Italy’s regional elections: Berlusconi’s burlesque (The Economist)
The prime minister, coasting on a wave of sympathy after an attack by a mentally unstable man in December, had hoped his People of Freedom (PdL) movement might oust up to five centrist and left-wing governors. But its campaign is in chaos—and the government’s ratings are plunging.
Italy’s regional elections
A farcical failure to register candidates in time
Mar 11th 2010 | ROME | From The Economist print edition
THE elections on March 28th and 29th in 13 of Italy’s 20 regions were meant to seal Silvio Berlusconi’s resurgence after a run of scandals over his private life. Eleven regions are held by the centre-left opposition. The prime minister, coasting on a wave of sympathy after an attack by a mentally unstable man in December, had hoped his People of Freedom (PdL) movement might oust up to five centrist and left-wing governors. But its campaign is in chaos—and the government’s ratings are plunging.
To think that it all started with a bread roll. That is what Alfredo Milioni, a former bus-driver charged with registering the PdL’s candidates in Lazio (which includes Rome), first said had lured him from the queue at the electoral office on February 27th. He later offered two other explanations for missing the deadline. Party leaders claimed he had fallen into a trap set by the opposition. But nobody disputes that he returned after the deadline had expired. Electoral officials duly refused to accept the PdL’s slate. That, and two failed court appeals, has left the ruling party out of the race in Lazio, one of five potential swing regions. It was almost excluded in Lombardy too, this time because some of its signatures seemed dubious.
What do you do if you are in a fix, having failed to abide by the rules? In the case of Silvio Berlusconi, you alter the rules. On March 5th his cabinet approved a decree to allow the candidates to run after all. President Giorgio Napolitano signed it into law, prompting one opposition leader, Antonio Di Pietro, to call for his impeachment. The decree transformed a farce into yet another example of Mr Berlusconi’s contempt for the rule of law, of a piece with a new draft law to allow ministers to delay criminal trials against them.
Yet the cabinet’s decree has united his often fractious opponents and so far failed to achieve its objective. On March 8th yet another court ruled against the PdL, saying that a government ordinance could not change regional law. Moreover, said the judges, PdL representatives were required to have been at the electoral office when the deadline expired, and there was no proof they were.
The ruling added to a growing impression of incompetence among PdL officials. Umberto Bossi, the Northern League leader, has called them “amateurs out of their depth”. This is damaging to Mr Berlusconi because he has sold himself as leader of a team that gets results. His government was already losing ground in the polls after a scandal over public-works contracts. On March 7th Corriere della Sera newspaper put the government’s approval rating at just 39%, down from over 50% in December. Another survey in Panorama, a magazine, suggested that the centre-left would hold on to all but one region.
Mr Berlusconi’s response was characteristic. On March 9th he abruptly turned victim, blaming his woes on opposition conspirators and left-wing judges, and announcing “a big, national demonstration to defend our right to vote.”