It’s looking as if Italy’s populists will tolerate a minority centre-left government – for a while at least. But nobody will know for sure until parliament meets.
The process isn’t quite as leisurely as in Israel, but no-one expected a new Italian government to be formed quickly. President Giorgio Napolitano, who will ultimately have to commission someone to put before parliament, didn’t even feel the need to stay in Rome; he’s been to Germany.
Nonetheless, things will have to happen soon. With a centre-left majority in the lower house and no majority (or anywhere near one) in the Senate, there are really only five possibilities:
- Agreement between the centre-left and the 5-Star Movement
- Agreement between the centre-left and the centre-right
- A minority centre-left government with some tacit support from either the centre-right or the 5-Star Movement
- A non-party government like the last one, formed with the support of the centre-left and one or more of the other parties
- Fresh elections
Centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani has ruled out (2) in no uncertain terms. The 5-Star Movement has pretty clearly ruled out (1), while leaving the door open a little if someone other than Bersani was leader. Napolitano has poured cold water on (5). The only ones who seem at all keen on (4) are the 5-Star Movement, since it would effectively make them the official opposition (not surprisingly, they’re even more keen on the idea of (2)).
So attention is focused on (3), a minority government that would govern at least with the indulgence of the populists in the 5-Star Movement. In that context, it’s interesting to read the Guardian‘s interview today with Gianroberto Casaleggio, a co-founder of the movement. (The paper calls him “the digital mastermind behind the M5S’s vertiginous ascent”.)
Casaleggio disclaimed any intention of being involved in the process of forming a government. But he said ”If a government is put together, formed by other parties, the Five Star Movement will vote for everything that forms an integral part of its programme.”
It’s not clear exactly what his parliamentarians will say if asked by the president whether they are willing to support a minority Bersani government, but it sounds as if it will be along the lines of “Try it and find out.” But if they do force fresh elections by voting down a Bersani government in the Senate, the voters are unlikely to be impressed.
That’s particularly the case because the 5-Star Movement does at least broadly speaking come from the left, and Bersani is going out of his way to suggest policies it will be sympathetic to. An editorial in La Repubblica argues that this is an opportunity for some overdue reforms – in particular, effective laws against corruption and conflicts of interest. No prizes for guessing who they might have in mind there.
It looks as it Bersani will get his chance, but he will probably have some uncomfortable times as the populists try to keep him on a short leash. Certainly there will have to be some modification of the austerity program. Nonetheless, once a government is actually up and running things might improve; electoral prospects could look very different after a few months, and there could even be opportunities for co-operation with the centre-right once it’s led by someone other than Silvio Berlusconi (who by then is quite likely to be in jail).
And what of the BBC’s strange failure to understand the Senate results? My post explaining them appeared just before midnight Tuesday night, GMT. Yet you can still see on the BBC website a graphic dated “12.00 GMT 28 February” – 36 hours later – that shows 6 “uncalled seats”; apparently the six overseas seats, which had in fact been decided by Tuesday afternoon (and were tolerably clear in the early hours of Tuesday morning).
Here they are. Which part of “Definitivo” didn’t they understand?