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Political paralysis in Italy

The country will have to face new elections if the pettiness of its party chiefs persists

Instead of opting for early resignation to make it easier for his successor to call new elections the Italian president, in a gesture that does him credit, has decided on a desperate move to break the political deadlock after the failure of talks aimed at forming a government. The aged Giorgio Napolitano, who has only a month and a half of his mandate to go, has appointed a small group of notables charged with the urgent task of preparing a platform of political and economic reforms that would lend itself to approval by the parliament as a plan for government.

Napolitano's calls to the party leaders to acknowledge the gravity and urgency of the crisis have so far fallen on deaf ears. The present political paralysis of Italy, after a decade wasted in the economic sense, and in a situation that never ceases to worsen (two trillion euros of public debt), is not only a consequence of the country's inability to enact reforms and modernize its institutions. Apart from an electoral law that facilitates impasse and ungovernability, the immediate cause of the blockage lies in the fear prevalent in the political parties, whose reputations have plummeted as they lose their accustomed quotas of power. In other words, the cause lies in the shortsightedness of the party leaders, and their lack of courage and sense of responsibility.

The center-left party of Bersani, which may be said to have won the elections but lacks a sufficient majority for governing, rejects the grand coalition offered to it by Berlusconi; partly because the social-democratic leader, whose political future is now up in the air, is refusing to support a candidate proposed by Il Cavaliere as a successor to Napolitano.

Berlusconi, now posing in the solemn mantle of the gentle statesman concerned about the common good, is already thinking about new elections, emboldened by an upturn in his popularity in the opinion polls. Beppe Grillo, with a fourth part of the vote behind him, is sticking to his rhetoric about dynamiting the country's whole political structure, and publicly pours scorn on both blocs.

Italy is in urgent need of politicians capable of solving problems and arbitrating amid the often contradictory aspirations of the various sectors of society — quite apart from the result of the opinion polls or their own hankering for power.

The Southern European nation will never take the steps it needs so imperatively if it cannot find leaders with imagination and a sense of statesmanship, prepared to set out on new roads even at the cost of unpopularity. If nothing comes of the latest proposal made by the president of the Republic, his successor as head of state will have to dissolve the parliament and call new elections, probably for July. And in them, if the opinion polls are to be believed, we are likely to see a repetition of the present situation, with small variations.

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