Po­lit­i­cal limbo: What next for Renzi, Italy?

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The fi­nal count­down to the end of Mat­teo Renzi’s time in charge of Italy was un­der way Wed­nes­day amid fren­zied ne­go­ti­a­tions over what comes next for a coun­try in po­lit­i­cal limbo. Iron­i­cally, Renzi’s rule was set to come to an end with his gov­ern­ment win­ning a vote of con­fi­dence in the Se­nate, the par­lia­men­tary cham­ber he tried to emas­cu­late via a ref­er­en­dum in which he suf­fered a crush­ing de­feat on Sun­day. The con­fi­dence vote was ex­pected as a means of cur­tail­ing pro­longed dis­cus­sion on the ap­proval of Italy’s 2017 bud­get-an un­fin­ished task which prompted Pres­i­dent Ser­gio Mattarella to ask Renzi to de­lay his de­par­ture for a few days.

Mean­while, two ma­jor ques­tions were ex­er­cis­ing Ital­ians over their morn­ing cap­puc­ci­nos: Will there be early elec­tions? And what is to be­come of Renzi? Renzi’s destiny looked set to be clearer af­ter a meet­ing of the ex­ec­u­tive of his Demo­cratic Party (PD) yes­ter­day. Renzi re­mains the leader of the cen­tre-left party but it is be­set by in­ter­nal di­vi­sions that were painfully ex­posed by the ref­er­en­dum bat­tle. As PD sec­re­tary gen­eral, Renzi con­trols the party ap­pa­ra­tus, which he used to stage the coup that de­posed his suc­ces­sor, En­rico Letta, in Fe­bru­ary 2014.

Push for early elec­tion

An­a­lysts see the party machi­na­tions play­ing out in one of two ways. Ei­ther enough of Renzi erst­while al­lies de­cide he is dam­aged goods and he is top­pled. Or he sur­vives as leader and re­asserts his au­thor­ity as a pre­cur­sor to stag­ing a come­back bid at the next elec­tions. An elec­tion must be held by Fe­bru­ary 2018 but op­po­si­tion par­ties are clam­our­ing for it to be held up to a year early, say­ing the ref­er­en­dum was ef­fec­tively a vote of no con­fi­dence in the cen­tre-left coali­tion.

“Ei­ther we have im­me­di­ate elec­tions or we take to the streets,” Mat­teo Salvini, leader of the far-right North­ern League, warned yes­ter­day. “We can­not make a mock­ery of the 32 mil­lion peo­ple who voted on Sun­day.” Af­ter the bud­get de­lib­er­a­tions are com­pleted, Renzi will go back to see the pres­i­dent and for­mally com­plete the res­ig­na­tion process.

This could hap­pen later Wed­nes­day or be de­layed un­til Fri­day, Thurs­day be­ing a pub­lic hol­i­day in Italy. Renzi is re­ported to fa­vor a Fe­bru­ary 2017 elec­tion, cal­cu­lat­ing that the PD re­mains well-placed to emerge with the largest share of the vote, de­spite the up­ward trend in back­ing for the pop­ulist Five Star Move­ment.

Recipe for paral­y­sis

Led by co­me­dian Beppe Grillo, Five Star is skilled at pitch­ing an eclec­tic mes­sage to all shades of opin­ion-from lib­er­tar­ian left­ists and ul­tra-en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists to anti-euro and anti-im­mi­gra­tion eu­roscep­tics. The last year has seen Five Star emerge de­ci­sively as Italy’s big­gest op­po­si­tion force, largely at the ex­pense of 80-yearold Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni’s Forza Italia, with around 30 per­cent of vot­ers likely to back the move­ment.

Back­ing for the North­ern League has been largely sta­ble at around 15 per­cent of voter in­ten­tions, and Five Star’s hopes of power are seen as be­ing re­stricted by its re­luc­tance to coun­te­nance al­liances with other par­ties. The ma­jor ob­sta­cle to hold­ing an elec­tion in two months’ time is that par­lia­ment must first re­vise the rules by which it will be held.

As things stand, two dif­fer­ent elec­toral laws ap­ply to the Cham­ber of Deputies and the Se­nate, which hold equal pow­ers un­der the “per­fect bi­cam­eral” prin­ci­ple up­held by the ref­er­en­dum. A new sys­tem for the Cham­ber of Deputies, un­der which the party get­ting the most votes would be guar­an­teed a ma­jor­ity of the seats, was ap­proved ear­lier this year. But all the par­ties had agreed to re­vise it be­fore the ref­er­en­dum. The Se­nate mean­while is elected by a pro­por­tional sys­tem un­likely to give any one party or coali­tion a ma­jor­ity. Elec­tions un­der two dif­fer­ent sys­tems would be a recipe for po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis, most ob­servers agree. Cru­cially, re­ports say Mattarella shares that view. —AFP

ROME: A view of the Ital­ian Se­nate in Rome yes­ter­day dur­ing a con­fi­dence vote on the 2017 bud­get law. —AP

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