All Aboard the Monti Bandwagon!


Mario Monti

by James Walston

The Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Monti, has recently hinted that he might stay for a second term at the head of his mostly technocratic and nonpartisan government, on the condition of not having to face the voters in the upcoming election. But for how long will the consensus behind Monti hold?

It was a surprise for nobody to hear Mario Monti say that if asked, and if necessary, he would stay in office, but that he would not campaign for re-election.

From the moment he was appointed, almost a year ago, there had been speculation about what he would do at the end of his first term. At first, the presumption was that he would “go up the hill” (the Presidential palace lies on top of the Quirinale in Rome) and take over from President Napolitano, whose term ends in May next year, but over the last six months there has been increasing speculation that he would actually continue as Italy’s Prime Minister.

If he does stay on, he would not be the first politician to “sacrifice himself for the good of the country”. But with Monti, one gets the feeling that he actually means it. Certainly, he’s not eager to jump into the electoral arena. And if he does remain in office, it will be on terms of his own.

A second Monti government would be useful for many politicians: some of them are already taking advantage of his possible reappointment. The centre has always supported him, along with Catholics across the spectrum; Pierferdinando Casini was explicit last week when he said that his centrist UDC would campaign for “Monti bis”, a declaration of support he repeated at the end of September, together with Gianfranco Fini, the speaker of the Chamber and leader of Futuro e Libertà. The head of the Italian episcopal conference, Mons. Mariano Crociata was more careful but gave Monti his implicit support for “any solution to overcome the crisis”.

The more secular centre is represented by Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the Chairman of Ferrari. He set up a foundation named Italia futura in 2009, which was presumed to be his springboard into politics. But Cordero di Montezemolo has wavered ever since. Now he says that he will not go into politics himself but support Monti instead. Taking all these groups together, the centre might just reach 10% of the vote, but Casini and the others are hoping that with Monti as the future prime minister, they will do much better.

Angelino Alfano, the nominal leader of Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà (PdL) recently said that Monti should declare his candidacy, but has also made it clear that he (and implicitly Berlusconi) would prefer Monti bis to a centre left victory. They seem to be preparing a way to tag along with Monti and have a word to say in the composition and policies of the future government. It is a rational strategy as all the opinion polls suggest that, with or without Berlusconi, the PdL would come in a poor second in the next elections. In any case, the PdL is seriously divided, suffering from the embezzlement scandal that involves some of its senior members in the Latium region, and many worry that other regional scandals will further soil the party’s sagging reputation. Like the centrists, they think that by hitching their wagon to Monti bis, they can do better in the elections and, above all, after the elections.

Pierluigi Bersani, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is in a much more difficult position. His formation is a supporter of Monti’s government today, but the PD also leads in the polls and can reasonably expect to win the upcoming elections. Supporting Monti today would mean to give up on a potential success before the campaign has even begun. As a result, Bersani has expressed his admiration for Monti, but has also contemplated running in the elections.

We now know almost for certain when the vote will take place: it will most likely be held on 7-8 April (not a very difficult calculation given the end of the mandate, the Easter, Passover, 25 April and 1 May holidays). But little is known about the choices that will concretely be offered to the voters. There is a real risk that Italy will once again vote according to a fixed party list system known as the porcellum (pig’s dinner), a much-despised electoral system instituted by Berlusconi in 2005 and that gives the voters no word to say about what candidate from a specific party will be elected into office, not to mention a large seats premium for the winner party. If that happens, turnout will plummet as voter confidence is already at an all-time low: to have candidates chosen by the parties will reduce that confidence even further. And no matter how the elections will turn out, one of the new parliament’s first jobs will be a politically difficult one, as it will have to elect Napolitano’s successor at the Presidency: the current favourite is Romano Prodi, the former PM and President of the European Commission, but the final result is uncertain as it depends on the composition of the future parliament.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Italian electoral agenda will be busy in the next few months: Sicilian regional elections are scheduled for the end of October, the Interior Minister has recently announced that Latium will vote within 90 days to replace its former president, Renata Polverini, who dramatically resigned last week, and the city of Rome will also be choosing a new mayor in the spring. Meanwhile, the Northern League is trying to re-invent itself after the Bossi family scandals. The new leader, Roberto Maroni, has talked about a “renaissance” and “Forza Nord”, hoping to emulate the early Berlusconi successes. Much lower on the pecking order but much closer in time is the PD’s struggle to work out their own primary system to choose their own leader. It will most likely be Bersani, but this is by no means certain. The 37-year-old Florence mayor, Matteo Renzi, is close on his heels and there are many other candidates who hope to become successful outsiders.

Meanwhile, the Parliament is addressing increasing pressure for a strong anti-corruption law. But sadly, Italian MPs know that a good deal of them would be affected by any serious reform.

Piece originally published at Open Democracy | Creative Commons License


About the Author:

James Walston is associate professor of international relations at the American University of Rome. He blogs about Italian politics here.