Tuesday saw the last act in
the long-running saga of the Italian election, when Romani Prodi’s
centre-left government was approved by a vote in the lower house, the
Chamber of Deputies, 344-268. It had previously won approval in the
Senate 165-155. Since the polls were held on 9-10 April, that means it
took just over six weeks to complete the installation of the new

That’s a long time, but this was an unusually close
election, and forming a government is a matter of sufficient weight
that it’s more important to do it right than do it quickly. And the
Italian system is highly democratic: the coalition with the most votes
is guaranteed a majority in the lower house, and the new government,
once appointed, has to be confirmed by both houses. Both features could
be considered for adoption in Australia.

As previously noted,
Prodi’s coalition is a very mixed bag. But in the long process of
appointing a cabinet and getting it approved he has shown considerable
skill. He seems determined not to repeat the experience of ten years
ago, when his first government fell apart. And the very narrowness of
the victory may help: his coalition partners know that if they fall out
among themselves, Silvio Berlusconi is waiting to pounce. Whatever else
their differences, no-one on the centre-left wants Berlusconi back.

approval of the Prodi government also marks the final arrival in power
of the various remnants of the old Italian Communist Party (PCI), the
pioneer of “Eurocommunism”. One reason Italy’s party system remained so
chaotic for so long was that the PCI, one of the two largest parties,
was regarded during the Cold War as too great a risk to be allowed into
government. But by breaking with the Soviet Union and committing itself
to democracy, the PCI gave the communist parties of eastern Europe a
role model, and probably played a significant role in ending the
division of Europe.

After the Cold War ended, the majority of
the PCI voted to transform into a mainstream social-democratic party,
while a minority declared themselves to be unreconstructed communists.
Each group has since split further, but they have all found their way
into Romani Prodi’s coalition. It will be interesting to see how well
he can keep them together.