The View from Bologna (Romano Prodi’s home town) has been quiet this week, in the wake of the Italian general elections. Quiet for a good reason – the official verdict is still out as to who has actually won the election.
Last night, Prodi took to the stage in a packed Piazza Maggiore, here in Bologna, to celebrate the election triumph (albeit a tiny one). In 1996, while on the same stage, Prodi received a telephone call from Berlusconi conceding defeat. No such phone call was forthcoming last night – instead Berlusconi was meeting President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in Rome outlining alleged irregularities in the vote, reported by Forza Italia‘s formidable electoral machinery.
Prodi and the Unione coalition, which, according to the election results issued by the Interior Ministry, won a majority in both the Camera and Senate with a handful of votes (25,000 for the Camera), have declared themselves – perhaps hastily – the winners. In Bologna, last night, Prodi once more ruled out a German style Grand Coalition, to much applause. The cheers were even louder when he announced “he [Berlusconi] has to pack up and go home”
Two distinct tactics have emerged since the photo-finish results on Tuesday morning. Prodi and his party are taking every opportunity to establish themselves as the legitimate government, however slim their majority. Prodi lists the world leaders who have rung him up to congratulate him (Chirac, Shimon Peres, EU Commission President Barroso – notably absent have been George W. Bush and Berlusconi’s regular holiday guest, Tony Blair), and has outlined the rough timetable for his Government to take power according to the guidelines laid out by the Constitution and President Ciampi.
Berlusconi, after a long silence, has gone on the offensive, with a two-pronged attack. The first front has been to call into question the winning result for Prodi. He has consistently refered to brogli or vote-rigging. At the same time, he made an appeal on Tuesday night for some type of Grand Coalition, suggesting that the victory has been so slight that Prodi can’t morally expect to rule as a majority government, even though the electoral laws, established by his own government, make it technically possible (and few can be in doubt that were the slim majority on the other foot, Berlusconi would exploit it ruthlessly in the name of democracy).
Brogli or Errori?
Leaving a meeting with President Ciampi, yesterday, Berlusconi told Sky TV reporters, on camera, that there had been lots of brogli or vote-rigging, and that the election results must be changed. Later, this had been toned down by his own party Forza Italia into talk of errors in the count which need to be re-examined.
That there have been irregularities is probable, and normal. Any large administrative process such as a General Election will have mistakes. In fact, as after all elections in Italy, a number of contested votes are being re-examined under the auspices of the judiciary. In total there are about 43,000 votes for the Camera that are disputed, and are being re-examined with a likely definitive result later today. That this result will change the overall result is unlikely. The centre left lead by 25,000 votes. They are just as likely to pick up contested votes as the centre right, according to today’s Corriere della Sera, which reports that in cities like Milan and Napoli a larger number of Unione votes were contested than centre-right.
So under the electoral rules established by Berlusconi’s outgoing government, it looks likely that the centre-left coalition of Romano Prodi will be confirmed as winners with a working majority in the lower house, and a slim majority in the Senate.
Rules have a tendency to be seen as ‘guidelines’ by Berlusconi though, and he and his party are now lobbying for a special decree to force the re-examination of all spoiled votes for this election (over one million, a reduction of over 60% in relation to the 2001 election), something that is not provided for by either the Constitution or current electoral law.
At the same time, though, Berlusconi’s centre-right allies are clearly distancing themselves from the demand for a full recount of the spoiled votes. Ignazio La Russa, a leading member of Alleanza Nazionale spoke of the need to recheck contested votes, but added that he had no evidence of any vote-rigging, as mentioned by Berlusconi. The UDC, the third largest party in the centre-right coalition, has also followed the line that contested votes must be re-checked (as they are anyway), but that results must be respected. In yesterday’s Repubblica Berlusconi was quoted as saying “I won’t let myself be put in a corner by Fini or Casini”.
So Berlusconi’s push for a recount of spoiled votes is both a)irregular, and b) not shared by his party allies.
The Grand Coalition
The second strategy is to grudgingly accept the results, but to suggest that they are so close that a Grand Coalition must be formed to represent all Italians –