April 14, 2006
The Party's Over, Start Dressing For the Next One
With today's announcement by Italy's Interior Ministry that inexplicably lowers the number of disputed ballots in the recent election from 82,850 to 5,266, there is now virtually no chance that the preliminary election results can be overturned... although lame-duck Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is still fighting.
The ministry has no explanation for why they initially gave such a higher number or what made them change the number so drastically:
Earlier this week, the ministry announced there were 82,850 contested ballots in both houses of Parliament — a number that left some room, if not a lot, for Mr. Berlusconi's claim that he won.
In the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, the two men were separated by roughly 25,000 votes, and the initial interior numbers showed 43,028 contested ballots.
But today, the Interior Ministry said the actual number of disputed ballots in the Chamber of Deputies was only 2,131 — a number that could in no way give a victory to Mr. Berlusconi. In the upper house, the Senate, the number was 3,135, a number that also could not change Mr. Prodi's provisional victory.
A statement by the ministry blamed an unexplained "material error" for the incorrect original numbers.
Berlusconi is not suffering defeat gladly, however; he is mulling ordering a massive recount of all one million or so ballots "that were either blank or disqualified." In addition, Mirko Termaglia, his Minister for Italians Living Abroad, has complained about "irregularities" in the ballots of those voters so significant that he wants a revote among them.
While I admire a fighting spirit, there comes a time when the battle becomes more damaging to the country than accepting the vote, stepping down, and fighting to force quick elections again; Italy is a parliamentary democracy, and it's an accepted part of the system to try to force a vote of confidence to "bring down" a government.
It is not accepted, contrariwise, to refuse to accept the results of an election. (Or to take the Al Gore route and try to sue your way into another term... which so far, nobody has suggested, thank goodness.)
Much as I prefer Silvio Berlusconi to fellow-traveler Romano Prodi, who will doubtless severely damage Italy's economy by kowtowing to the two distinct Communist Parties in his Union coalition, it's time for Berlusconi to stop fighting and start campaigning.
Fight on from the loyal opposition; the Union is fragile and likely will not last. Prodi will certainly will lose the people's confidence quickly, as they realize that the Communists, Socialists, and other assorted fruits, nuts, and flakes in his leftist coalition will never allow him to make the economic reforms that he promised during the election.
But the proper place to carry out that fight is from the minority, not by brushing aside the election itself... which is more appropriate to a Latin American banana-republic than a country in the heart of Western Europe.
There are signs that light is beginning to dawn:
Another possibility is to create a question of legitimacy that could make it even more difficult for Mr. Prodi, who holds only a slim majority in Parliament anyway, to govern.
On Thursday, Roberto Maroni, the welfare minister, suggested as much when he dared Mr. Prodi's coalition "to govern if it can. Our aim is devise means by which to ensure that such a government falls as soon as possible."
Berlusconi is losing allies just at the time when he needs to cultivate them. The Prodi government could fall within months, with such a closely divided electorate. But too stubborn a refusal to accept electoral chastisement can end up doing to Silvio Berlusconi what precipitously pulling out of Ariel Sharon's cabinet did to Benjamin Netanyahu: destroy his reputation, torpedo his political career, and leave him ballot-box poison.
Silvio Berlusconi... it's time for you to go.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 14, 2006, at the time of 4:02 PM
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The following hissed in response by: Don
Agreed, Dafydd. He shouldn't do an Al Gore on this one.
The following hissed in response by: Don
Prodi won't be able to damage anything because he needs virtually unanimous consent within his coalition to get anything done.
Oops: I take that back. Prodi can badly hurt Italy's relationship with the US if he bungles the withdrawal of troops from Iraq that he has promised. Perhaps he should take advice from Zapatero of Spain on what not to do. Or perhaps Tony Blair to tell him what to do, given that Zapatero still hasn't had a private conversation with Bush and probably never will.....
The following hissed in response by: MTF
It's Chinatown, Jake. Italy is certainly wonderful, but inexplicable.
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