Italy: Local election defeat for Berlusconi

The second round of local elections affecting 25% of Italy’s electorate confirmed a big electoral swing against the Berlusconi forces after a year of his belligerent right wing government. Even in the North, the center-left ‘Olive Tree’ has gained the leadership of local councils and mayors’ positions at the expense of all parties of the Polo ruling coalition. It won in 9 out of the 11 major towns in which elections were held and was even victorious in Berlusconi’s home town of Arcore.

No wonder Berlusconi declared, after the first round, that the signing of the Nato agreement with Putin in Rome was far more significant than the local elections! He made an effort, however just before the second round, to visit some relatively safe areas – Verona and Frosinone – to ensure victory for the right. However, as La Repubblica comments (11/6/02), "The (pied) piper of Arcore enchanted no one, and the centre right lost in both cities"! Nor did the announcement of a grand project to build a spectacular bridge across the sea to Sicily manage to save their skins in the South. (The victory over the ‘left’ in Reggio Calabria, already assured before the announcement, was far out-weighted by all the defeats elsewhere).

The trend in other European countries towards right wing election successes has obviously been countered in Italy by the mass movements of the workers and young people of the last few months which culminated in the biggest trade union protest rally ever – 3 million in Rome on 23 March – and the 13 million strong general strike on April 16. These in themselves were a deafening response to having a tycoon’s government in power which has been attempting to push through all kinds of anti-working class measures and cuts in public spending in all spheres. A recent finance bill gave millions more to the rich of the country and nothing to the poor. Even so, Berlusconi and his Economics minister, Tremonti, have failed to satisfy a large layer of those who voted for them expecting tax breaks and a real improvement in the economy.

On the same day that the final election results were confirmed, the crisis in the Italian car industry hit the headlines again. Fiat’s Chief Executive, Paolo Cantarella, was sacked by an emergency meeting of the firm’s senior management, amid reports of catastrophic losses and mounting fears of tens of thousands of jobs in Italy being destroyed.

Centre left leaders everywhere will try to draw the conclusion from the latest election results that the secret of success is a broad left coalition in which the predominant ideology is that of Blair’s Third Way. But they will make no mention of how the neo-liberal policies of the "Third Way" Olive Tree government itself paved the way for Berlusconi’s victory in the General election just over a year ago. In these local elections, Rifondazione Comunista (Prc) and also the independent party of ‘clean hands’ lawyer, Di Pietro, were part of the center-left alliance. But involvement at national, regional and local level of the Prc in Olive Tree coalitions – carrying out neo-liberal attacks – has discredited them in the past and will do so again.

In spite of a wide participation of all layers of the working population and the middle class in the mass movement against the government, and an intense politicization due to the attacks of the government, four out of every ten eligible voters did not see any point in going to the polls for the local commune elections and five out of ten for the provincial ones.

The conclusion for socialists to draw is that, given the massive social upheaval of recent months and the huge class battles that are still to come, the only way to express this in elections is to voice in no uncertain terms the undoubted hostility to capitalist neo-liberal policies and politicians that pervades Italian society. Even a local election campaign could have been the occasion to make a call for government by genuine representatives of those same workers and young people who have been on the streets in their millions since the ‘Cavalier’ came to power.

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June 2002