Another Fine Italian Mess

ROME – A game of smoke and mirrors: this is how Italy’s current electoral campaign appears – both to Italians and the wider world. Of course, there is nothing new in this: Italy’s political dynamics have always baffled participants and observers alike. That a small centrist party may now get the courts to postpone the election merely adds to the usual confusion.

But one thing that seems certain this time is the likely result. Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of the right-wing alliance, will win his third election (he has also lost twice), while the vote for the Senate is expected to produce a draw. In this case, Berlusconi’s forces could ally themselves with Pier Ferdinando Casini’s centrist Catholic party, or work to form a coalition with their center-left adversary, the Democratic Party, led by Walter Veltroni. 

The latter option, once unthinkable, is possible because Berlusconi is not running the type of inflammatory electoral campaign that he has in the past. The sharp tone and fierce partisanship of the past 13 years have been cast aside. Berlusconi seems to be fully aware of the difficulty of governing Italy.

He needs to be. With public debt expected to stand at 102% of GDP in 2009, rising inflation, and growth of just 0.2%, it will be difficult to keep electoral promises. Sagging public infrastructure and an inability to attract foreign capital have made the economic outlook even worse.