A fresh crop of Italian newspapers Wednesday morning brought further
agonizing over the country’s fiendishly close election result, but
nothing to change the basic picture. The media in fact seemed much more
excited by the result than they had been by the campaign, although they
turned with some relief to the diversion of Tuesday’s capture of top Sicilian mafia don Bernardo Provenzano.

Depending on how far Silvio Berlusconi is prepared to take things, it
could be up to a month and half before the change of government
actually takes place, but there is no serious doubt that centre-left
leader Romano Prodi will be the new prime minister.

The election revealed that the country is evenly divided, but it is not
deeply divided. While there are extremists on both sides, moderates
predominate, and there is no evidence that voters want it any other
way. The Communists and the Northern League made only minor gains, and
Alessandra Mussolini’s Social Alternative (not “Social Alliance”, as I
said the other day) scored only 0.7% and will not be represented in
parliament.

The decisive factor was Prodi’s narrow lead in the popular vote for the
Chamber of Deputies. However in the upper house, the Senate,
Berlusconi’s House of Liberties actually led by over 120,000 votes –
the difference presumably due to the fact that there is a minimum
voting age of 25 for the Senate (so much for the idea of conservative
young people). But since the Senate is elected region by region,
Prodi’s coalition was still able to put together a slim majority.

Another lesson of the election (other than the obvious “don’t trust
exit polls”) was that partisan fiddling with the electoral system is
often counter-productive. Neither of Berlusconi’s big changes did him
any good: the introduction of seats for overseas Italians cost him the
chance of a Senate majority, and the return to proportional
representation doesn’t seem to have helped either.

On Monday night one
of his allies, Northern League leader Umberto Bossi, said if the old
system had been left in place Berlusconi would have won. Some
commentators, however, have suggested that the real purpose of the
changes was to make the system unworkable for a successor, and they
could yet be successful in that.

Peter Fray

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