Italy: Berlusconi defeated in local elections

Left in Turin loses an opportunity

To give a judgement on the results of the local elections a few hours after the vote is not simple and it is clearly only possible to make a few general observations, that will be developed as more details become available. However, some trends – at least judging from the data from Milan, Turin, Naples and Bologna – seem quite clearly defined.

The opposition Democratic Party (PD) and Berlusconi’s ‘People of Freedom’ (PDL) generally lost, both in terms of votes and percentages. And this time even the Northern League has done the same (and perhaps the distancing from Berlusconi in recent weeks is proof that the party’s leader, Bossi, already sensed the discontent among his people).

Berlusconi has been defeated, especially on the symbolic battlefield of Milan, but he is not broken, because no one is strong enough and decisive enough to take advantage of the situation. So his pain leaves little to rejoice in. The reality is that the only ones capable of pulling the plug on him are like him, on the right.

The crisis of the ‘traditional’ parties contrasts with the success of certain groupings and figures – the comedian Beppe Grillo and his ‘Five Star Movement’, Nichi Vendola’s ‘Left-Ecology-Freedom’ party (SEL), lawyer Giuliano Pisapia (joint centre-left candidate for mayor of Milan), De Magistris of the ‘Italy of Values’ (liberal) party. In spite of the media chattering that portrays them as dangerous extremists, they actually collect the votes of moderates and others across the board. This is shown by the gap between their votes and those for their parties. De Magistris, the most striking case, gets about 10% more votes (as Mayorial candidate for Naples) than his political coalition. He himself claims he picked up votes from the right and promises a Naples with ‘freer competition’. It is evident that here a piece of the Berlusconi social bloc has moved over. On the other hand how to explain the sensational advance of the PD in Turin, where it got 50,000 more votes than in the last regional elections? And is Pisapia not the lawyer of the wealthy Milan families, a protégé of Nichi Vendola, who in the last regional election received the benediction of a friend of Berlusconi like Don Verzè. Today, in view of the run-off for mayor of Milan, he is winking in the direction of ex-fascist Fini and Christian Democrat Casini ? And what about the Grillo phenomenon itself?

The bombastic headlines with which the left media have commented on this election include “What a buzz!” (Il Manifesto) or “A new wind is blowing over the country!”(Liberazione). They are reminiscent of when the TV news was explaining to us that the global financial crisis was coming to an end because shares on the Milan stock exchange went up by 0.5%. Certainly, the SEL made gains and in Milan has an undoubtedly succeeded in raising its profile, but it is not the apotheosis that could have been expected a few months ago; Vendola is starting to rust before the rainy season has even begun.

Rifondazione Comunista (Rc) and the Party of ItalianCommunists (Pdci) got a reasonable result where they hitched themselves to the wagon of candidates like Pisapia and De Magistris (i.e. in Milan and Naples). Elsewhere they disappeared, regardless of whether they were running with the PD or standing independently. See Bologna and Turin. In the latter, the city of Fiat, however, they only stood independently because the PD said ‘no’ to an alliance, avidly sought by the ‘Federation of the Left’ to the last.

Further left, apart from the reasonable result in Turin for ‘Sinistra Critica’ (part of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International), the result in Milan of the ‘Communist Workers’ Party’ (PCL) says it all! The candidate of this party (which comes from the former ‘Progetto Comunista’) got just 366 votes – one third of the number of signatures they had to collect in order to stand!

Contradictions in political situation

If, therefore, the leaders of the left and the centre are already all claiming to be winners, it is clear that in reality these elections, while not in themselves causing the general elections to be brought forward, only bring out the contradictions in the political situation. The example of Turin is symptomatic because it represents in a graphic manner, the inability of the left to be seen as a political reference point for the most developed social layers in society – workers and dissatisfied youth. At the Mirafiori Fiat plant in Turin in January, there were 2,325 workers who said ‘no’ to the anti-worker plans of CEO, Marchionne, and to Fassino, the PD leader who recommended acceptance of the deal. Many others said yes only through fear, but in their hearts must have been cursing the centre-left candidate for Mayor. Fiom, the metal-mechanics’ union, dumped by the PD and accused in a more or less covert manner of extremism by D’Alema, another of its leaders as well as Fassino himself, has at least 10 thousand members in that city. But the Left parties as a whole, in a town of 900,000 inhabitants, in the heart of the industrial north-west, get just 29,388 votes, of which 23,000 went to the SEL which supported Fassino. There is clearly a disparity which is a symptom of a political vacuum. In the city that has been the scene of one of the most bitter labour battles in recent decades, workers evidently do not see the left-wing parties – both those who support Fassino and those who do not – as a credible alternative. And in the end, this is what matters.

Then you can go and weigh the votes with a pair of scales and come up with figures that figures that do not add up. Ferrero (Rc Secretary), who compares the overall result for the ‘Federation of the Left’ (Rc, Pdci and others) in 11 provinces out of 110 with those for the European elections of 2009, deduces from that a growth of 0.6% growth, proving that there is no limit to human shamelessness. But a political party exists if it has an identity, an independent political programme, a social base amongst those they want to represent, a leadership capable of analysing the situation, anticipating events, making themselves understood and earning a reputation amongst their own people.

This first round of the elections demonstrates once again that all this is rare in Italian politics and on the left is an absolute Chimera.

Only a fairly widespread weakening of the entire political framework means that at the moment there is not a total collapse and a speeding up of the process of disintegration. But how long all this will last is yet to become clear and from one minute to the next, everything can change; events can bid farewell to anyone who thinks they have momentarily cut themselves out a corner of tranquility to shelter from the storm.

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