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Italy - Elections of 2013

Italians angry over a prolonged economic slump and a discredited political elite cast ballots February 25, 2013 with many looking to anti-establishment parties promising radical change. Struggling for victory were coalitions like "Stop the Decline," "Italy: for the Common Good," "Italian Brothers," "Civil Revolution" and "With Monti for Italy". Only two depart from this theme: Beppe Grillo's "Movimento a Cinque Stelle" (Five Star Movement) and Berlusconi's PDL (People of Freedom) alliance with the Lega Nord (Northern League). Berlusconi's coalition kept the same names from the last two elections.

Voting in the election showed no clear winner, creating a hung parliament and diminishing prospects for a reform-minded government coalition. The vote was the latest example of populations in the eurozone lashing out at budget-balancing measures within their governments.

On January 07, 2013 Berlusconi said he had struck a deal with the Northern League to jointly run in the February 2013 elections. But he would not stand as candidate for prime minister. Northern League leader Roberto Maroni later told a news conference that as part of the coalition deal Berlusconi will not stand as candidate for the top post. Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party (PDL) had aligned with the Northern League in three previous coalition governments. Recent opinion polls predicting the outcome of the February 24 vote showed the PDL-Northern League bloc still trailing the center-left alliance, led by Pier Luigi Bersani.

There were a few new personalities, new parties and new ways of doing things. The first person singled out was Beppe Grillo - a comedian, blogger and activist - and his "Five Star Movement" (M5S). The five stars stand for "water, transport, the environment, energy and connectivity" and that these points are central to Grillo's appeal. Beppe Grillo managed, in a relatively short time, to consolidate a huge digital presence and make a real difference. Polls varied about his popularity, but it was between 14-19%, which is slightly higher than Monti's popularity ratings.

The scandal involving the world's oldest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, shook the left-wing Democratic Party (PD). The bank was seen as politically close to the PD, damaging the left's lead and making them fight much harder for a victory. PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani has tried to bring vigor to his campaign, but it has not ignited voters. Matteo Renzi, the popular PD mayor of Florence, gave in gracefully during the primaries to Bersani. Many Italians would like to vote for Renzi, who would perhaps have won more young voters over to the PD. But other people saw Renzi as "too slick" and "too good a communicator," a bit like Berlusconi.

Close behind Bersani in the polls was Berlusconi. The billionaire was looking to make an unlikely political comeback while facing trials on charges ranging from fraud to having sex with an underage prostitute. Italians have a very emotive relationship with politicians. Berlusconi's success was because he conquered the populist part of our nation, just like Mussolini did, and of course Caesar.

The center-left coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani took the most votes in the lower house in the elections of 24 February 2013 - about 125,000, or 29.55 percent - but that was just barely more than the 29.18 percent won by the party led by right-leaning Silvio Berlusconi. The movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo known as the Five-Star Movement took the third-largest share of votes in the lower house. The bonus that goes to the winner of the election would give the center-left a comfortable majority in terms of actual seats in the legislature. Whichever party wins the national vote is guaranteed 54 percent of seats in the Chamber under Italian electoral law - Bersani's coalition had 340 seats, Berlusconi had 124 seats, and Grillo 108 seats.

Both houses have an equal say in passing legislation. Early projections had pointed to a clear advantage for the center-left coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani both in the Chamber and Deputies and in the upper house, the Senate. But the center-right coalition of Berlusconi took the most Senate seats - 116 seats, compared to 113 for the left - both short of the 158 that would represent a simple majority. The 5 Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo won 54 seats in the Senate. Seats in the Senate are allocated on a regional basis with no guaranteed majority for the largest party. Berlusconi, always struggling in the polls in the vote's buildup despite making major late gains, had said he was aiming to secure sufficient Senate control to paralyze a left-leaning government. Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti, at the head of a centrist coalition seen as a potential ally for Bersani, secured just 18 seats in the upper house - scuppering Bersani's hopes of outgunning Berlusconi by teaming up with Monti.

Three weeks after the general elections, the resulting party constellation threatened to create political deadlock. Silvio Berlusconi's conservative party was already seeking new elections. The more-or-less equally represented social democrats, conservatives and "Five Star" protest movement were apparently irreconcilably at odds, as demonstrated by their inability to select the rather representative post of president. Italy can only gain a prime minister through a vote of confidence in both the upper and lower houses of parliament. Beppe Grillo, head of the Five Star Movement, said "The word 'govern' bothers me." In his view, the established parties of both the left and the right were all equally bad - this was the reason he gave for not entering into a coalition with either.

Grillo was widely considered the winner of the 2013 presidential election - alongside Silvio Berlusconi, whose holding out the prospect of a possible grand coalition managed to split the left. Grillo's Five Star Movement voted for its presidential candidate, law professor Stefano Rodota, in all six rounds. This reflected transparency and consistency - unlike the PD parliamentarians. So many of them withheld their allegiance from their party secretary that their candidate, former prime minister Romano Prodi, failed miserably. Bersani had to agree with Monti and Berlusconi to a renewed candidacy of 87-year-old Giorgio Napolitano to push through a candidate at all. Napolitano was not keen on a second term, but was elected 20 April 2013 in the sixth rounds of voting, the first president in Italy's history to be elected for a second term. On 21 April 2013 Pierluigi Bersani resigned from the post of party secretary.




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