnout was around 33%. How embarrassing!

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Welshcakes, what do Italians really think of Berlusconi?
He gets a very negative press here, but I can't see he's all bad. He seems to have some good policies, corrupt though he might be,
Prodi on the other hand is awful.

We prefer STV as an electoral system.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

cbi, nice to meet you. I can't quite work out where you are from? What the Itals think of Berlusconi is difficult to gauge and a lot would depend on what region you are in. Many think he is a rogue but at least a colourful one and he doesn't pretend to be anything else; this is only my opinion but in some ways he is "the devil you know". In Sicily the tendency has been to vote conservatively recently because many Sicilians feel abandoned by the left over regional issues.

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