Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Prodi Parts

Sorry for the lack of updates, but there just haven't been many interesting developments to note as of late. But today had some big news!

Romano Prodi, the Prime Minister of Italy, has resigned. The move came following a narrow vote of no-confidence in the Italian Senate, in which Mr. Prodi's coalition only holds a one vote majority.

With all the focus on Iraq, it's easy to forget that there is also a war going on in Afghanistan. In part due to this lack of attention, and the diversion of much American resources, NATO forces in Afghanistan are now stretched quite thin. The remaining western generals in the country- Canadians key among them- have been demanding the rest of NATO start pulling its weight, and either expand or consolidate its military commitments to fighting the Taliban.

Signor Prodi was sympathetic, and thus tried to pass a bill that would keep the over 1,000 Italian troops currently stationed in Afghanistan in that country for another year. But Prodi is also a leftist, and his socialist buddies in parliament are strongly anti-American and anti-military, and don't want Italians fighting any longer in what they perceive to be an American war. So a couple of them voted against him in the senate, rejecting his extension proposal. And under the Italian system, which seems designed to insure as little political stability as possible, any time the Prime Minister loses a vote in the parliament that constitutes a breech of parliamentary confidence and either forces him out of office or forces new elections.

The referee is the President of Italy, who gets to decide which of the two paths to pursue. The current President is named Giorgio Napolitano. He used to be a leading member of Italy's infamously pro-Soviet Communist Party, before it was dissolved following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He was appointed by parliament in 2006, by Prodi's people. One thus assumes that he will make whatever decision is in the best interests of the Italian left.

Pizza Parliament

Prime Minister Prodi has been in office for nine months; he was elected in May, beating longtime PM Silvio Berlusconi.

Italian politics have a reputation for being comically chaotic, and the Prime Minister's Office is often joked about having a revolving door. Berlusconi was the first Italian PM in almost 20 years to serve more than three years in office; he was the first PM in 38 years to serve over four. The last PM to achieve that milestone was Aldo Moro in 1968. (Prime Minister Moro was later taken hostage and assassinated by Communist terrorists. It's just an interesting story, you should look it up sometime.)

Because their time in office is so short, an Italian prime minister's political career rarely ends once he leaves office. It's actually quite common for ex-PMs to regain the prime ministership if they just hang around long enough. Prodi was previously PM from '96 to '98, and now it's looking possible that Giuliano Amato, a fomer two-time socialist PM, will replace him in '07.

A while back I made a complete chart of post-war Prime Ministers of Italy for reference. As you can see, there have been 39 PMs since 1945, which is roughly one every 1.5 years. The media will often throw the phrase "62 governments" around, which makes Italy look even less stable. But a government is different than a Prime Ministership. One Prime Minister can preside over several different "governments" during his term; a "government" in this sense simply refers to a parliamentary coalition and cabinet. Berlusconi was the first PM since Mussolini to only go through one government.


Jacopo said...

Hey, I'm an italian fan of yours, and longtime reader of filibuster cartoons (AWESOME WEBCOMIC!).

Compliments aside, I just wanted to point out a couple of things on your article.

It's not true that every time a Premier loses a vote in either the parliament or the senate he's forced to resign, else Prodi would have already resigned 6 times.
Rules are somewhat fuzzy, but as you said, its usually the President (Napolitano in this case) that acts as a referee and decides how much these failed. On minor issues, like emendaments from the opposition, it's usually ignored, but on major issues like economic laws or foreign policy the President usually summons the PM and asks for resignation, expecially if the vote is failed in the Senate. Since this was the second failure in a row on foreign policy, Napolitano had to act (the first was less than a month ago, and it was comical: the majority coalition voted AGAINST the government, while the opposition voted in support!)

So far, Prodi has resigned and handed over his mandate to Napolitano. Now the President has several options: He can refuse his dismissal and send Prodi again to both parliament chambers for a new confidence vote (this seems very likely). He can accept his resignation and suggest another prime minister (who will probably be Prodi). Or he can organize a new election, but that is very unlikely, since Napolitano is a President with a strong communist background, as you already mentioned, and almost all parties acknowledge that an election now would be a great risk for the leftist coalition.
Traditionally, after a spectacular crysis like this, all past presidents would have called for new elections, but the former president Scalfaro (also a leftist) denied them twice during the previous Prodi government.

Another small correction: a "Government" in italy is not marked by changes of parliamentary coalition. A government is appointed by the President, and lasts until the elections or until an official crysis (like the one that just took place).
Berlusconi was actually the first PM to lead a government lasting an entire mandate, even though he changed at least four ministers during his time in office

Did I tell you that your blog and your comic rock? :D

Ron said...

Some political system you have over there!
What made Barlusconi so succesfull in maintaining a stable government for so long?

J.J. said...

Ah, thanks for the comments Jacopo! I love hearing that I have fans in cool parts of the world.

I have one question though- I always thought Berlusconi resigned at least once during his tenure, and was then re-appointed? Did that not occur, and if it did, doesn't that count as a new "government?"

Jacopo said...

To Ron: Some say that Berlusconi had a much more compact coalition (4 represented parties) when compared to the current leftist alliance (9 represented parties), which is much more etherogenous. Others point out that since Berlusconi also held a large majority in both chabmers, numbers were never a problem even if there were some indivual dissent. Both are probably true.

To JJ: Berlusconi didn't resign, but he had an "informal crysis" inside his coalition that led to a change of some ministers after a defeat in administrative elections.

As for the current situation, Napolitano refused Prodi's resignation and asked for a new confidence vote to the same government. A couple of senators from the opposition switched side and pledged their support, and with the aid of the lifetime senators, most of them sympathetic with the left-wing coalition, Prodi will probably be reconfrimed. Yes, we have un-elected senators too :D (btw, your guide to Canada is really intresting).
So far, it's just the usual political turnoil and backstabbing so typical of our country (with the exception of the 1996-2006 period).