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The Governance of the Center-Right Coalition

Mark Donovan

The unprecedented government majority that resulted from the 2001

election and the radical promises of the prime minister candidate Silvio

Berlusconi had suggested that epochal change could follow the

alternation of government from left to right. Major constitutional and

socio-economic reform had been promised that would create a new,

successful, and dynamic country of which Italians could be proud.

More specifically, the public had been led to believe that the government

would enact strong federal reform while reinforcing the executive,

perhaps especially the prime minister, and introducing a new era

of markedly liberal economic policies. Thus, tax cuts and the promotion

of economic growth would create jobs and guarantee continuing

high standards of living. The government’s “honeymoon period,” however,

was short-lived. By the end of the year, trust in the government

had fallen to just below 50 percent, where it stabilized throughout

2002. Doubts about the government’s ability to deliver reflected its

poor performance on economic and social matters, resulting from both

the international economic downturn and its own mismanagement of

the domestic agenda, most notably industrial relations. By the autumn

of 2003, the Bank of Italy was drawing attention to a two-year period

of domestic stagnation and a decade-long investment slump.

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Intra- and Inter-alliance Relations after the 2004 European and Provincial Elections

Mark Donovan

The European elections of 12 and 13 June 2004, and the simultaneous

partial local elections, were of great significance for Italy’s

national-level politics. For all that European and sub-national elections

are quite different from national ones, the European elections

were a nationwide test, of a sort, of the relative electoral appeal of the

government and opposition. More importantly, both levels of elections

had a powerful impact on the evolution of relations within the

House of Freedoms and between the opposition parties. Within the

government majority, the European elections saw Prime Minister Berlusconi’s

party, Forza Italia, weaken markedly, thus reinforcing the

aspirations of the prime minister’s most reluctant allies, the National

Alliance (AN) and the Union of Christian Democrats and Center Democrats

(UDC), to force a rewrite of the government program and, in

the most ambitious (and unstated) of hypotheses, to put an end to the

prime-ministerial aspect of Berlusconi’s government—perhaps even to

Berlusconi’s leadership itself.

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The Center-Right: Conflict, Unity, and Permanent Mobilization

Mark Donovan

On 18 November 2007, in the midst of a rally calling for early elections,

Silvio Berlusconi announced the formation of a new party, to

be known tentatively as “the Party of the People of Freedoms … into

which Forza Italia will dissolve itself.” This announcement was unexpected,

indeed sensational. Asked whether the other center-right leaders

and their parties would follow this initiative, Berlusconi replied

that it was up to them. He hoped so, but he was responding to “the

people, who are more advanced than we are, and who are asking us to

follow a unitary path, to gather all the moderates into a single formation.”

1 The announcement built on both the permanent mobilization

of the electorate that Berlusconi had maintained since his narrow

defeat in the 2006 election and on his use of the theme of unification

to bolster his leadership of the center-right as a whole.

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The End of Italy’s Referendum Anomaly?

Mark Donovan

The referendum of 18 April 1999 was intended to force parliament,

by pressure of public opinion, to revise the mixed electoral system

in a more decisively anti-proportional direction. The existing system,

introduced in 1993, was a compromise outcome which had

resulted from a similar mobilisation against the still powerful parliamentary

elites of the so-called First Republic. Subsequently, supporters

of proportionality had sought to reinforce their position

and the principle of proportional representation, for example via

new legislation on party financing. With the failure of the third

attempt at constitutional reform via parliament (1997–8) and continuing

government instability exemplified by the change of prime

minister and cabinet in October 1998, many despaired of the establishment

of the much invoked and much contested Second Republic.

The failure of the 1999 referendum to reach the quorum,

despite a huge majority in favour of its majoritarian implications,

led many to conclude that a cycle of referendum-driven reform had

come to an end, and with it the chance of achieving a new institutional

framework for the Republic. The pressure for reform

remained strong, however, and new referendum campaigns for

electoral and wider reform were immediately launched.

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The Election of the President of the Republic in Unstable Times

Mark Donovan

Sergio Mattarella was elected the eleventh president of the Republic on 31 January 2015 for a seven-year term. His election after the fourth round of voting was a success for Matteo Renzi, the president of the Council of Ministers, who reunited his party, reinforced his government, and weakened his opponents. The new president was elected by 66 percent of the electoral college, a relatively large majority, comprising principally the left but also a small part of the moderate right. That majority might also be seen as a centrist establishment vote in a still polarized party and political system. This perspective suggests that in addition to the president’s institutional significance, which may be sharply reduced in the near future due to major constitutional reforms, his importance as a national figure and socialization agent should also be considered. The president’s ability to represent and enhance social cohesion may be particularly important in a more majoritarian political system.

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Instability, Anti-politics, and Frustrated Aspirations for Change

Mark Donovan and Paolo Onofri

It is difficult to tell a story pretending not to know how it ends. This volume

is concerned with the political and politico-economic events that

took place in Italy during the course of 2007, but in reality it is implicitly

the story of an aborted legislature, the fifteenth in the Republic’s history,

which began in April 2006 and ended prematurely in January 2008.

Perhaps in anticipation of this outcome, the year 2007 was permeated

by a sense of deep political malaise. The government of Romano Prodi,

despite having been in office since only May 2006, and despite its reasonably

effective management of the economy, was weak and unpopular.

Its frailty was rooted, most immediately, in the election outcome,

which gave it a majority of just two in the Senate, and that outcome in

turn resulted in large part from the effects of the electoral system reform

introduced by the center-right government in December 2005. The purpose

of that reform—or counter-reform, as some prefer to call it—was to

minimize the scale of the government’s expected defeat or, reversing the

perspective, to render the center-left’s victory as marginal as possible.