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Post Constitutional Background of Italy's Political Crisis
Created by John Eipper on 08/23/19 3:45 AM

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Constitutional Background of Italy's Political Crisis (Luciano Dondero, Italy, 08/23/19 3:45 am)

The President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, met on Wednesday and Thursday with the political groups in the Italian Parliament, and reconvened them starting next Tuesday. Last night he spoke, saying that a majority of parliamentarians clarified that they don't want elections now, and that there is a serious attempt to establish a new government, for which they have only a few days to define its features (program and composition).

This is in accordance with the Italian legislation. The Parliament (Chamber of Deputies and Senate of the Republic) has the titularity of establishing and ending cabinets: every government must receive a vote of confidence by both wings of Parliament. But only the President has the power to dissolve it and call for new elections. In the recent past there have been Presidents who used this discretional power to strong-arm Parliament, so to speak, into supporting a "cabinet of the President" instead of going to new elections.

Mattarella does not intend to do that, as he's trying to stick to the wishes expressed by Parliament; however, considering that last year three months were spent in the effort to set up a government, he's now weary of wasting time for lengthy negotiations, after the "Yellow-Green" coalition fell after just 14 months.

Where are the four possible scenarios now?

1) Another green-yellow government.

In a sudden about-face, Salvini has offered Di Maio the role of next Prime Minister, in order to keep this coalition going (and maintain his post as Interior Minister).

The reply was "No, well..." (not 100% negative).

But to succeed in this, the resurgent "Yellow-Green" coalition would have to really convince Mattarella of their seriousness (that's doubtful). Furthermore Grillo, the powerful "Great Old Man" (and owner) of the M5S, declared Salvini "unreliable" a week ago, and called a meeting at his house with the supposed "leaders" of the M5S, to decide on a turn toward the Partito Democratico (PD). So (1) is not impossible, but very unlikely.

2) A temporary technical cabinet to go to early elections in October.

This is going to happen, if next week there isn't (3) or (4).

3) A political coalition (already dubbed "yellow-red") of the M5S and the PD.

This is being concretely discussed right now, with the participation of minor groups (left-wing LEU, various national minorities). Slightly more likely than (2).

4) An "Ursula" coalition, from the name of the new President of the European commission, who received the votes of the M5S, the PD, as well as Forza Italia in the European parliament.

This, at the moment, is not supposed to happen, as Forza Italia has been trying to "recapture" a partnership with Salvini and re-establish a powerful "center-right" coalition. Because they do not have a majority of votes in Parliament, they could not establish their own cabinet last year, and would very much like to go to new elections and win them. However, given that Salvini has toyed openly with the idea of running on his own ticket, without the encumbering presence of Berlusconi, it might be a better bet for Forza Italia to join forces with PD and M5S, rather then waiting in the wings for another crisis.

Italian politics is a very fluid and "unprincipled" thing, therefore, while (3) is right now at the top, (4) could become a reality over the weekend.

A number of regional and local votes in the past 14 months, as well as the European elections last spring, have seen the M5S plummet from the 37% of 2018 to a paltry 17%. But that does not change the representation in the Italian Parliament, as per the 2018 elections.

Conversely, the Lega di Salvini, which changed its name from "Lega Nord" to set itself up as an "Italian" party, has grown from the 17% of 2018 to almost 40%. Polls say that Salvini is on a winning streak.

But... you win elections when they are actually called, not in opinion polls.

Clearly, Salvini thought the time was right, and wanted the Conte government out. But Italy is not Britain.  The government cannot resign and ipso facto dissolve Parliament, thus calling for new elections at will.

Parliament stopped Salvini's attempt, and he can't really "appeal to the Italian people" over the head of Parliament, unless he is prepared to go subversive. It would be a bit contradictory, to say the least, to demand elections and then subvert Parliament.

Even if Salvini wanted to pursue such a course of action, he lacks the necessary tools for a seizure of power: a big movement in the streets, a tightly knit paramilitary force, the acquiescence of the military and support from on high (King or President ready to give him the "special powers" he covets). He's basically a bombastic rabble-rouser, but without the street smarts of a real fighter. He's not a Chávez or a Saddam Hussein, and definitely not a Pinochet or a De Gaulle (all current or former military officers when they took power, more or less subverting their country's laws).

PS: If WAIS is interested in pursuing this, I could expand in another post regarding the status (and internal tensions) of the parties currently represented in the Italian Parliament.

JE comments:  I'm absolutely interested, Luciano.  Please keep us updated as developments unfold.  Italian politics are so complex and colorful.  (Admittedly, Washington in the last few years is starting to emulate the complexity and color of Italy.)

The 5-Star party's moment in the sun has passed.  How do you explain the sharp drop in support?  Did most of the "outsider" vote cross over to the Lega?

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