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That monument to stability - the Italian government

Old 02-23-07, 03:14 PM
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That monument to stability - the Italian government

I follow Italian politics, if for no other reason than the comedic appeal.

<b><a href = "">Italian Premier Resigns After Losing Foreign Policy Vote</a></b>

By IAN FISHER
Published: February 22, 2007

ROME, Feb. 21 — Italy’s fragile government snapped suddenly on Wednesday under the weight of its own internal divisions as well as a broader skepticism about the European role in the worldwide fight against terrorism.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi, in office just nine months, submitted his resignation Wednesday evening after his governing coalition lost a key vote on foreign policy in the Senate.

Two far-left members of his coalition abstained amid tensions over whether Italy should continue to provide troops to Afghanistan and Mr. Prodi’s support of an expansion of an American military base in Vicenza, in northern Italy.

With only a razor-thin majority, the abstentions killed the measure, aimed at gaining Senate support for Italy’s foreign policy, and unexpectedly, doomed the government.

“I can’t in any way give my vote to this government with this foreign policy,” said Fernando Rossi, a senator from the Italian Communist Party and one of the dissenters.

The vote took place the same day Britain announced a substantial reduction of its troops in southern Iraq, and a week after a European Parliamentary committee issued a strong report criticizing secret American flights in Europe of terrorism suspects.

But the government’s collapse also reflected its own inherent weaknesses, possibly signaling that Italy’s chronic political instability may be coming out of remission. In a nation that has had some 60 governments since World War II, Mr. Prodi has presided uneasily over a coalition of nine diverse parties, ranging from moderate Catholics to Communists.

“It’s very bad,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, a professor at the University of Florence and expert in electoral law. “We still have to come to terms with a working political system. We do not have a working political system.”

There are many scenarios for what comes next — and one possibility, if not immediately likely, is a return to power of Silvio Berlusconi, whom Mr. Prodi defeated in elections last year.

As ministers met late into the night to discuss how to proceed, Mr. Berlusconi’s supporters rallied outside the seat of government, waving banners and demanding that the government step aside.

“The country has been exposed, by a majority that isn’t and by an incompetent government that has rejected parliamentary dialogue — a grave international humiliation,” Mr. Berlusconi told reporters.

For Mr. Berlusconi to return, new elections would have to be held, which at the moment seems several steps in the future.

After accepting Mr. Prodi’s resignation, President Giorgio Napolitano will begin to consult with political parties on Thursday and will ask one of them to try to form a government.

Many political experts believed that Mr. Prodi would be given a chance to shuffle his cabinet in a way that would satisfy the parties already in the government. Then he would call for a confidence vote in Parliament.

But many experts noted that such a government would remain weak, with the deep splits over Afghanistan and the American base unresolved.

“Something has broken,” said Franco Pavoncello, the president of John Cabot University here and a political scientist. “This vote and the reaction of the government has created damage to Prodi’s ability to last.”

In theory, the prime minister’s term lasts five years, but Mr. Berlusconi is the only prime minister to have endured that long.

While the government’s weakness made it liable to fall at any moment, its collapse on Wednesday came as something of a surprise. For months the government has been bickering internally — and weathering attacks by Mr. Berlusconi and other opposition leaders — over issues ranging from the budget to a proposed law giving rights to unmarried couples.

But foreign policy remained a particular weak spot. Essentially, Mr. Prodi and his ministers have sought to walk a difficult line, echoing much of the skepticism in Europe about President Bush and the war in Iraq while maintaining Italy’s traditionally strong ties with America.

The government’s far-left members, however, have strongly resisted the presence of nearly 2,000 Italian troops in Afghanistan. And last weekend, tens of thousands of people rallied against the expansion of the American-staffed NATO base in Vicenza, which Mr. Prodi’s government reluctantly supported.

The splits grew deeper, and on Tuesday in Spain, Italy’s foreign minister, Massismo D’Alema, himself a former prime minister, called for the Senate to endorse Italy’s foreign policy. If it did not, he said, the government should “go home,” or step down.

In a long and impassioned speech before the vote on Wednesday, Mr. D’Alema defended his government’s position on Afghanistan and the Vicenza base, in terms that he hoped would win the left’s support.

“We have not supported the neoconservative politics of the American administration and we have not sent soldiers to Iraq,” he told his colleagues. “There is a profound difference between the military operations in Afghanistan, approved by the United Nations, and those in Iraq.”

He added that the support of expanding the base was essential to good relations with America. “To change course would be a hostile act against the United States,” he said.

In the end, the government needed 160 votes but received only 158 with the two abstentions. Opposition senators roared at the result, shouting immediately: “Resign! Resign!”

Many experts said they believed that Mr. D’Alema, one of the most powerful and experienced members of the government, would resign. And as Italy’s leaders search for a broader solution in the next few days, there are several alternatives to a mere shuffling of the current cabinet.

The most dramatic, and perhaps least likely, is that Mr. Napolitano could call immediate elections. But he has said he will not do so until the current electoral law, instated by Mr. Berlusconi last year, is changed. Many experts blame the law for virtually guaranteeing a thin majority in the Senate no matter who wins, and thus destabilizing the political system.

Another option is the appointment of a temporary government made up of largely centrist technocrats. The aim would be to steer Italy toward new elections, most likely engineering a change to electoral laws first.

A final possibility involves peeling off the more centrist Union of Christian Democrats, a party long allied, if uneasily, with Mr. Berlusconi. Even as the government tottered on Wednesday, one party leader, Marco Follini, seemed to raise the possibility. “The moment has arrived to put into the pipeline a different center-left,” he told reporters.

But Professor D’Alimonte noted that the party did not have enough seats to allow Mr. Prodi to cast off the rebellious far-left of his own party. Simply adding on Mr. Follini’s party remained a possibility, although Professor D’Alimonte noted that it also seemed a recipe for even deeper disputes since it shares little politically with the Communists who brought down the government.

<i>Peter Kiefer contributed reporting.</i>
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Old 02-23-07, 03:21 PM
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where's the bolding?
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Old 02-23-07, 03:28 PM
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Allow me to instead summarize.

Romano Prodi was the Italian Prime Minister, leading a very tiny center-left majority. He defeated Berlusconi's scandal-ridden right wing majority several months ago. A few days ago there was a crucial vote on Italy's involvement in Afghanistan. Prodi was confident of victory, but he lost this vote by a small margin due to defections by extreme left wing coalition members. This brought the government down, and Prodi submitted his resignation to the president. Now things are up in the air. There will have to be another election at some point, but there's also the (slight) possibility of a new center-left coalition, slightly to the right of the old one.
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Old 02-23-07, 03:48 PM
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I think I had read somewhere in the past that since WWII ended, Italy has had over 50+ governments collapse. It's amazing that anything ever gets done in some of these byzantine arrangements to gain power. As much as we complain about American politics, I would want no part of how this system works.
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Old 02-23-07, 06:04 PM
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I guess there is still a lot of anger over those idiot pilots who clipped a ski booth that killed several people. Who can blame them? Being the isolationist, I know I sure don't want a base there, especially if the locals don't want it.
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Old 02-23-07, 06:40 PM
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Yeah, I heard about this yesterday and started laughing. Your title pretty much sums up why.
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Old 02-23-07, 07:03 PM
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that is why I am totally against proportional system of representation where every whackjob left or right fringe group can get members elected and force unstable coalition governments. It was a small miracle that Berlusconi lasted for so long previously. People bitch about our system but like Nazgul said, I much prefer ours to having an administration collapse and reform every 1-2 years.
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Old 02-23-07, 07:13 PM
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Originally Posted by chowderhead
that is why I am totally against proportional system of representation where every whackjob left or right fringe group can get members elected and force unstable coalition governments. It was a small miracle that Berlusconi lasted for so long previously. People bitch about our system but like Nazgul said, I much prefer ours to having an administration collapse and reform every 1-2 years.
PR has its place, and so does a plurality system. Most countries with PR never encounter the same kinds of instability encountered in Italy. That's why generalizations such as yours have no grounding in reality.
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Old 02-23-07, 08:16 PM
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I still don't like the system. Were it here, you would have a David Duke party and it would have some representation. You would have the Louis Farrakhan party and it would have some representation.

I prefer that the nutjobs have to go through more diluted parties to see if there is any reason to give their ideas the light of day, personally.
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Old 02-24-07, 12:17 AM
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Originally Posted by wendersfan
PR has its place, and so does a plurality system. Most countries with PR never encounter the same kinds of instability encountered in Italy. That's why generalizations such as yours have no grounding in reality.
On the flip side is Japan where through gerrymandering and corruption a single party holds power for nearly 60 years (with a year or two here and there picked up by an opposition coalition that fragments almost as soon as it starts) -- regardless of how many freaking recessions, stagnation periods and ridiculously large scandals take place.
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Old 02-24-07, 04:00 PM
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Wow, when all those Italian Immigrants start showing up in the US, think how allowing them to become citizens and vote will destroy the US political system....I predict that there will not be a stable Government in the US ever again after William McKinleys next term!!!!!!!!
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Old 02-24-07, 06:33 PM
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It appears Italy has run out of potential prime ministers.

Prodi keeps job as Italy PM

By Silvia Aloisi and Robin Pomeroy
Reuters
Saturday, February 24, 2007; 11:48 AM

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's president asked Romano Prodi to stay on as prime minister on Saturday, but he now faces a confidence vote in parliament to prove he has enough support to govern.

Prodi resigned on Wednesday after he was defeated on foreign policy in the upper house, the Senate, plunging the country into political uncertainty.

After two days of consultations with party leaders on how to resolve the crisis, President Giorgio Napolitano asked Prodi, 67, to stay and put his majority to the test in both chambers of parliament. The votes are likely to be held next week.

"I will go to parliament as soon as possible, with the support of a cohesive coalition determined to help the country at this difficult stage," Prodi said, thanking the president.

In talks with Napolitano, Prodi's centre-left allies had asked that he be given a second chance to show he can command a majority in parliament, while former prime minister and opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi called for fresh elections.

But Napolitano said on Saturday most parties had agreed that the electoral law must be modified before new polls can be held and that there was no consensus on forming a broad-based, interim government with the support of the opposition.

"It was clear that at the moment there was no concrete alternative," Napolitano said, explaining his decision.

"Looking at Italy's delicate European and international commitments and the pressing need for economic and social reform, we must express our concern and hope that the country can be governed in a credible and stable fashion."

The present electoral law, introduced by Berlusconi, returned Italy to the proportional representation system analysts regard as the root cause of the country's political instability since World War Two.

Redrafting the law with a first-past-the post formula to guarantee the winning coalition a more solid majority would likely take months.

"PROLONGING THE AGONY"

The centre-right opposition said the president's decision would only "prolong the agony" of Prodi's government, Italy's 61st since 1945.

"This government does not have the numbers or the political unity to run the country," said the spokesman of the National Alliance party.

While Prodi has a comfortable, built-in majority in the lower house, he only has a one-seat advantage in the Senate, making him vulnerable to defections in his fractious Catholics-to-communists coalition.

Since he took office last May after winning the closest election in Italy's post-war history, he has often relied on the support of life senators, unelected elder statesmen. But that backing failed on Wednesday, prompting his resignation.

To avoid a repeat, Prodi has scrambled over the past two days to bolster his majority. After intense negotiations, he appeared to have succeeded in winning support from at least one extra senator from the centre-right opposition.

Marco Follini, a Christian Democrat who briefly served as deputy prime minister in Berlusconi's government, said on Saturday he would "probably" support Prodi in a confidence vote.

Prodi also won support from his allies on a 12-point programme that includes a commitment to Italy's military presence in Afghanistan -- the issue that brought him down this week -- and gives him the last say in case of conflict.

Asked whether he now had the required majority in the Senate, Prodi said on Saturday: "I think so."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...022400340.html
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Old 02-24-07, 06:36 PM
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Originally Posted by X
It appears Italy has run out of potential prime ministers.
There's always that porn star or Mussolini's granddaughter.

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Old 02-24-07, 09:47 PM
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With the governments collapsing and the threats of strikes, it's a wonder that anything actually gets done in Italy, but it is an amazing country and definitely worth a trip if you ever get the time.
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Old 02-25-07, 02:42 PM
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Originally Posted by kvrdave
I still don't like the system. Were it here, you would have a David Duke party and it would have some representation. You would have the Louis Farrakhan party and it would have some representation.

I prefer that the nutjobs have to go through more diluted parties to see if there is any reason to give their ideas the light of day, personally.
[This space reserved for a Libertarian Party joke]
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Old 02-26-07, 10:43 AM
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This is from May 31, 2006:



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Old 02-26-07, 11:15 AM
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Originally Posted by kvrdave
I still don't like the system. Were it here, you would have a David Duke party and it would have some representation. You would have the Louis Farrakhan party and it would have some representation.

I prefer that the nutjobs have to go through more diluted parties to see if there is any reason to give their ideas the light of day, personally.
So a barrier to more direct and personally relevant representation is a good thing?
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Old 02-26-07, 02:02 PM
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I guess getting along with one another is preferable to having Berlusconi back as PM.

<b><a href = "http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/02/25/news/italy.php">Prodi ally predicts return to power</b>
No date established for confidence vote</a>
International Herald Tribune, Reuters, The Associated Press
Published: February 25, 2007

ROME: A top ally of Romano Prodi said Sunday that the center-left coalition had secured enough support to win the confidence vote needed to return to power, following the rejection by the Italian president of Prodi's resignation.

"We have the majority," Piero Fassino, who leads the largest party in the coalition, said during an interview on state radio about the government's chances of winning the crucial vote in the Senate, where a loss by Prodi on a foreign policy vote last week led to his resignation.

After defeating the incumbent, Silvio Berlusconi, in elections in April, Prodi began his term in office with a comfortable margin in the lower Chamber of Deputies but only a razor-thin majority in the Senate. Struggling to hold together a coalition ranging from pro-Vatican centrists to far-left Communists and Greens, Prodi managed to stay in power in part thanks to the votes of some senators for life, who are outside coalition parties.

But on Wednesday, when a couple of senators from the far left in his coalition refused to back him on the Italian military role in Afghanistan and other foreign policies, some of the senators for life declined to come to his rescue.

After two days of consulting Prodi and his allies, as well as the conservative opposition bloc of Berlusconi, who has been demanding new elections, President Giorgio Napolitano told Prodi Saturday to submit his government to both chambers of Parliament for a confidence vote.

Fassino, who heads a former Communist Party, gave this tally of loyal votes in the radio interview: 158 of 315 elected senators - just enough to squeak by.

Including pro-left senators for life, Fassino calculated, would give the Prodi government 162 out of 322, a close-cut majority in favor of the coalition.

Center-left leaders have been courting centrists like Marco Fassino, a former Christian Democrat who broke with the moderates in the Berlusconi coalition when the media magnate was prime minister.

Some of the Berlusconi forces have also courted moderates in the Prodi coalition, with the idea of forging a "great center" that could govern without the help of far-left or far-fight lawmakers.

No date yet has been set for the confidence vote, which is unlikely to come before midweek.

While many political analysts predicted that Prodi would scrape by, survival for his five-year term appeared even more difficult, with the Senate deeply divided on the budget, political overhaul and issues including whether Italy should keep troops in Afghanistan or support the expansion of an American military base in Vicenza, in northern Italy.

Those last two issues are particularly contentious among the far-left members of his coalition, and they were the reason two senators abstained from the foreign policy vote Wednesday, bringing down the government.

Italian newspapers reported Sunday that Prodi had made a conciliatory telephone call to one of the senators who abandoned him last week.

"That speaks volumes about the state of mind of a prime minister who is walking on a tightrope ahead of the Senate vote," wrote the daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera.

If Prodi wins in the Senate, the vote in the lower house should follow on Friday.

On Thursday, Prodi secured from his allies an agreement on a program of 12 "nonnegotiable" points, aimed at both giving him more autonomy and moving the coalition closer to the political center.

Still, opposition leaders called it a bandage that would only "prolong the agony," as one said Saturday, before another collapse and the need for new elections.

They had been urging Napolitano to sideline Prodi completely and appoint a caretaker government of technocrats.

"I don't believe this left can ever find the agreement to operate well in the direction of the reforms that this country needs," Berlusconi told members of his party Saturday.

Berlusconi's two main partners in the coalition are a former neo-fascist party and an anti-immigrant party.

Napolitano said that most of the political leaders he sounded out last week had agreed that early elections might only trigger more instability unless Italian electoral law were changed. The law tends to allow tiny parties to obtain influence that is disproportionate to their weight with voters.

But although politicians have talked for years about such reform, coalitions would have to rely on the support from the tiny parties who would be likely to suffer from a new electoral law.
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Old 02-26-07, 04:28 PM
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Originally Posted by chowderhead
that is why I am totally against proportional system of representation where every whackjob left or right fringe group can get members elected and force unstable coalition governments. It was a small miracle that Berlusconi lasted for so long previously. People bitch about our system but like Nazgul said, I much prefer ours to having an administration collapse and reform every 1-2 years.
I very much doubt that anyone's interested, but I just looked at some data sent to me by Arend Lijphart, that he used in his book <i>Patterns of Democracy</i>. I ran a t-test on the hypothesis that democracies with PR have more volatile governments than those that don't have PR, and the results showed that we can reject the hypothesis, i.e., PR doesn't, in the real world, lead to greater government volatility.
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Old 02-26-07, 04:37 PM
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Originally Posted by wendersfan
I very much doubt that anyone's interested, but I just looked at some data sent to me by Arend Lijphart, that he used in his book <i>Patterns of Democracy</i>. I ran a t-test on the hypothesis that democracies with PR have more volatile governments than those that don't have PR, and the results showed that we can reject the hypothesis, i.e., PR doesn't, in the real world, lead to greater government volatility.
Oh, we're going to name-drop Lijphart now, are we?

I'm sorry, I can't really respond to your post otherwise right now. I can barely read as there's sweat dripping down my forehead. I forgot to bring my headband when I went to play squash with Peter Gourevitch this afternoon.
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Old 02-26-07, 04:43 PM
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Originally Posted by The Bus
Oh, we're going to name-drop Lijphart now, are we?


He's retired now, so when I emailed him a few months ago about getting data he responded within the hour. I got the impression he doesn't have much else to do.
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Old 02-26-07, 04:48 PM
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Originally Posted by wendersfan
I very much doubt that anyone's interested, but I just looked at some data sent to me by Arend Lijphart, that he used in his book <i>Patterns of Democracy</i>. I ran a t-test on the hypothesis that democracies with PR have more volatile governments than those that don't have PR, and the results showed that we can reject the hypothesis, i.e., PR doesn't, in the real world, lead to greater government volatility.
What is the measure of volatility? Turnover in majorities? How did you take into account the differences in election cycles across countries?

Is this European countries and the U.S.?

Yeah, I'm interested but you left out a fuckload of information!
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Old 02-26-07, 07:07 PM
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Lijphart used two measures of cabinet durability, and then averaged the two. The population is ~35 democracies in Europe, the Americas, and Australasia from 1948 until sometime in the 90s. All the data are at work, so I can't respond more fully until tomorrow...
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