Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Politics

A Premier without Parliament: The Legislative Process in the Italian Second Republic

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Politics

A Premier without Parliament: The Legislative Process in the Italian Second Republic

Article excerpt

Italy is rightly considered as an ideal type case of the presidentialization process that is changing many parliamentary democracies, with the quasi-direct election of the Prime Minister and the strengthening of his hold on both the party and the government. Yet, a stronger, premier-centred government also means depriving Parliament of many of its long entrenched prerogatives. This article analyses how the executive has gained control of the legislative function, through the expansion of decree laws and delegated legislation. Executive predominance, however, has also alienated the loyalty of the Prime Minister's majority, thus resulting in a «divided Premier». As it is often the case with the American presidential system, strong leaders may become very weak if they lack parliamentary support. A lesson Silvio Berlusconi has had to learn at his own expenses.

Key words: Italy, presidentialization, premier, parliament, legislative process.

i Introduction

On the 16th of November, the Italian Prime Minister walked up the stairs of the Quirinale to abruptly put an end to the cabinet he had been presiding over for the past three and a half years.2 Berlusconi's resignation came in the wake of a dramatic financial crisis, which had brought his popularity rate down to unprecedented lows. While already shaken by a sequel of scandals relating to the Cavaliere's turbulent sexual life, the government's credibility plummeted once it became clear that its leader had become the laughing stock of the international community. A disastrous public opinion rating was thus one of the key factors in the downfall of Berlusconi, quite an ironic exit for the man who had ruled Italy for almost twenty years also thanks to his skills as a «great communicator».

Another factor, which contributed to the Prime Minister's defeat, was the weakening of his control over his party. In the fall of 2007, in a bold effort to counteract the centre-left coalition's rising consensus, Berlusconi had disbanded his personal party, Forza Italia, only to found a larger party incorporating his former right wing allies. At first, this move seemed to be highly successful. Also thanks to the renewed appeal of Berlusconi's Popolo della liberté, the centre-right coalition managed to turn the spring 2006 national elections into a virtual tie. Prodi's government hardly lasted two years and, at the ensuing elections on 13-14 April of 2008, Berlusconi carried a landslide victory. However, it took only a few months to realize that the Prime Minister's hold on the new party was quite different than the one he had enjoyed over Forza Italia. After a bitter internal fight conducted from his influential institutional seat as the House Speaker, Gianfranco Fini left the party he had co-founded with Berlusconi and gave birth to a new political formation. The man who had deeply innovated Italian party politics by creating an organization he could control as a personal property, suddenly woke up to the ordinary nightmare of disruptive feuds among competing factions.

A third, decisive factor in the ousting of Berlusconi was his loss of a parliamentary majority. Again, this came as a tough blow for a leader who, at the 2010 elections, had scored the largest numerical majority in the Italian republican history. The Prime Minister who had been repeatedly accused of ruthlessly controlling MPs from his camp as well as from the opposition through all sorts of corrupted practices, was eventually put out of business by a handful of «traitors». That very Parliament which had been, for so many years, subdued and marginalized by the government's encompassing legislative activity at last turned into the theatre - and the actor - of Berlusconi's epilogue.

Widespread popular discontent, lack of party discipline and parliamentary revolt, while the main factors for the Premier's dismissal, also constitute a reversal in all major trends of Italy's presidentialized regime. In fact, Italy has been considered as an ideal type case for the theoretical framework, which defines presidentialization as a de facto transformation of modern parliamentary democracy into a premier-centred political system. …

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