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Sede Vacante (twice over?) PDF Print E-mail
Mar 02, 2013 at 03:54 PM

Beppe Grillo

On Thursday, I spent much of the evening watching live coverage of Pope Benedict XVI leaving the Vatican by helicopter for Castel Gandolfo where he will live for the next two months, before retiring to a monastery inside the walls of Vatican City. I am not Catholic, and am also one of those people who has reservations about church policies both worldwide and in Italy itself, nevertheless I was moved. Even more than that, I was aware that I was witnessing a historic event, one which may well change the centuries-old papacy forever.

Conservative Catholics and some prelates have been rushing to say that this should never happen again as the knowledge that a pope may not be pope for life will undermine his authority and that of the Holy See. But others, like me, feel that Benedict's nearly unprecedented act (certainly unprecedented in recent times) will go far to bringing the papacy into the 21st century and by making it more responsive to the pressures and needs of the present will go far to making it more relevant.

Here on the strictly Italian front, the situation is equally exceptional. Even though the last two Popes have been foreigners, Italians have continued to consider the papacy as something of their own and no doubt many people here will have found the development unsettling. But the status of Sede Vacante (Empty See) that became official when the doors of the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo were swung shut Thursday evening at 8:00 p.m. probably will last for only another two weeks or so. So Italians no doubt have by now realized that the results of last weekend's national elections here are unlikely to be far more unsettling.

With Mario Monti currently heading a caretaker government, there is still a government in office in Rome. But with Monti's rejection at the polls still smarting, and his status consequently much diminished, Palazzo Chigi, (the seat of Italian government) could also be considered a "sede vacante". And at the moment there is no way of telling how long this situation will last.

In the two-day vote that ended Monday, February 25th, at midday, the Five Star Movement (MS5) led by former comedian Beppe Grillo won 25% of the vote - far more than the already significant 15 to 18% that had been predicted - to become the country's third largest political grouping, one that is likely to play a decisive role in determining whether or not Italy will have a viable government in the near future.

The "winner" of the election, is so you can call him, was the coalition led by the left-of-center Partito Democratico but although they have a majority of seats (340) in the 630-seat lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies (but not in the Senate), they will be unable to form an effective government on their own even if Italian President Giorgio Napolitano asks its leader, Pierluigi Bersani, to make an attempt at doing so.

On Tuesday, Bersani proposed an alliance to Grillo, a good part of whose voters are believed to have been leftwing, but the latter rejected that idea out of hand, continuing to exist that there will be no inciuci, a slang word which translates roughly into a secret compromise. He has so far done little but insult several political leaders (he called Bersani "a dead man talking") and suggested Monti resign immediately) and says that the movement's 162 parliamentarians - 108 in the Camera and 58 in the Senate - will only vote bill by bill. This might make sense from their point of view but it will not help the country come up with a government.

Pundits and politicians now engaged in the post-election "talk-it-to-death" syndrome that we all know and love so well, say there are only three possibilities:
Grillo changes his mind and forms a government with the PD on the basis of a long or short-term program worked out by the two groups together, something that if you judge by current blogs and tweets is what many Grillo voters want (one petition in this sense got over 100,000 adhesions in just a few hours) but which seems unlilkely; The PD, the PdL (Berlusconi) and Grillo join together in a three-way alliance designed to change Italy's controversial electoral system before heading back to the polls; The PD and PdL form a government, excluding Grillo. This would probably sound the death-knell of Italian politics as we know it since it would make it clear to everyone that the "old guard" plans to ride roughshod over the clamor for change by a sizeable part of the population. In any event, the situation is unprecedented and probably means that things here will never quite be the same.

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