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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 state of Italian
politics right now isn’t just the result of the ambition and
fecklessness of individual politicians.

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 grace period, its
dominant characteristic was an extreme form of political
bargaining.

Post-war governments were famously short-lived: they lasted, on
average, eight months. The old joke was: You go to London to see
the changing of the guard; you go to Rome to see the changing of
the government.

Why did governments change so quickly? Not because of great
ideological disputes or passionate debates over public policies.
They fell because they …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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