Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Into the Third Republic Parties without Presidents (and Presidents without Parties)

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Into the Third Republic Parties without Presidents (and Presidents without Parties)

Article excerpt

Should we judge from our past experience, it would be far better to avoid giving too many details about what the Italian Third Republic is going to look like. The record of the last twenty years shows that most of the expectations about the Second Republic have been turned into nightmares. Rather than a two party system reproducing the Westminster model, the land of Machiavelli - and Guicciardini - has nurtured two highly fragmented coalitions, which have, in the latest national elections, been outplayed by a third pole, the protest movement of Beppe Grillo. The result is a tri-polar system, where a parliamentary majority can only be obtained by pulling together two bitterly antagonistic parties, with very little, if any, governmental stability. In this article, I shall try to explain why the Second Republic failed to meet the expectations of the reform movement which, in the aftermath of the Tangentopoli scandals, strived to set Italian politics on a better track. In the concluding section, I shall outline how the main features of the emerging regime - the so-called Third Republic - reflect, as it is often the case, the poisonous legacies of the one which is falling apart. As the fire is still on, I shall handle the matter with extreme caution.

What Went Wrong with the Second Republic

The cause for the breakdown of the First Republic was rightly singled out in the crisis of the parties which had been its main pillars since Italy was bom again as a democratic republic after World War Two. The two main governing parties, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, had literally been disintegrated by the indictment of its nomenclature. In 1993, almost half of the members of the Parliament were involved in some form of judicial accusation for bribes or outright corruption1. At the same time, the major opposition party was going through a complete redefinition of its ideological coordinates, as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Italian Communist party gave up its own name, through a sudden and unexpected move which caused a dramatic split. In light of such a clear-cut discontinuity affecting the organization as well as the name of all the main parties, there could be little doubt that the priority for putting the political system back to work would consist in reforming and giving new life to the old parties. Italy had been considered, for half a century, as the stronghold of powerful parties, which represented the main pillar of the overall political system, stretching their influence well beyond Parliament into every arm of the state machinery. It could be named as la Repubblica dei Partiti or as "a partitocratic regime", according to a more or less favorable attitude and valuation1. But everyone woufld agree that party rule was what made the system work, for the good or the bad. So, the diagnosis was right in stating that parties were to be brought back to life, and possibly a better one.

Where the doctors, unfortunately, failed was in the prescription of the medicine. As with most fatal errors, the mistake was made in good faith and, to a large extent, for lack of a better remedy. Repeated efforts in the past calling upon the parties to self-reform themselves had been met with little if any results. So, the new medicine consisted in trying to force parties to change by introducing a majoritarian electoral law. This indeed became the main platform of the referendum movement which swept the country in the early Nineties. The recipe was - much too - simple. A majoritarian electoral law would put an end to fragmentation and lead to the forming of only two dominant parties, one for each side of the political spectrum. Both the party on the right and the party on the left would become moderate in their stance, as the competition would mainly focus on the conquest of the votes at the centre. As a consequence, the ideological bias would be replaced by a more pragmatic, policyoriented commitment, which would further diminish distances and animosities between the two main actors. …

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