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Habemus governo! PDF Print E-mail
Apr 28, 2013 at 11:19 PM


Napolitano swown in (again)
As of today, Italy has a new government; a 21-member cabinet led by Democratic Party (PD) deputy leader Enrico Letta but including members of Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PdL), was sworn into office on Sunday, making this government the first ever since 1947 in which right and left have been coalition partners. In 1947, a largely destroyed postwar Italy had just abolished its monarchy, written a new constitution, and had to had to bring all forces (Communists, Socialists and Christian Democrats) together until the first national elections on April 18, 1948.

Today, instead, an economically troubled nation has been kept from functioning by an unprecedented political stalemate triggered by the ascendency of a rabble-rousing protest party, the Five Stars Movement, that since electing 163 people to parliament has refused to ally itself with anyone.

The last elections in February were basically a three-way tie among the Democratic Party, the PdL and the Five Star Movement, with the former considered of the three the winner because of several tens of thousands of more votes that gave it a majority in the lower house although not in the Senate. For most people, the logical thing was for the leader of the PD, Pier Luigi Bersani, to form a coalition with the Five Star movement on the basis of a strongly reformist package. But despite Mr. Bersani's pleading and cajoling, the Five Star leader, Beppe Grillo, refused to budge from his purist, noli mi tangere stance. The only alternative was a coalition with Berlusconi's party, an idea that caused a major revolt inside the PD by party members who despise Berlusconi and blame him (rightly so) for the country's current economic disarray. The chaos was such that Mr. Bersani resigned and soon will be succeeded by another party leader, possibly his Letta but Matteo Renzi, the dynamic mayor of Florence who lost to Bersani in the party's primaries last fall, is also a contender.

That was how things stood until it became obvious that in such a context it was proving impossible for the Parliament to elect a successor to President Giorgio Napolitano whose seven-year term was to end this month. Although there is no constitutional bar for the re-election of a sitting Italian president, no Italian president has ever served two terms and Napolitano had said repeatedly that came what may, he would not stand again. He is, after all, 88 years old . But, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention.

 After three days of inconclusive ballots, on April 2oth, a joint PD-PdL delegation went to the Quirinale Palace and begged Mr. Napolitano to reconsider. He gave in, telling them however that they had to put their enmities aside and form a credible government, otherwise he would step down. When he was sworn in last week his speech to the 1000 members of parliament was an angry one telling them to make sure this time they pass the reforms - economic, fiscal, labor-related and structural - that everyone knows the country needs. Mr. Napolitano, who started political life as a Communist party and Marxist has turned into a widely respected political actor and in so doing has given the Italian presidency more oomph than it has had in years.

Today, the new government was sworn in and has more than one thing going for it. At 46, Mr. Letta, a former leftwing Christian Democrat, is the second youngest prime minister in Italian history and has considerable government experience. A prominent Bank of Italy official is the new economics minister and most of the people in the cabinet are new and younger names. One third of the 21 cabinet ministers are women, two of whom are foreign born and one of these is black, a veritable first for this largely homogenous country. Looming over the government, however, is the shadow of Berlusconi whose protégé, Angelo Alfano, is both interior minister (police) and deputy prime minister. Many observers believe that if Berlusconi does not get his way on certain issues, he may decide to bring down the government which, since Napolitano is bound to make good on his threat to resign, would mean that the coming months may prove to be worse than the last two or three.

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