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To vote -- or not to vote. That is the question. PDF Print E-mail
Mar 13, 2010 at 12:00 AM

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It seems incredible, but only two weeks away from elections scheduled for March 28/29th in 13 of Italy's 20 regions, a bizarre (even for Italy) brouhaha over candidate filing procedures has raised political tempers and raised the question of whether in the Lazio region (that surounding the Italian capital) the election will even be held and if so in what conditions. 

Repeated rulings by a series of Rome election commissions and administrative courts  - the most recent today, Saturday, March 13th,  by the Council of State - have upheld the ineligibility of the list of candidates presented by prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Popolo della Libertà party (PDL), currently Italy's major political party. This means that if Berlusconi wants the PDL's candidate for regional president, Renata Polverini, to win, he will have to ask his supporters to vote for her personal slate of candidates, meaning that many seats in the regional assembly may end up occupied by Polverini supporters, not by PDL members.

At the moment,  the polls show Polverini running only neck and neck with her chief rival, Radical party leader, Emma Bonini, and a fall off in her earlier support is attributed by some to voter disillusionment with the poor performance of PDL functionaries in fulfilling legal requirements. Berlusconi has repeatedly claimed that the exclusion is the result of a conspiracy by the Radicals together with left-leaning Rome magistrates. But that is nonsense. A similar problem with the ruling party's list in the northern Italian region of Lombardy was resolved when magistrates there rejected the Radicals charges that  there had been technical improprieties.

The saga of the electoral lists - il caos liste as more than one newspaper has put it - began on February 27th, the deadline for parties wanting to place their candidates on the ballot. The following day, regional electoral offices in both Lazio and Lombardy in the Italian north, disqualified the lists presented by the PDL's presidential candidates in both those regions, in the first case claiming that documents had not been presented on time and in the second that the required signatures were in some way faulty.

The bureaucratic cavils involved are such that most people have been unable to figure out exactly what has been involved. But  there is no doubt that the last two weeks of Italian political life have revolved around this single issue, with all attempts by the candidates to discuss their programs for the region fading into obscurity. Italy's regions have significant powers and responsibilities in fields as disparate as health, education and construction and one imagines that voters would have liked to have known more about the candidates' positions.

The PDL's last hope lay with the Council of State, the country's highest-ranking administrative tribunal, but that was scotched today. In the meantime, Berlusconi, doing what he does best, appears to have decided to seek to counter a reported fall-off in the polls by turning the political contest into a battle between the forces of Good (his) and the forces of Evil (theirs). Last Thursday, labelling the opposition a Soviet-style left that wanted elections with only a single slate of candidates, Berlusconi held one of his South American-style press conferences where he insisted that PDL officials had made no mistakes whatsoever and launched his (latest) conspiracy theory.

The controversial, but still popular, premier has clearly decided to try and make political hay out of what Italian president Giorgio Napolitano has termed un pasticcio, a mess, and this week Berlusconi called on followers to attend a mass demonstration in Rome on Saturday, March 20, in defense of "the right to vote". Today, instead, the opposition took to the streets in Rome to protest against the government's handling of the pasticcio as well as another law, passed by Parliament yesterday, that will allow Berlusconi - over whom two pending judicial inquiries  are hanging - and any of his cabinet ministers to put off any trial appearance for as long as 18 months on the grounds that they have a "legitimate impediment" such as attending a cabinet meeting or an official foreign trip.

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