Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Democracy at Stake

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Democracy at Stake

Article excerpt

Extremely rare have been the moments since 1946 when democracy was truly at stake during the transformation of the Italian Republic. Making reference to the contemporary debate on democracy, there never was a crisis of democracy in the Italian case, that is, a rejection, either by the elites or by the citizens, of the democratic framework as inadequate. Nevertheless, there have been several challenges against Italian democracy, as well as several crises within its framework, that is, several problems regarding the functioning of the democratic regime. Widely accepted and legitimated by a Constitution that, to the (self)exclusion only of the neo-Fascists, had been drafted and approved by all parties, Communists included, the democratic Republic has produced prosperity while, at the same time, shaping a politically competitive environment. However, for reasons having to do both with the Cold War, and with their inability to muster enough votes, the Communists never participated in the various national governmental coalitions. Hence, the Italian political system was deprived of those important requisites called governmental alternation and circulation of elites. While the Communists were in the government at the local level in quite a number of important cities and provinces, they were barred from governmental power at the national level from 1947 up to the end of what I will precisely call the "first phase" of the Italian Republic, that is, 19921. At that time, however, the Communist Party no longer existed.

The Way Italian Democracy Was

In a way, the Christian Democrats provided a significant amount of political stability, but their highly factionalized party was also the engine of governmental instability. Most foreign observers and scholars were confounded by what they thought were signals of deep democratic weakness. On the contrary, governmental crises and frequent ministerial reshufflings were mechanisms used to reallocate political power among and within the parties (and the factions2) and to resynchronize the governments with a changing socio-economic system. Governmental instability, the hallmark of this long phase of the Italian Republic, was counteracted by two even more significant phenomena: the long tenure of some prominent heads of government and important ministers and the overall stability of the governmental coalitions. So far there have been fifty-nine governments, but only twenty-six heads of government, some of them leading several governments: Alcide De Gasperi 8, Giulio Andreotti 7, Amintore Fanfani 6, Aldo Moro 5, Mariano Rumor 5, Silvio Berlusconi 4. There were three major governmental coalitions: the centrist - Democrazia Cristiana (DC), Partito Socialista Democrático Italiano (PSDI), Partito Repubblicano Italiano (PRI), Partito Liberale Italiano (PLI) - from 1948 to 1960; the center-left - DC, PSDI, PRI, Partito Socialista Italiano (PSI) - from 1962 to 1976; and the pentapartito - DC, PSI, PSDI, PRI, PLI - from 1980 to 1992. At the height of the struggle against terrorism and in the midst of the first major economic crisis, an "incomplete" Grand Coalition also appeared, better defined National Solidarity (1976-1978), in which the Communists supported an all-Christian Democratic government in exchange for chairing some important parliamentary Committees. On the whole, there was a significant continuity of public policies, usually a mixture of State intervention and market competition. It was never a matter just of survival, as too many authors have been fond of emphasizing1, but of skillful adaptation, moderate change and the capability to withstand what amounted to a serious attack by terrorists, left and right (including a coup in the making in 1964), against the Italian State. Not a single time was the electoral process disrupted nor were the rights of the citizens seriously curtailed.

All this is meant to stress that the interpretations provided by too many scholars emphasizing the inexistence of a government, as if nobody were in charge of politics at the top, considered as the paramount Italian problem, were considerably exaggerated, largely wrong. …

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