In the course of this long, hot, and extremely tense summer, pessimism and hopelessness are gaining momentum on the Italian political scene, as the electorate's honeymoon -- at times encouraging, but never easy -- with Professor Monti's "Technical Government" appears to be coming to a premature and largely disappointing end.
Europeans, and Italians are no exception, often appear as unwitting victims of their history. In
From the Teutonic Caesars down to Mussolini and the post-war Italian governments, many of those whose ambition it was to govern the Italian people came to the conclusion that the task was impossible, or as Mussolini himself allegedly said, "useless".
Monti took over as Prime Minister in November of last year, the situation appeared absolutely desperate. A corrupt and
inefficient Government had been unable -- some
actually thought "unwilling" -- to face the immense tasks which appeared
essential to bring
Professor Monti and his Government are not tied to specific political interests and, therefore, appear to have a greater freedom of choice in the implementation of unpopular programmes. The same, however, cannot be said of the three major parties who have given their support to the government, and without the consent of which measures could not be turned into laws. In recent weeks the feeling has taken hold that this experimental government is being caught up in the traditional Italian political quagmire, and that even the public behaviour of the Prime Minister, considered blameless until now, is adapting to the devious tactics practiced by his predecessors. On their part, the political parties who support his government are giving signs of nervousness and seem to be returning to their traditional, negative habits, neglecting to take into account the growing ill-feeling and mistrust of large sectors of Italian opinion. .
It would be tedious, and of no immediate interest, to enumerate or attempt to describe the various phases of rising disillusionment on the part of the Italian electorate, or the sometimes farcical, often irresponsible posturing of the parties. It has to be said, however, to their partial exculpation, that they are facing epochal problems of survival in the presence of a growingly indifferent, sceptical and critical public.
It is amazing that, in a country which until recently considered an 80% turnout at elections as disappointing, reliable polls show that about 35% of the electorate appear inclined not to vote at all, while about 20% are divided between those who are "undecided" or who state that they will cast a blank or invalid ballot. Even the announced return of Mr. Berlusconi on the political scene has caused scarcely a ripple in the opinion polls, and this could indicate that he might be losing what was left of that peculiar charisma which allowed him to remain in power for the best part of the past twenty years.
The parties who support the Government, having formed what people call "The Odd Majority", face a truly fundamental dilemma. As the Government is forced to adopt measures which meet growing hostility on the part of the general public, they sense a further decline in their popularity, and feel a restless urge to put an end to this anomalous situation, withdraw their support to the Government, and force the President to call early elections, to be held, possibly, in early November. A growing number of influential political figures are urging their respective parties in this sense, because they feel that the passage of time operates in favour of the more populist opposition groups or movements, who would present themselves to the electorate untainted, as it were, by the Government's unpopular decisions.
The situation, however, is complicated by the state of disarray which has devastated the majority party, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and which, according to recent polls, would have difficulty reaching 20% of the vote. The opposition Democratic Party, though in a more favourable position, has to cope with a number of problems, some of which appear of a subtlety so Machiavellian to leave even the best informed political analysts quite visibly puzzled . Nor can the traditional rivalry between its Catholic and secular components be ignored, and the Catholics at times seem ready to abandon ship and join the Centrist party which, although small, is in a King-making position and is forging ever closer ties with the Catholic Church.
The better known leaders, on all sides of the spectrum, keep appearing, albeit more subdued than before, on the innumerable television "talk-shows" which, in earlier days, were their favourite stage from which to propound their ideas. They, however, have quite obviously lost a great deal of their bluster and don't go much beyond reaffirming their "full confidence" in the wisdom of the electorate. What will happen is anybody's guess, also because all the parties vow that they will remain loyal to the Government until next Spring and that, in any case, the present electoral Law is unsatisfactory and needs to be changed. Fears prevail, however, that either the Law will not be altered (for, in reality, it suits those very leaders who claim that it needs to be changed), or that it will be modified into something even worse, designed to handicap those opposition parties which are the sole beneficiaries from this intricate state of affairs.
of August will be decisive, and much will depend on the direction taken by the International
financial and economic crisis. In the present circumstances, however, the
future does not bode well for
Most of the responsible commentators seem to agree that elections held before the end of the Government's mandate would probably have a disastrous effect, but there are signs that this solution may well turn out to be inevitable.
The politicians, meanwhile, keep playing their old games, in the style of the traditional Italian "Commedia dell'Arte", bashing one another with large clubs, only to emerge smiling and pose for group photographs. They appear, however, to be only dimly aware that they are playing to a thinning house. Many feel that, as the clown Canio exclaims at the closing of Leoncavallo's Opera "I Pagliacci", for them, at least, "La commedia Ã¨ finita" (The show is over).