Media Tycoon's Party Wins Italian Election: Centrist Party, Church Influence Squeezed
Hebblethwaite, Peter, National Catholic Reporter
The Italian elections of March 27-28 smashed the pattern of Italian politics that had prevailed since 1946. The Christian Democratic party, which ruled uninterruptedly until last year, is no more.
Its rebaptized successor, the Italian Popular Party, slumped to 11.1 percent of the vote, or 15.2 percent if we include its ally, Mario Segni's Pact for Italy. This rump of a once all-powerful party has a mere 46 seats in the new assembly.
Media-tycoon Silvio Berlusconi's Freedom Alliance, led by Forza Italia, his own party set up just three months ago, gained 42.9 percent of the votes and will have 266 seats - an absolute majority.
The left, led by Valerio Ochetto's ex-communists (now the Democratic Party of the Left) gained 34.4 percent and 213 seats. It will be the official "opposition." The collapse of the Christian Democratic center marks the end of the direct influence of the Italian church on politics, which had lasted since the postwar period.
It was the era of Don Camillo - the fictional pastor always in conflict with the communist mayor. Parishes became recruiting centers for the Christian Democrats. The church dispensed patronage. To possess the party card (the tessera) was essential for getting a job when moving from the impoverished South to the prosperous North. These tactics were justified in the name of "keeping the communist out." Elections were fought on a "Rome vs. Moscow" ticket.
All that was irrelevant long before the collapse of communism in 1989. After 1989, it was even seen to be irrelevant. Hence the call for reform of the political system.
The Italian system of proportional representation encouraged small parties and maintained the status quo. It kept the left permanently out of power and made any alternative to the Christian Democrats and their allies impossible. It was also the seedbed that made corruption not only possible but likely.
The single most important reform embodied in this election was the move toward a first-past-the-post system. It was supposed to make for clarity. Preelectoral pacts would have to be made instead of poselection wheeling and dealing in smoke-filled rooms. In fact, the March elections did not have these desirable results.
They had the effect of pushing the eletorate to the extreme left and extreme right and squeezing the center. …