CORRUPTION. PARALYSIS. CONTEMPT FOR VOTERS; in Favour of a Hung Parliament? Read This Damning Account of Italian Politics - and Be Very, Very Afraid, Says TOBIAS JONES

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Byline: TOBIAS JONES

DESPITE the potential for political chaos and chicanery, one of the mysteries of this General Election is that a significant portion of the electorate appears to welcome the idea of a hung parliament and the introduction of proportional representation that may well accompany it.

This enthusiasm is presumably based on the belief that a balanced House of Commons is somehow more representative of public opinion and more moderate in its outlook.

Moreover, with the economy still in crisis and the fiscal deficit at catastrophic levels, there is also yearning for a government of national unity, similar to a wartime coalition, in which all the major party leaders sink their differences for the good of the country.

A hung parliament, goes the logic, would lead to more honest, less partydriven politics.

I'm afraid, not to put too fine a point on it, this is utter balderdash.

As someone who has long lived and worked in Italy, reporting on the country's politics for more than a decade, I know only too well that a political system run on the basis of fluid coalitions is the very antithesis of democracy.

Most Italians would laugh out loud at the very idea that coalition rule and proportional representation lead to cleaner politics and better governance. Just the opposite is true.

Manoeuvre

In the Italian political system, where because of proportional representation the idea of one party winning an absolute majority is unthinkable, the public is treated with contempt.

Meanwhile, instead of putting the electorate's interests first, the politicians endlessly manoeuvre behind the scenes just to stay in power.

Principles are abandoned, issues ignored. All that matters is the quest for office, reflecting the old Sicilian saying that 'power is better than sex'.

Italian politics have been in a state of permanent crisis ever since World War II, precisely because of their bizarre structure, which places far more emphasis on representativeness than on effective government.

In a reaction against Mussolini's fascism, the 1948 constitution introduced a purist form of proportional representation to elect the two chambers of the new parliament: the 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies and the 315 members of the upper house or senate.

For all the good intentions, the result of this system was fragmentation and a near paralysis of government. Over the past four decades, Italy has had no fewer than 28 different governments and in 1992 the whole political establishment was brought down by a massive corruption scandal.

Since then, there have been various attempts to reform Italy's chaotic political structure.

None has been effective.

Italy's system still remains the object of derision, prone to crisis and corruption.

The multiplicity of parties continues to prevail, with no fewer than 39 different groups currently represented in the parliament.

Furthermore, these tiny parties can hold the government to ransom simply by withdrawing their support.

In 1995 the first government of the present Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi collapsed when the far-Right Lega Nord (Northern League) withdrew its support.

In the same way, Berlusconi came back to power for a third time in 2008 when the centre-Left coalition, led by Romani Prodi, was defeated in the Senate after the small centrist Udeur party left his government.

This is the pattern of Italian politics, with administrations built on constantly shifting sands, lacking any real foundations. …