Italian Politics: The Faltering Transition

Italian Politics: The Faltering Transition

Italian Politics: The Faltering Transition

Italian Politics: The Faltering Transition


In 1999, Italy experienced another year of political uncertainty. The centre-left coalition government was weakened by infighting throughout the year and paid a high electoral price for its failure to present a common front to the electorate. In June, Silvio Berlusconi's Liberty Pole coalition won substantial victories in local elections including a symbolic triumph in Bologna, a stronghold of the Italian left. In December, bickering inside his parliamentary majority forced Massimo D'Alema, the prime minister, to reshuffle his cabinet. This was the first government crisis to be handled by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who became the tenth President of the Republic in May 1999. In the autumn, Giulio Andreotti, a seven-times prime minister, was acquitted of having colluded with the Sicilian Mafia, and with having ordered the murder.


Mark Gilbert and Gianfranco Pasquino

Unravelling the knots of Italian politics was as elusive a task as ever in 1999. But the key thread, if anywhere, is to be found in the interwoven themes of the creation of the D’Alema government in October 1998 (and its subsequent political fall-out), the difficulty of reforming the electoral law, and hence the hyperfragmented party system, and the short, sharp crisis of the D’Alema cabinet just before Christmas 1999. Short though the crisis was, it jumbled up politics once more and left new loose ends that will gradually unwind themselves in the coming year.

Political Jostling

Having become prime minister as the result of a traditional bout of parliamentary plotting, D’Alema spent most of the first half of 1999 beating off the sustained and insistent attacks on his leadership launched by the deposed former premier, Romano Prodi, and his supporters. Even after Prodi had been nominated to the Presidency of the European Commission on 24 March 1999, the Democratici per Prodi (Democrats), which adopted a somewhat Disneyesque donkey as their electoral symbol, continued to jab at D’Alema from a distance. With a view to the looming European elections in June, the Democrats were anxious to raise their politi-

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