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The Deep Roots of Italy’s Coalition Chaos

September 5, 2019 in Economics

By Alberto Mingardi

Alberto Mingardi

MILAN — The chaos in Italy has really only just begun.


The collapse of the government earlier this summer and the byzantine posturing and horse-trading as the country’s major parties struggle to form a new one isn’t just the result of the ambition and fecklessness of individual politicians.

It’s what you get in Italy when you elect a parliament with a proportional system.

Forget policies. What’s at stake is who gets what job.



The two parties in the ongoing coalition talks have spent much of the last decade tearing each other down. For the anti-establishment 5Star Movement, the Democratic Party epitomized the ancien régime, synonymous for its voters with corruption and nepotism. For the Democrats, the 5Stars, with their calls for direct democracy and cyber populism, represented a vulgar challenge to representative democracy.

Today, the two parties are debating over which is best suited to provide the new defense minister — the 5Stars announced Tuesday that it had secured members’ approval for a new coalition.

Unlikely bedfellows divvying up the plum jobs is hardly a new phenomenon in Italy, the birthplace of political realism, from Machiavelli onward. Italians know that politics is, at all levels, a distributive activity.

You keep people loyal by throwing them buns. The logic of political appointments is key to keep the machine of consensus well-oiled in a complex society.

The new Italian executive being formed under the renewed leadership of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to appoint some 400 people to board positions in different bodies, ranging from independent authorities to state-controlled businesses. Political parties and related interest groups are naturally hungry to grab as many of these as possible for themselves.

But if politics in Italy seems particularly messy this time around it’s because of a recent change in the electoral law — one that restored elements of the nearly pure proportional system that was in place from the end of World War II until 1992.

It’s a system that worked arguably well until the early 1960s, as Italy moved from a backward, agricultural country to an industrial powerhouse. But after an initial …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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