This week’s alliance between Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party and the right-wing Northern League was the last piece of the jigsaw ahead of Italy’s general elections, scheduled for 24-25 February.
With six and a half weeks to go, the situation is still too fluid to make a call on who will win. But, for those not versed in the art of Italian politics, we thought it would be helpful to explain the main players involved, and outline the chances of the two very different men who have held the most influence over Italy in the past few years – Mario Monti and Silvio Berlusconi.
- A centre-left coalition dominated by the Democratic Party, in alliance with the more left-wing Left, Ecology, Freedom party
- Berlusconi’s right-wing alliance between his People of Freedom and the Northern League
- A centrist coalition led by Italy’s technocratic prime minister, now turned politician, Mario Monti. This includes the PM’s own list, Civic choice for Monti, the Christian Democrats and a smaller centre-right party, Future and Freedom for Italy
- The Five Star Movement, brainchild of the comedian-cum-blogger, Beppe Grillo
- A left-wing group, Civil Revolution, set up by the former anti-mafia judge Antonio Ingroia
Italy’s cumbersome electoral law, which is different for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, makes the lives of the phsephologists even harder. Here’s what we know about the situation in each house.
Chamber of Deputies Here the outlook is relatively straight-forward. The electoral law is such that the coalition that gains the largest share of the votes nationally takes 55% of all seats. The remaining 45% is shared proportionally among the other political forces – provided that they cross a threshold which is set at 4% for individual parties and at 10% for coalitions. The electoral law is different for Italians living abroad and for some smaller regions, but that should not affect the bigger picture.
At present, the centre-left coalition headed by Pier Luigi Bersani holds a seemingly unassailable lead, which is unlikely to disappear.
The latest polls, published on Tuesday by IPSOS, gives the centre-left coalition around 40% of the votes. This result would place it comfortably ahead of the coalitions led by Berlusconi (23.1%), Monti (17.6%) and Grillo (12.5%). Ingroia’s Civil Revolution, polled at 5.5%, would have just enough votes to enter the Chamber.
Mr Bersani would therefore be able to count on the support of around 345 out of 630 deputies. This would be enough for him not to have to look for allies after the vote.
Senate The situation in the Senate is much trickier. Here, much like the format of the US presidential race, the final result depends on how well the parties do in each of Italy’s 20 regions. The coalition that wins a plurality in a region is automatically given 55% of the region’s seats. The other forces share the remaining 45%, provided they cross a threshold (8% for an individual party, 20% for a coalition). Just as for the Chamber, there are some tweaks for smaller regions, but these are tiny and unlikely to affect the final outcome.
Unfortunately, there is only scanty evidence on how well the parties are doing at the local level. Still, pollsters tend to agree that Bersani holds a comfortable lead in most of Italy’s large regions. Adding up all these “safe” seats, and making a few other assumptions, the former communist would command 108 out of a total of 315 seats.
As explained by Roberto D’Alimonte, a professor of politics at LUISS University, the outcome of the election will then depend on four battlegrounds: Veneto and Lombardy in the North and Sicily and Campania in the South. Were Bersani to win in all these four regions, he would secure an outright majority. However, if he lost in some of them (for example, in Lombardy and in any other one), he would fall short of controlling the Senate.
This is a likely outcome. According to the first reliable regional polls, out on Tuesday, the Democrats are trailing Berlusconi’s coalition in Sicily and level with it in Lombardy. The PD only holds a small lead in Campania. Overall, Bersani is tipped to win between 145 and 155 seats, which is just short of the 158 majority.
A deadlock in the Senate would bring Monti back into play. With an estimated 40 seats, the former economics professor would have a sizeable enough group of senators to form a coalition with the left – though he will probably not have enough bargaining power to stay as PM.
What about Berlusconi? In order to have a blocking stake, Italy’s former PM would have to win in four other regions on top of the four battlegrounds. This is extremely unlikely. His plans to wage “guerrilla welfare” in the next parliament may have to wait.
In depth: Italy elections 2013