Every now and then I post about italian politics; I hold the point of view of someone who’s frequently abroad and therefore gets the puzzled looks of friends and colleagues who ask “Not again ?!”.
But this time I am happy mr. Berlusconi has decided to run again; let me explain why.
Those who mock the frequent elections in the italian politics system fail to see its unmatched stability: for the fifty years after WWII, the country has been run by a strange mix of catholics and communists, both appealing to the same electorate, initially rural, then blue-collared popular masses which rebuilt Italy into one of the world economic powers after the destruction brought by a war fought on its soil.
True, the name of the Prime Minister changed every so often, but the policy did not.
When this system collapsed (mainly because that electoral bloc evolved into small entrepreneurs, professionals and generally speaking white collared jobs) Italy did not have a true alternance system that ensured competition between political forces and had to evolve one: in the early ’90s mr. Berlusconi provided the much needed stimulus, coalescing the conservatives into a successful homogeneous coalition held together by his immense wealth, charisma and mediatic power, as well as his populist, hedonistic appeal to have a good time, things will be allright, eventually.
His runaway success for the next twenty years was helped by an eternally bickering left-wing opponents fragmented into a myriad tiny parties each vying for attention, airtime and differentiation; even when they won, they were incapable of running the course. This painful string of debacles however slowly matured into a process to select the anointed champion largely by means of american-style popular consultations: primary elections, initially little more than an intellectual curiosity, became more and more a role model for other parties, and ensured a vigorous internal debate giving birth to a political electoral program which is the fruit of a healthy debate between different positions, sanctioned by popular vote and giving the minority position a strong voice in the resulting prrogram.
Not so conservatives. Run by an iron-fisted autocratic, self-appointed leader who does not allow for any internal debate or discussion, the coalition ebbs and tides are inextricably linked to the personal fortunes of its’ 75yo leader.
Conservatives need to shed mr. Berlusconi, but they lack the tools for this – their only hope is for him to receive a burning electoral repeal; had he stayed on the sidelines, the (likely) coming debacle could have been charged to any of the weak political figures running for “succession”, allowing him to save face. He must run, he must wage his most aggressive, unbalanced, unfair, violent campaign ever, use his enormous financial and mediatic power to its maximum extent.
And be defeated. Ultimately, italians must say they had it with Silvio Berlusconi, and I believe they will.