Saturday, February 24, 2007

ITALY, THE OTHER NATION IN A POLITICAL CRISIS: PRODI LOSES SUPPORT OVER KEEPING ITALIAN TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN

"We must defend this government, defend the political stability of this country, ...and defend the credibility of the Italian left." --Massimo D'Alema, Italy's foreign minister.


ROME--Today, Italy's President Giorgio Napalitano has asked Prime Minister Romano Prodi to stay on until there is a confidence vote for himself and his center-left coalition in Italy's Senate. This is all very ironic. Prime Minister Romano Prodi's center-left coalition in the Italian Parliament has been scuttling him, just as Silvio Berlusconi was by his own center-right coalition in the Italian Senate. In case you didn't know, Italy's President is in-charge in a parliamentary system, not Prodi. Power is shared at the cabinet level in this form of democracy, and I think it's better to have no movement than the kind the GOP and the Bush administration have unleashed.

This sharing is actually recent to Italy, however, as even with the appearance of instability, Christian Democrats have essentially led the nation behind-the-scenes--until Berlusconi and his coalition of the right. Prodi successfully beat the right-wing media billionaire thanks to the Italian public concerns over the war in Iraq. Now, he's getting similar treatment over Afghanistan, and the highly-controversial expansion of an American military base in Vicenza. Prodi has removed Italian troops from Iraq, but won't do so from Afghanistan. The Guardian had this to say yesterday in an editorial:

The more fundamental cause of the crisis, however, is the sabotage of the Italian political system of which Silvio Berlusconi was guilty when he was in office. His readiness to use his wealth and his control of much of the Italian media to buttress his political position, and to use his power to expand his business empire, degraded Italian politics. But he compounded this with his so-called electoral reforms, which brought in a low-threshold form of proportional representation encouraging a multiplicity of parties - a change that he knew would help his own relatively small group of parties while working to the disadvantage of his more heterogeneous centre-left opponents. (Guardian, 02.23.2007)

This is the other reason why Prodi is having so much trouble, but his support of keeping Italian troops in Afghanistan isn't helping him. Today, Prodi has been retained, and faces another confidence vote from the Italian Senate. Just as Democratic leadership in the United States shops around for defecting GOP-senators to prohibit a buildup of troops in Iraq, and a war with Iran, so too must the center-left coalition woo others in the Italian Senate to keep Prodi and their coalition intact (and the conditions for governing in-general stable).

They appear poised to do it. Berlusconi's media machine will do its best to prevent this.But this situation is more nuanced. Even after the confidence vote, it's going to take the support of at least one Senator who has been appointed for life. This seems likely for Prodi, whose cabinet could very easily resurrect--something that didn't appear possible when the Prime Minister offered to step-down on Wednesday.

It appears many don't want the return of the center-right coalition--which could anger the public if it meant more involvement with the US in their foreign policy--led by Berlusconi or his lieutenants. It's a return to the political-instability that Italy is known for, and it's likely that the will for stability--and keeping-out Berlusconi's forces--will aid in Prodi's survival. The Communist Party hasn't been very reliable, and as one could predict, has been intractable on several points of ideology regarding Prodi's policies.The center-left coalition has been in-conferences since Wednesday hammering-out a "12-point platform" that ironically includes honoring Italy's commitments in Afghanistan (2,000 regular army troops) and Lebanon (popular with the Italian public).

The center-left appeared to have won the confidence vote of at least one centrist — Marco Follini, a former deputy premier who has since left the conservative coalition led by Berlusconi. Follini told the Corriere della Sera daily he would "likely" support Prodi, saying he wanted to free the government from the influence of radical fringes. Center-left leaders also are trying to win the support of some of the seven senators appointed for life. (AP, 02.24.2007)

Keeping Berlusconi out-of-office is likely to cement the coalition into a line that is coherent and cohesive. But, using his control over virtually the entire media of Italy (and even Sicily), Berlusconi has been firing-shots at the center-left coalition. This has probably emboldened and unified them, as well as the simple desire to survive as a nine-party majority in the lower house and Senate. We won't know the results until later next-week. Italian politics never bores.But what's important is that the electoral laws enacted by Berlusconi have to be removed after all of this. They favor the right, with their larger-parties and enormous wealth--not exactly the ingredients for democracy, and an analog to the political crisis in the United States.

Indeed, there have been accusations from the Left and Right, back-and-forth, of irregularities at polling-places, just as here. Berlusconi's coalition backed the Bush administration 100%, and may have even provided the forged "Niger documents" that provided the neocons their "smoking-gun" to invade Iraq. Berlusconi's magazines, newspapers, and news outlets parroted the Bush-line during the run up to the war in Iraq:

A breathless three-part series by the daily La Repubblica last week charged that Pollari had disseminated the documents to United States and Britain knowing they were crude forgeries.The newspaper, a staunch opponent of Berlusconi [Ed.-Who isn't?], also reported that Pollari had acted on orders from Berlusconi, who was said to be eager following the Sept. 11 terror attacks to help Bush in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. ...The furor over Italy's role in feeding intelligence to the United States and Britain before the war in Iraq has shaken the Italian government and been dubbed "Niger-gate" by the Italian media. (IHT, 11.03.2005)

However it turns-out, it has implications for America, and the world.


Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/leaders/story/0,,2019311,00.html

AP: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070224/ap_on_re_eu/italy_politics

IHT: http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/11/03/news/italy.php